Patrons will face a shortage of Russian vodka as some East Bay bars participate in a protest against Russia's anti-gay propaganda law.
Russia's recent laws, including the outlawing of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" among minors, the ability of police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals suspected of being homosexual, lesbian or "pro-gay" and detain them for up to 14 days and the banning of the adoption of children by same-sex parents, sparked a reaction across the United States. Some gay bars in the East Bay have stopped ordering Russian vodka, or plan to throw out their current supply to show their opposition to Russia's anti-gay stance.
Joe Velez, the general manager of White Horse in Oakland, one of the oldest gay bars in the nation, is planning to sell the last of his supply of Stolichnaya, about five bottles, this week. He said he hasn't ordered the vodka for a couple of weeks and doesn't plan to. Velez also added that customers, longtime Stoli drinkers, have stopped ordering it for the past few weeks in protest.
"We've just decided since they're going through all these issues with gays, we're really just refusing to sell their vodka," Velez said. "It's just completely absurd. In this day and age I just can't even imagine that you have an entire nation that is going against a specific group of people."
The Bench and Bar night club in Oakland stopped serving Stolichnaya and Nikolai vodka about a week ago, leaving the unopened bottles in the back. The Ally, also located in Oakland, has stopped purchasing Stolichnaya as well.
The idea behind the "vodka dumping" stems from Dan Savage, an American columnist who encouraged bar owners to get rid of Russian vodka in protest and urged bar goers to stop drinking the vodka in late July.
Some patrons said they believe the boycott will have a major impact and will hurt Russia financially.
"A lot of people are saying removing liquors that are Russian made isn't going to do anything, but I definitely think it will," said Cherie Allen, a DJ at White Horse, as well as a patron. "I think every bar should do it."
However, some bar owners are hoping the U.S. government will take matters into their own hands and take a stand against Russia.
"Everybody should make their statement in the way they feel they could draw attention to what they're trying to say," said Larry Gray, owner of the Turf Club in Hayward, which has been serving the LGBT community since the early 60s. "But I hope the United States will boycott the Olympics."
Gray said he will continue serving Russian vodka in his bar and added that he believes there are better ways to prove a point against Russia than dumping its vodka.
As of now, there is a petition for the U.S to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, which has gathered about 900 signatures. The petition, offered by We the People portal on the White House website, requires 100,000 signatures in order to receive official consideration.
In response to the vodka dumping, the CEO of the SPI Group that produces and sells the Stolichnaya vodka published an open letter on the website explaining their opposition to Russia's stance. Val Mendeleev writes: "Indeed, as a company that encourages transparency and fairness, we are upset and angry. Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community."
He acknowledges that Stoli is made from Russian ingredients: wheat, rye and raw alcohol, but writes that the Russian government has "no ownership interest or control over the Stoli brand that is privately owned by SPI Group, headquartered in Luxembourg."
Despite the letter, some bar owners said they hope this protest will force the country to reconsider its stance.
"I'm gay myself, and I find it absolutely appalling that in 2013 they're going through this witch hunt," Velez said. "I hope this form of protest will actually make them wake up and think 'why are we doing this.'"