In some fancy, oak-paneled bars from Georgetown to Capitol Hill, from Scandals to Sarsfield's, Russian vodka is going the way of detente -- down the drain.
"We've pulled it off the shelves," says Michael G. O'Harro, Georgetown's disco kingpin who has ordered bartenders at Scandals to say, "Nyet!" to all customer requests for shooters of Stolychnaya, perhaps the most popular call brand of vodka in Washington.
Indeed, Russia's Stolychnaya -- "Stoly" to comrades -- warms the hearts of vodka connoisseurs who drink it cold, straight up, and consider it as essential to their well-being as joggers do Perrier. A series of "kamikaze shooters" -- Stoly chilled over ice, scented with Rose's lime juice, poured into a shot glass and thrown back in one gulp -- can be wonderfully lethal, say vodka aficionados.
But a Stoly "buzz" will be hard to achieve if club owners like O'Harro have anything to say about Russian troops in Afghanistan, the desalination of detente and other matters of diplomacy.
"I told my bartenders, 'Anyone orders Stolychnaya, tell them we don't serve Russian vodka,'" said O'Harro, the Brzezinski of disco bars.
Stolychnaya is the only Russian vodka imported into the United States. The sole importer, Monsieur Henri of New York, had no trouble getting rid of the 600,000 cases it brought into the country last year. "We sold every bottle we could lay our hands on," said a Monsieur Henri vice president, who doubted that Russian transgressions half a world away -- and Washington's fledgling boycott -- would have any impact on sales. "But it's too early to tell."
Americans guzzle about 10 times as much Smirnoff's as Stoly, pouring it into Bloody Marys and bullshots, screwdrivers and purple cows. But vodka snobs perfer Stoly, reportedly the largest selling imported vodka in the United States.
"It's not the largest volume vodka but it's the most called for in restaurants and lounges," claims an area sales representative.
But O'Harro plans to substitute Finlandia, a vodka distilled in Finland, for Stolychnaya, having joined the ranks of several bar owners who are making a grass-roots effort at organizing a local boycott of the popular Russian brand to protest Soviet aggression and deny Russia the hard currency it gleans from an estimated $60 million in annual sales in America.
"We're not serving it until the crisis in Afghanistan is over," said Mo Sussman, 36, owner of Joe and Mo's, a Connecticut Avenue restaurant.
Indeed, Sussman has been contemplating pouring the case and a half he has left into the gutters on 16th Street outside the Soviet embassy. "Do you think I'd get arrested."
"Gee, that'd be super." Sussman predicts that, anyday now, Stolychnaya could soon be flowing like the Volga through the streets of Washington.
But the Foxtrappe, elan's, F. Scott's and others say they have no plans to stop pouring Stoly, as long as they can get it. "Our customers like Russian vodka," says elan's Denise Donovan. "It's a very good seller and we've got to get our customers what they want.
"Last week our liquor salesman said we'd probably have trouble getting it in the future, so we ordered a few extra cases. No one here took politics into consideration."
What better barroom bravado than to mix a dash of self-promotion with a pinch of patriotism. "Okay, I'll level with you," said Sussman. "It started as a goof, a PR stunt. But the more we talked about it, the stronger we felt about the Russian invasion. Sure, people are going to question our motives. There's no reason why they shouldn't.
"But what started as a silly publicity stunt is now going to be a concerted effort to take a stand."
"This is 100 percent patriotism," insisted O'Harro, who also has a flare for self-promotion. "It's only promotion when it's in print. . . ." Stoly, he said, "is our only Russian product. But we're willing to give it up."
He was asked to submit to a short quiz on current events. Did he know where Afghanistan was?
"Sure, I do," he said. "I know all about Afghanistan and the recent events," he said.
"The ball is really rolling," enthused O'Harro, president of the International Discotheque, the trade association for America's 15,000 disco club owners. He plans to fly his crusade to Los Angeles next month at the annual Disco Convention. "We're encouraging all club owners to stop serving Russian vodka. We're using word of mouth. We're writing letters."
Indeed, on Friday, he enlisted Mianael Nardella, creator of Nard's Rock and Roll Review, who supplies jabbering disco jockeys to manufacture mood at dozens of Washington clubs, to lean on the trade to get behind the boycott. a"Everyone's lining up firmly behind th issue," said Nardella, sounding as diplomatic as Hodding Carter. He said he had lobbied at least a dozen bars to keep Russian vodka off the shelf.
But, insists a Monsieur Henri area sales representative, "Only two or three clubs are refusing to stock it . . . Events in Afghanistan have had no effect on 99 percent of our retailers and restaurants." But he's worried. "Calling attention to Stolychnaya at a time like this is like scratching a rash. It can't get better.
"You have a situation in the United States where people are beginning to get festered -- and writing about Stoly can only hurt sales. Why didn't you write the story six months ago? Why can't you wait eight months from now?"
But restaurateur Jerry Abramson insists that gourmet standards should never bend for diplomacy's sake. He plans to uncork the Stolychnaya and cook up a storm of Russian delicacies -- from shashlik to smoked salmon -- where he throws a $35 a head "Russian Night" at Brook Farm, his Chevy Chase restaurant.
Monsieur Henri obtained the rights to distribute the fiery Russian vodka in America from Pepsi three years ago. In 1973, during a cozy era of detente, Thomas Kendall, president of Pepsi and a friend of then-president Nixon, signed a 10-year barter deal with Russia to turn young Muskovites into a Pepsi generation. In return, Pepsi secured exclusive rights to market Stolychnaya in America.
No corporate honcho at Hueblein, in Farmington, Conn., maker of Smirnoff's, could be reached for an official gloat, but a secretary conceded delight that a package store owner in Hartford, Conn., had flushed four cases of Stolychnaya down the toilet -- on TV.
Still, there were no illusions that stuffing the cork in Russian vodka would bring the Soviet bear to its knees. "It's not exactly going to put Russia in a bind, but it makes me feel good -- even if it doesn't make a difference," said Sussman.
Other bartenders said they still planned to pour on request. "It's still on the shelf," said a bartender at Jenkins Hill. And Don Nicholson, manager of Sarsfield's, where Hamilton Jordan introduced America to Amoretto and cream, said he would sell the final bottle of Stoly before joining the boycott. "A dollar is a dollar," he said.