Culture

Taking a Political Stance in Your Bar Can Be Risky, But the Payoff Can Be Well Worth It

Some places find that talking it out is a good thing for staff and patrons alike.
“Spirits of the Americas” is meant to show how small the U.S. actually is in relation to both North and South America.
“Spirits of the Americas” is meant to show how small the U.S. actually is in relation to both North and South America.

Peaches, mint, simple syrup, lemon, soda water, and Bulleit Bourbon are all it takes to make the “Impeachmint” offered at Madison on Park in San Diego. Danny Kuehner, bar manager for the location, says the cocktail, down to its orange tint, made itself.

“Some drinks take time and a good amount of tweaking before they are perfect,” explains Kuehner in an email. “However, the Impeachmint went from idea, to name, to cocktail, in the time It took to get the peaches from the farmers market to the bar.”

The bar’s anti-Trump stance, in which $1 of all sales of the cocktail is donated to the ACLU, is one of many bars getting political across the U.S.

The “Impeachmint” offered at Madison on Park in San Diego. The “Impeachmint” offered at Madison on Park in San Diego.

Others, like Presidio in Chicago, choose to be more subtle in their approach.

“Everyone was mad and disillusioned with our current political climate,” says Sam Lyden, on staff at Presidio. “Rather than complain or be anti-this or that, we decided to take the opportunity to educate people who walk through our doors. Our staff did that the best way we knew how and that’s through cocktails.”

From there, explains Lyden, is where “Spirits of The Americas,” the summer cocktail menu for the high-end cocktail lounge and restaurant, was born.

Sam Lyden of Chicago's Presidio. Sam Lyden of Chicago's Presidio.
Lyden tells how “Spirits of the Americas,” is meant to show how small the U.S. actually is in relation to both North and South America. The 13 cocktails featured are made with ingredients such as mezcal, clear fernet, and pisco, and take customers through a tour of countries south of the U.S. border.

The purpose of the drink menu is not to get people talking, so much, as to celebrate our neighbors and the beauty of other cultures. The bar goes one step further and uses local suppliers (like Mexican company Cruz de Fuego’s mezcal brand) whenever possible.

Cuba Libre, on the other hand, welcomes patrons to engage in discussion. But it must be on the policy changes that affect the formerly communist country. The restaurant, with four locations across the U.S., was made to provide guests with an idea of what Cuban food and beverage would look like had Castro's regime never come to power. Since then, the menu has transformed into an appreciation and admiration of Cuban cuisine. Guests are encouraged to speak to staff about the country over mojitos, which are made with hand-pressed sugarcane, just like in Cuba.

Cuba Libre's mojito. Cuba Libre's mojito.

"With the recent political changes that have occurred in Cuba, there is an increased interest in the history and culture of this treasured island,” says owner Guillermo Pernots. “We want guests to engage in intelligent political discussion the way it’s done in Cuba, over delicious cuisine and cocktails with good friends."

Cuba Libre owner Guillermo Pernots. Cuba Libre owner Guillermo Pernots.

Taking a public political stance can be scary. But like all risks, the opportunity for reward follows. Just ask the people at Hopleaf in Chicago. On inauguration day, the bar was declared a Trump-free zone with sales benefitting Planned Parenthood. It was the bar’s busiest day in its 25-year history and the donation to Planned Parenthood amounted to $2,300.

A community embracing a political stand is a powerful driver, but Kuehner says staff reaction is what made the “Impeachmint” worth it for the restaurant. “We asked most of our staff if they'd be OK with this cocktail,” he says. “Not only did they say yes, they made it a point to say thank you and how it made them proud to work at a restaurant willing to take a risk like this. It's been a nice morale booster from the front of house to the back.”

Not everyone thinks that way. Sometimes, even the most die-hard politico needs a break. At the bar at Regina’s in Boston, for one example, political talk is checked at the door and any mention of either parties gets you the boot.

Ximena N. Larkin is a writer and publicist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Entrepreneur, Forbes, Business Insider, Refinery29, Chicago Sun-Times, and the Huffington Post. She lives for a good cocktail and story to go along with it.

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