Spending his teenage years struggling with his sexuality while rising to fame with boy band *NSYNC, Lance Bass eventually discovered LGBT bars where he could truly embrace and celebrate his identity.

One of those bars was Florida’s Pulse nightclub, where 49 victims were killed during an innocent night out in June 2016. Talking to Chilled on the third anniversary of the shooting, Bass is now continuing to champion such hot spots and the bartenders who work at them, having recently returned to Florida as a judge for the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic competition. The annual contest recognizes LGBTQ bartenders and bars as part of Pride Month celebrations.

“It was just so fun seeing all these bartenders from around the country come together for such a great cause, representing different charities from their hometowns,” Bass says.

“This competition represents so many things. Gay bars are one of the first places that the community felt safe and like they could be themselves. They’ve always been this safe haven for everyone, so we wanted to really celebrate that.”

Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic Finale

Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic Finale

Photo by Larry Blackburn Photography

New Yorker Samuel Benedict from Club Cumming was crowned the champion, with his Key Key cocktail winning him $10,000 for his hometown charity, Gays Against Guns, and $5,000 for Habitat for Humanity of Key West and Lower Florida Keys. Inspired by key lime pie, the drink was made with Stoli Vanil, key lime juice, pineapple juice, simple syrup, and egg white.

Bass enjoys Stoli Cucumber and Stoli Lime, which he uses regularly in his cocktail of choice, a Moscow Mule. But it’s not just his at-home cocktail-making experience that made the musician an ideal judge for the Stoli Key West Classic—he also recently opened his own bar, Rocco’s WeHo, in the LGBTQ hot spot of West Hollywood, California. Rocco’s is a popular sports bar chain throughout Los Angeles, but the company is now focusing its expansion on LGBTQ versions of the bar, which is where Bass came in.

Lance Bass at the Key West Cocktail Classic

Lance Bass at the Key West Cocktail Classic

Photo by Larry Blackburn Photography

“I love to entertain, I love to have a drink, and I love to watch sports, so I wanted to build a space where all of that could happen,” says Bass, whose artist husband, Michael Turchin, has pieces on display throughout the bar. “When we opened, my partners thought, ‘Ok, this is just going to be a gay sports bar. People are going to come and watch baseball or football, have a beer, get some pizza and some wings, and that’s what this place will be.’ But I knew going in that it was going to be so much more than that, because that’s just too boring for our community—it has to be a sports bar on steroids!

“So we now have a stage where we have live entertainment and drag shows and feature LGBT artists, and it’s just a really fun, inclusive place. It’s the only place I’ve been to recently where you look around and you have guys who have just finished their football game mingling with drag queens and lesbian, gay, and transgender people. Everyone is just having so much fun together, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.”