CHICAGO — Russian vodka in a Chicago gay bar? Nyet.
In response to the passage of anti-gay laws in Russia — and subsequent clashes between police and gay activists there — some Chicago gay bars are pulling Russian vodka and other spirits from their offerings in protest.
Want a Stoli on the rocks at Sidetrack at 3349 N. Halsted? Choose again.
"Tonight you might notice that Sidetrack has removed Stolichnaya Vodka from our shelves. Sidetrack cannot support a brand so associated with Russia at a time when Russia is implementing (against strong world criticism) it's anti-gay law that bans gay 'propaganda'... So starting immediately we will not sell Stoli or any other Russian products at Sidetrack."
On Thursday, four more Boystown bars - Elixir Lounge, Halsted's Bar and Grill, Hydrate Nightclub and Replay - joined the boycott, saying all Russian-made products would be pulled from their shelves.
Sidetrack's owner, Art Johnston, said he has received overwhelmingly positive feedback after Wednesday's decision to pull the brand. Stoli is the only Russian-brand alcohol Sidetrack carried, Johnston said.
"We cannot in good conscience continue to serve a brand like Stolichnaya, which is so closely associated with Russia, given the laws that have been passed recently," Johnston said.
Other businesses along Halsted Street in Boystown stated they disapproved of Russia's laws but were hesitant to commit to a boycott because they did not have all the facts about just how closely a brand like Stoli is associated with the Russian government.
But Johnston, a long-time gay activist in Chicago, said it was important to take a public stand regardless since it has been shown Russia is actively enforcing its new laws.
"We have to start somewhere, and it may seem like we may not be able to do much, but in this day and age, we are really not that far away from Russia," Johnston said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has come under fire for recently implementing strong anti-gay laws, including one that bars gay parents from adopting Russian children (the law also bans adoption of Russian children to any country that allows same-sex marriage) as well as legislation against "gay propaganda."
The anti-propaganda law reportedly allows for jailing gay or pro-gay tourists and fining people for providing information about the LGBT community.
Windy City Times also reports that Andersonville's The Call bar, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., has also decided to serve non-Russian vodka.
Jason Cox, assistant director of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, said he "can't really speak officially from the chamber's perspective."
"But as a gay man, I think it's fantastic, and I hope more places do it," Cox said about Sidetrack and the Call's ban. "I'm imagining we're going to see a lot more businesses take a similar stance in the next week with Sidetrack firing the first shot. ... A lot of customers will start pressuring other establishments to do something similar."
It is not the first time Sidetrack has boycotted certain foreign alcohol brands from its shelves due to treatment of gay communities abroad.
Johnston said the bar also refuses to serve Myers's Rum or Red Stripe beer because he said there is a culture of violent discrimination against the gay community in Jamaica.