Like many citizens, Jill Cockson woke up on Friday June 24 in a different country. Her partner broke the news: Roe v. Wade was overruled. Waves of shock and anger gave way to frantic processing and a search for answers.
Cockson is one of the region’s most celebrated bartenders and business owners. She owns Tom’s Swordfish Y chartreuse lounge at the crossroads along with the minority ownership of Drastic measures in Shawnee,Kansas. He decided to use his outrage to do something tangible and fight the Supreme Court’s decision.
“I don’t care which unicorn you pray to, religious beliefs should have nothing to do with human rights issues, because we don’t live in a theocracy,” says Cockson. “Even if you’re a misogynist who doesn’t give a shit about women’s lives, this will affect everything from the extra taxes for child support to the 18 years of child support a bunch of these guys are about to get.” . ”
Cockson decided to exclusively offer the products of allies of women’s reproductive rights. She checked her inventory and dealer list, but selective searching returned disappointing results: Few in the spirits world had made a public statement. So, Cockson called his current dealers and applied some pressure.
“Us [service industry & the arts] they are silent and I don’t understand it; we have the power because we are the ones who do things,” says Cockson. “If you like craft cocktails and specialty cuisine, there are so many places you can go in this city.”
Something like an alcohol-infused Bechdel test was born: Has the company made a statement publicly affirming women’s and human rights?
If so, Cockson would stock its bars with its product. If not, she would find a replacement.
“Money is the only thing that matters to these people,” says Cockson. “We vote with our dollars, and often those dollars are filtered to create super PACs. So, we all better wake up and pay attention.”
Only three distributors in Missouri—Vintegrity, Aspect, and Pinnacle—have made public statements contesting the Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court.
Local liquor and dealer laws break down as follows:
- Missouri requires bars and restaurants to purchase alcohol from a third-party distributor and not directly from the distillery or brewery (once again taxing alcohol along the way).
- Large distributors in Missouri have a legislated monopoly on certain products (ie if a bar wants Bud Light, there is only one distributor they can buy from).
- Kansas requires bars and restaurants to purchase alcohol from a liquor store.
“I’m out of options and they know it,” says Cockson. “All the giants like Southern Glazers, Republic National Distribution and Breakthru Bev think, ‘Why take the risk of supporting something?’ because they know there’s nowhere else to go.”
Swordfish Tom’s can make do with the short list of allied distributors, as the establishment is a speakeasy specializing in cocktails. Not carrying major brands isn’t a big deal, as Cockson’s creativity can make up for a limited selection of products.
Chartreuse Saloon is another story. The Crossroads location is a hybrid of an inclusive dive bar and a historic western saloon with pool tables, darts, cards, and canned beer.
“None of the beer distributors have made a statement that I know of,” says Cockson. “Nothing but silence from Central States, North Kansas City Bev and Craft Republic, so I’m in real trouble with the Saloon.”
Not carrying beer is unsustainable for Chartreuse Saloon. Some local breweries such as Crane, City Barrel, Big Rip and Servaes Brewing Company have made strong statements of dissent from the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. But again, in Missouri, those beer offerings must be ordered through distributors who have gone silent.
In addition to breweries, Cockson says establishments like Tom’s Town, Union Horse, Ragazza and Brick have all issued strong statements. She says that supporting a business means supporting the people who report to it.
“I’ve been telling my guests at the bar, ‘Hi, thanks for supporting Planned Parenthood,’” says Cockson. “If you don’t want to support what I stand for, then you shouldn’t spend money on me, and at least I’m transparent about it.”
“I don’t know if I can handle writing checks to silent oppressors,” says Cockson.
The silence on the Roe issue goes beyond dealers and extends to many local restaurateurs. Cockson says many businesses and business owners on the subway have also remained silent, which to her sounds like tacit acceptance. This frustration caused Cockson to first consider selling the bars.
“It has been almost total silence from producers, distributors and even major bar and restaurant owners,” says Cockson. “In my opinion it is disgusting; God forbid, you jeopardize your prize platform.”
Cockson herself was nominated for a James Beard Award through her cocktail show at The Other Room in Lincoln, NE; the 2015 nomination was a first for the state of Nebraska. These awards are highly competitive and generate great business for the winners and nominees.
“Desire [the bar and restaurant] the industry wasn’t so full of people who are so greedy for fucking prizes that they can’t say the right thing,” says Cockson. “They don’t want to risk losing that giant house or not being able to drive that Beamer.”
The hospitality industry has long been known to actively recruit and support women, minorities, and LGBTQIA individuals. But Cockson says that’s just hot air if the industry doesn’t fight for human rights. She surmises that if award winners and fiscally successful establishments use their platforms to pressure their distributors, they could at least get public statements.
“I’m referring to our industry in general,” says Cockson.
Cockson has removed all silent distributors, ordering the absolute minimum until more allied options become available.
She calls on others in her industry to do the same.