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Three Bars Just Say Nyet to Russian Vodka

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by Marene Gustin

The Dirt, El Gran Malo, and the soon-to-open El Big Bad, all owned by brothers Shaun and Steve Sharma, are banning Russian vodka over that country’s recent antigay stance.

“We had heard about some bars in New York and San Francisco doing it,” says Shaun Sharma, “and we just thought it was a great idea.

“Certainly it’s not a financial blow to Russia, but we wanted to show our support to the LGBT community. It’s about kindness and human decency.”

A recent Russian law signed by President Vladimir Putin calls for fines and up to fifteen days imprisonment for those charged with spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors and calls for fines for those holding Pride events.

There have also been reports that some lawmakers want to go further, banning homosexuals from holding government jobs and even exiling them.

In this country and in England there has been concern about participation in the February Winter Olympics in Russia in 2014. Hundreds of people recently protested in London, and British gay actor Stephen Fry called for the games to be moved from Russia. Others are calling for countries to boycott the games if they stay in Russia. Both England’s Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama have stated their concerns about abuse of homosexuals in Russia but also say that their countries will not boycott the Olympics.

On August 7 members of the gay rights group All Out confronted Russia’s U.N. Ambassador with a petition signed by 340,457 people worldwide demanding Russia stop the crackdown on gays.

Besides the boycott of Russian vodka, the bar-owning brothers will also donate a portion of the proceeds from The Dirt’s annual ’80s Prom Party September 20 to All Out.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Sharma says.

The boycott against Russian vodka has now gone global, and although it won’t seriously affect Russia, it is a way of letting that country know that much of the world isn’t happy with the new law. As for vodka drinkers, Sharma doesn’t think they will mind.

“Vodka is produced all over the world,” he says, “even in Texas. So vodka drinkers have plenty of choices.”

Sharma doesn’t expect to lose any customers over the ban but says even if he does lose a few, that’s okay.

“Being slightly inconvenienced shouldn’t even be an issue when you’re talking about basic human rights,” he adds.

Besides banning the booze at The Dirt, a downtown bar that plays rock-and-roll music, and its sister bar El Gran Malo, you also won’t find the Russian drink at El Big Bad when it opens September 1 in the old Cabo’s spot downtown on Market Square. The Sharma brothers are expanding on the Tex-Mex menu at El Gran Malo with the aid of well-known chef Randy Rucker. El Big Bad will be a full restaurant and bar with fifty infused tequilas on the menu. But no Stoli.

Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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