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More bars stop selling Russian products
by Matt Simonette

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Four more Chicago bars—Elixir Lounge, 3452 N. Halsted, Halsted's Bar and Grill, 3441 N. Halsted, Hydrate Nightclub, 3458 N. Halsted, and Replay, 3449 N. Halsted—have said that they will stop selling Russian products, according to a statement released today.

And a fifth bar, Parlour, has also pulled products.

The four bars that issued a joint statement said they "have been monitoring the unfolding events in Russia and we are extremely outraged by the open attacks of the government against the rights of the GLBT community. Effective immediately, we will be pulling all Russian made products from the shelves at all of our establishments. We have been working with our distributors over the past few weeks to identify a premium spirit produced in a country that recognizes and respects the importance and equality of every citizen of the world."

The statement further announced that the bars would be serving Reyker Vodka, produced in Iceland, and that "the Chicago based Reyka Vodka brand team is making a generous donation to Equality Illinois, an organization which tirelessly fights for equal rights not just here in Illinois, but globally, wherever the equal rights of the GLBT community are compromised."

Christine Calhoun of Parlour on Clark posted on Facebook that the bar "has also pulled Stoli from our shelves. We proudly serve Halsted Vodka!"

Both The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr, and Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted, yesterday said that they would also be removing Stolichnaya and other Russian products from their shelves.

"I had been following the various news reports about what was going on in Russia," said Sidetrack co-owner Art Johnston. "It's hard to believe that they could carry out and enforce that kind of a law, but they did." He added that there was no way he could in good conscience continue to serve Stolichnaya or any other Russian products at the nightclub.

Businesses that imported and distributed Stolichnaya for Sidetrack have been huge supporters of the LGBT community, Johnston said. "They've always been quite responsive to us, so it's not a move that we take lightly."

Johnston also emphasized that the decision was a matter of conscience and not an effort to ignite a widespread boycott. "The purpose of this was not to say that we we're better than other businesses. Other businesses have their own concerns and may not be in the same position to do something like this."

Stolichnaya's corporate owners, Luxembourg-based SPI Group, today released an open letter from their CEO, Val Mendeleev, expressing its opposition to the laws.

"I want to stress that Stoli firmly opposes such attitude and actions. Indeed, as a company that encourages transparency and fairness, we are upset and angry," said Mendeleev. "Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be, a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community.

The ownership of the Stolichnaya trademark has long been in dispute between SPI and the Russian government. Mendeleev's statement attempted to distance SPI from the Russian government, which it insisted had no ownership or control over Stolichnaya. The statement also explained that the vodka's ingredients came from Russia and were distilled and bottled in Latvia.

"We fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia. In the past decade, SPI has been actively advocating in favor of freedom, tolerance and openness in society, standing very passionately on the side of the LGBT community and will continue to support any effective initiative in that direction," said the statement.

Stoli's response: .

Dan Savage's detailed report on Russian vodkas and connections with Stoli .

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