Russian vodka ban

Which Toronto bars are still selling Russian vodka?

In the wake of a new Russian law making it illegal to teach children about homosexuality, several bars in Toronto are making their opposition known by banning the sale of Russian vodkas. Others, though, haven't jumped on that bandwagon as of yet. The law will allow police to arrest tourists and foreign nationals who are suspected of being gay, or of being allies of the queer community.

While there are many ways to boycott the law, banning the sale of Russian vodka is an obvious small step bars can take if they want to visibly stand in opposition. We surveyed bars around the city to see what they thought about the effectiveness of a ban. Full disclosure: we didn't call every bar in Toronto, but we did call a wide sample, and a fair percentage of them seem to be taking that step. Andy Poolhall, The Maddy, and Byzantium are just a few examples of spots we know of that have chosen to boycott Russian vodka.

Northwood, on the other hand, continues to sell Stolichnaya vodka. Their staff is in agreement with the reasons behind the boycott, but they tell me they're not sure they want to venture into making overt political statements as an establishment. So, they tell me they haven't banned it yet.

This issue is more complex than it looks. In proud displays of solidarity, for example, people in the U.S. have been dumping Stolichnaya vodka into gutters, even employing #dumpstoli to get the word out. But some people, including Latvian gay rights groups, are saying this is a misguided form of protest. Stolichnaya is actually distilled in Latvia, and it's owned by a Luxembourg company. But, it's owned by one of Russia's 100 most wealthy people, and its ingredients are sourced from Russia.

The Drake is just one establishment in the city that has picked up on these somewhat paradoxical nuances. They say they fully support the LGBTQ community, but that they will continue to sell Russian brands whose ownership is Latvian or British, rather than imposing an outright ban on all Russian brands.

The Horseshoe is exhibiting restraint of another sort. They plan to ban Russian vodkas, but only after their current supply has run dry. Other bars, like the Annex Wreckroom, told us they wouldn't participate in our survey. And Suits Lobby Lounge in the Trump Hotel told us they plan to keep serving Russian vodka, but wouldn't expand on why.

Aside from those responses, other bars on the list of many dozens or so we spoke with said they never sold Russian vodka in the first place, or that, while they've never sold Russian vodka, they do support those who are boycotting.

Bars in Vancouver, Chicago and Seattle, among other North American cities, are instituting various bans, as well.

What do you think? Is boycotting Russian vodka an effective way to combat the law? Would you still patronize a bar that continues to sell Russian vodka?

With research by Haley A. Steinberg.

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