Sidetrack, nation’s LGBT bars end boycott of Stoli vodka

Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images.

Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images.

The largest bar and nightclub in the Boystown neighborhood will be serving a popular Soviet brand once again, having boycotted it since the summer of 2013. Stolichnaya vodka—a Russian-inspired spirit bottled in Latvia—will be available to customers of Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted St., as of Thursday, Feb. 6, according to a post on its Facebook page.

Following the passage of Russia’s homosexuality propaganda law last summer—punishing any person in the Russian Federation that promotes equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, in public displays, with fines and imprisonment—Sidetrack joined a nationwide boycott of Stolichnaya.

Sidetrack noted significant donations by Stolichnaya to a Los Angeles-area LGBT advocacy program and to the Russia Freedom Fund as reasons for ending its self-imposed ban.

“As Russia prepares to launch these Olympic games, today Stoli has allied itself on the side of LGBT freedom and will once again be on the shelves at Sidetrack,” the Facebook statement said.

Stolichnaya’s LGBT investments

Sidetrack’s announcement comes two weeks after John Esposito, president of SPI North America, penned an op-ed in the Los Angeles-based announcing its pledge of support for the LGBT community.

“Because we at Stoli—and all corporations that support equality—have a responsibility to help make a difference, we have been working with our long-standing partners in the LGBT community to evaluate opportunities to make a significant and strategic investment in the global future of the LGBT movement. And that’s why we have decided to partner with the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center by pledging $300,000 over the next three years to support a program that stands out for its potential to narrow this divide: its Leadership LAB initiative.”

The Russia Freedom Fund is an organized effort by American advocates for Russian LGBT rights.

The Fund is a U.S. tax deductible vehicle for making financial contributions in support of the LGBT movement in Russia and efforts to combat discrimination and violence there based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” the Fund’s website says. “One hundred percent of all donations will be paid out as grants. This initiative responds to growing concerns about recent state-sponsored discrimination in Russia and expresses solidarity between the international LGBT community and allies, and the Russian LGBT movement.”

Misinformed boycott

Many, including Stolichnaya’s parent company, felt that the boycott was guided by—and spread—misinformation about the Stolichnaya brand.

Known simply as Stoli in the U.S., the vodka is not in fact Russian—produced by Luxembourg-based SPI Group since 1997, largely in Riga, Latvia.

SPI Group explained in a 2013 statement, “While we are proud of our Russian heritage, we are not a Russian State-owned brand nor do we support their laws and actions against the LGBT community there.”

As the nationwide boycott heated up, SPI Group attempted to educate more people about misinformation regarding its brand, and protestors’ angry comments about the brand name’s ties to the Russian government.

“The Russian government, through a state-owned company, owns the Stolichnaya trademark in Russia but has no stake in the global brand owned by SPI,” SPI Group said in a statement. “In fact, in 2001, the Russian government seized the Stolichnaya brand in Russia from SPI Group and illegitimately nationalized it. Since that time, we have not sold Stolichnaya in Russia and we have been locked in a legal battle with the government over the ownership of the trademark outside of Russia.”

“We feel it is important to raise our voice again and let the LGBT community know we share the same desire for justice and equality. And we are invested in achieving a brighter tomorrow for all,” Esposito said on Jan. 23.

Despite SPI Group’s outreach regarding the misinformation, bars and nightclubs like Sidetrack stood by its boycott—until today.

Uprising of Love

Bars in Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Louisville, New York City and San Francisco will be joining a nationwide fundraising event called the Uprising of Love on Friday, Feb. 7.

Sidetrack, Berlin, DS Tequila Company, Elixir Lounge, Halsted’s Bar and Grill, Hydrate, Minibar, Progress Bar, and Replay have promised to donate $1 for each drink sold between 9 p.m. to midnight to the Russia Freedom Fund.

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About Gerald Farinas

An Edgewater Beach resident, Gerry is news director of Opus News. He is concurrently an Evanston-based social services professional and media consultant.