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Food & Drink

Fells Point bars stock up on Ukrainian liquor while Baltimore-area stores, restaurants, dump Russian vodka

The delivery truck had a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag on its side. As it sat parked Wednesday afternoon in Fells Point, its owner unloaded brandies, beers, wines and honey pepper vodka, all from various parts of Ukraine.

“We want to sell as much as we can and if we run out, they’ll bring more tomorrow,” said Ron Furman, owner of Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point.

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Furman organized the sale of Ukrainian spirits to fellow restaurant and bar owners this week as a way of showing support to the country that is enduring a withering assault from neighboring Russia. Profits from Ukrainian bottles sold through Max’s will be donated to World Central Kitchen, the José Andrés-led charity that has begun serving meals in Ukraine.

“It felt like a natural partnership, hospitality to hospitality,” said Brina Furman, Ron’s daughter, who helped organize the event. “This is what we do, we feed people.”

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To source the Ukrainian products for his and other restaurants, Furman reached out to Interbalt Fine Wines & Spirits, a Rockville-based company that is the largest distributor of Eastern European spirits in the Mid-Atlantic region, according to owner Konstantin Khizder.

The past few days have seen an increase in orders for Ukrainian products as people seek to support that nation, Khizder said. Whether the supply can meet the demand is unclear: He’s still not sure how the ongoing war will affect the import of goods.

“It’s really a terrible situation,” said Khizder, who moved to the U.S. from the Republic of Georgia 20 years ago. He wants people to know: “We stand with Ukraine.”

Elsewhere in the city and beyond, some stores and restaurants have stopped selling Russian vodka and other items as they seek ways to show unity with the Ukrainian people.

Total Wine, which has a store on Loch Raven Boulevard in Towson, has stopped buying and selling all Russian products. In an emailed statement, a spokesman for the company, which is co-owned by Maryland Democratic congressman David Trone, wrote: “We are ceasing the purchase and sale of Russian-made products in order to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”

Montgomery County halted the sale of Russian items at its government-operated liquor stores, according to a statement issued by County Executive Marc Elrich.

Nationally, Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine told the state’s Commerce Department to cease the purchase and sale of Russian Standard vodka, while New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed an executive order requiring state liquor outlets to remove Russian-made and branded alcohol.

Tony Foreman said his Foreman Wolf restaurant group has taken Russian vodkas off the menu at Charleston, Johnny’s and other restaurants owned by the company. He’s also ordered a Ukrainian flag to hang at his Milton Inn restaurant in Sparks, where a member of the staff is Ukrainian.

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Alona Rutska, a 34-year-old dining room manager at the Milton Inn, said that after moving to Baltimore from Vinnytsia, a city in central Ukraine, she became used to hearing from family and friends who were worried about her in Maryland as footage of the unrest in 2015 was broadcast around the globe.

Lately, though, she breaks down sobbing as she talks about her family back in her home country, especially her dad, who has trouble walking and so decided to stay put rather than flee even as Russian rockets began flying down.

“I’m trying not to panic because they’re saying they’re safe,” Rutska said.

Asked about restaurants’ effort to boycott Russian products, Rutska says, “It’s a nice gesture, but it’s not [the people] who started the war.”

Still, she said, “it’s nice that people are trying to support us Ukrainians.”

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Most of all, she said she feels “so confused and so lost,” thinking about the invasion. “I don’t understand why [Russian President Vladimir Putin]’s doing this.”

Sitting at a table outside Max’s, Furman shared that perspective.

“Putin is invading, to what end? To bring back Russia as it once was?” the bar owner said.

The invasion, he said, reminded him of the Nazi blitz across Europe in the late 1930′s. As a Jew, he wonders: “C’mon humanity, when are we going to learn?”

Nearby, Charlie Gjerde loaded up a hand cart with boxes of Ukrainian spirits, which he plans to sell at Wicked Sisters, Papi’s Tacos and other restaurants he operates in Baltimore.

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“If we can do our part,” he said, “we’ll help out where we can.”

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Gjerde said he was glad to support World Central Kitchen, an organization that he had worked with during the pandemic to provide meals to frontline workers. The organization “was so well run,” he said. “I think it’s a great cause.”

Inside Max’s, Jascy Jones picked up a metallic pink bottle of sparkling wine and poured some into a plastic cup.

“It has a nice flavor, not overly sweet,” she said, taking a sip.

She thinks it will be a popular menu item at Luna Garden, the Thames Street cafe and wine bar she opened this year inside the former Baby’s On Fire.

“With the look of the bottle,” she said, “it’s a nice conversation starter.”


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