Those who ordered Stoli-based cocktails over the weekend were likely to receive a surprising response from bartenders across the country, as an increasing number of LGBT watering holes in the U.S. and Canada announced a boycott of Russian liquors—particularly Stolichnaya, the country’s flagship alcoholic export.
The boycott, intended to protest Russian anti-gay legislation and a recent outbreak of violent attacks on the country’s gay citizens and advocates, was initiated last week when columnist Dan Savage urged readers to “dump Stoli” and other Russian spirits on the Slog, a blog from Seattle-based weekly newspaper The Stranger.
In response, Val Mendeleev, CEO of Stoli’s parent company SPI Group, issued an open letter to the LGBT community, citing the company’s position as a “fervent supporter and friend” of the gay community. The letter also pointed out that SPI is headquartered in Luxembourg, and production of Stoli products takes place in both Latvia and Russia. Regardless, say boycott participants, SPI owner Yuri Scheffler is Russian, and the company is inextricably linked to the country.
So what could the growing boycott end up costing the beverage behemoth? I checked in with participating bars in cities across the country to try to gauge the impact on Stoli—and the businesses refusing to serve it.
Art Johnston, co-owner of Sidetrack in Chicago and co-founder of Equality Illinois, said that Stoli is one of the bar’s top-selling brands, but he’s prepared to part with his inventory to make a point. Pre-boycott, the 15,000-square-foot venue purchased between five and ten cases of the vodka per week.
“I’ve got a lot of cases of Stoli we’re going to have to eat rather than sell,” said Johnston, “but that’s the cost of doing business, and of being a responsible corporate citizen, which is what I’d like the Stoli company to be.”
Johnston also refuses to sell Myer’s rum and Red Stripe beer; both are products of Jamaica, where violent crimes against gays and lesbians have long gone unprosecuted.
Alfredo Diaz, owner of Revolver Video Bar in Los Angeles, describes his 2,000-square-foot bar as “on the smaller side”—but he still spends $10,000 a month on Stoli orders.
“There are very few Russian products that we import in the United States that we can go after,” said Diaz. “This is something that every single member of the LGBT community can do right now—even if it’s symbolic. It focuses an unpleasant light on what’s happening in the country of Russia.”
Diaz also highlighted the value of the LGBT market share, noting that many gay households are dual income and childless, with high levels of disposable income.
“It’s a very loyal, lucrative demographic,” he said, “and the sales generated from spirits in LGBT bars are unbelievable.”
Robert Ziegler is the co-owner of New York’s Boots and Saddle, an institution of the West Village bar scene for four decades. He says he spends about $2,000 a month stocking the bar with Stoli products, which run $9 a shot at locations on both coasts.
“I’m hoping the Russian government will listen to the people and stop the violence, and speak out finally against the attacks,” said Ziegler, who added that he’s “a big Stoli drinker,” but will be switching to Skyy or Absolut vodka for the duration of the boycott.
Diaz, Johnston, and Ziegler all said they plan to keep Stolichnaya and other Russian products off their shelves for the indefinite future.
Let it never be said that we are the type of society that will allow another Hitler to rise to power. No pink triangles in Russia. We won’t stand for it.