Boston Gay Bars Debate Boycotting Russian Vodka

There's an international movement to protest the country's recent anti-gay legislation.


Image Credit: philosophygeek on Flickr

Russia’s recent crackdown on homosexuality has set off a movement that now has gay bars in Boston joining those from Seattle to London in considering taking the Russian vodkas off their shelves.

Russia has passed a series of anti-gay laws in recent months, including one banning the broadly defined “gay propaganda,” that have sparked protests from the international community and some calls for a boycott of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. In response, Dan Savage, columnist and initiator of LGBT causes both high and low, suggested last week that gays begin a boycott of their own. He urged bars to keep Russian vodka brands off their shelves. Several Chicago clubs soon took up the cause, and eventually the movement spread to other cities.

That includes, in a limited way, our very own. Fritz, a gay sports bar in the South End, announced on its Facebook that as of Tuesday, it will no longer serving Stolichnaya products “due to the anti-gay legislation in Russia.” (Stolichnaya’s Stoli vodka, by the way, is made by a company in Luxembourg, but the U.S. distributor is Russian, and the brand is moving back to Russian ownership next year, as Savage pointed out.) At least one other Boston bar is strongly considering some action, but hadn’t solidified details on Wednesday.


An image distributed by columnist and activist Dan Savage

Across the country, the boycott has been met with mixed reviews. Frank Ribaudo, the owner of Club Café in Boston’s Back Bay, said that he’s keeping the Russian products stocked.

“Stoli has been a great supporter of the gay community and a great supporter of Club Café for many years and it just doesn’t seem like the right action to take,” he said. “We have three Russian employees here so we know very well what the ramifications of [these laws] are. But I don’t see how boycotting Stoli makes any sense.”

Indeed Stolichnaya issued a statement saying, “Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong & proud with the global LGBT community against the actions and beliefs of the Russian government.” Many people besides Ribaudo suggesting that a boycott on their products isn’t affecting those truly responsible for Russia’s legislation.

Nikolai Alekseev, a prominent Russian LGBT activist, one of those skeptics. “To be honest, I don’t see the point in boycotting the Russian vodka,” he said in an interview with Gay Star News. “It will impact anyone except the companies involved a little bit. The effect will die out very fast, it will not last forever.” He added, “The producers, even if they become bankrupt because of the boycott (which is unlikely) will not be able to influence Russian politics and President Putin as well as the decisions of the State Duma.”

Several other Boston bars, when reached by phone, couldn’t say whether they’d given the boycott consideration. But even if a bar hasn’t decided whether to participate, the movement’s receiving enough attention that someone ordering from the bar likely is making a choice. As a bartender at the Boston Eagle said when reached by phone, “Well, we carry the product. It’s up to the individual customer to make that decision.”