UPDATE: Chicago gay bar boycotting Stoli vodka over anti-gay law


UPDATED: Stoli responds. Says SPI, the owner of Stoli, does not own the Stolichnaya brand in Russia. But LGBT activists say that’s a distortion of the truth: SPI is in Russia and the vodka comes from Russia.

Chicago’s largest gay bar has removed Stolichnaya Vodka from its shelves to protest Russia’s anti-gay law that has led to the arrest of citizens and tourists in that country.

Sidetrack, located on North Halsted Street in Boystown, posted an announcement on its Facebook page. The announcement said, “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.'”

The announcement continued, “The Stoli story is complicated by decades of lawsuits whereby the actual government of Russia has laid claim to the Stolichnaya brand name. Very soon the Russian government itself, which bans positive portrayals of LGBT people, may be the beneficiary of the goodwill earned by Stoli’s distributors and bars over the years. So starting immediately we will not sell Stoli or any other Russian products at Sidetrack.”

Sidetrack has led the way in prior boycotts over anti-gay campaigns and measures, including a boycott of Coors beer.

Numerous other organizations, businesses and leaders in the LGBT community in the United States have also called for a boycott of Stoli and Russian products, most notably activist and writer Dan Savage.

Savage recently wrote, “If you drink a Russian Vodka like Stoli, Russian Standard, or any of the other brands listed above, switch to another brand from another country, or even a local brand from a local distillery. Stoli is the iconic Russian Vodka and it’s returning to Russian ownership in 2014. Other brands like Russian Standard should also be boycotted. Do not drink Russian vodka. Do not buy Russian vodka. Ask your bartender at your favorite bar—gay or otherwise—to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.”

He also encouraged Seattle bars to dump Russian vodka.

Responding to growing calls for a boycott, Stoli has issued a statement emphasing that it is a support of the LGBT community. The statement reads, “Stolichnaya Premium Vodka continues to be fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community. This is true in all the countries the brand operates in around the world. SPI, the owner of Stoli, does not own the Stolichnaya brand in Russia. The Stolichnaya made in Russia for the local market is owned by a state-controlled entity that has absolutely no connection to SPI. Stoli firmly opposes the beliefs supported by the Russian Government in relation to the treatment of the LGBT community. If SPI were to manufacture, market and sell Stoli in Russia, the brand would actively demonstrate support for the LGBT community as it does throughout the rest of the world where Stoli is available.”

This statement prompted a response from Queer Nation, which cited a letter from Val Mendeleev, the CEO of SPI Group, the owner of the Stolichnaya brand, who confirmed that SPI produces the vodka in Russia and that SPI has offices and operations in Russia.

Queer Nation, in its statement, said, “By its own admission, SPI Group operates in Russia and pays taxes to the Russian government. That money funds these continuing attacks on LGBT people and organizations in Russia. Queer Nation will continue its boycott of Stolichnaya and other Russian vodkas until this anti-gay law is repealed and the Russian government guarantees the safety of its LGBT citizens and foreign LGBT nationals in Russia.

“We will not help you fund the Russian war on LGBT people.”