Westport restaurant removes racially insensitive drink from menu
WESTPORT — When Leah Bornstein went to 323 Main Street to see her friend’s stepfather’s band play, she was stunned by what she saw on the restaurant’s cocktail menu.
It was a drink that the restaurant called “The Tuskegee Experiment.”
The name refers to the U.S. government’s 40-year medical experiment that left hundreds of African-American men with syphilis untreated, so scientists could study the progression of the disease. The study began in 1932 in collaboration with Tuskegee University, a historically black college in Alabama.
The episode has become a historical marker of institutionalized racism.
“I was appalled when I saw (the drink name),” said Bornstein, a New York City resident who noted she was at 323 with other people, none of whom had been to the restaurant before, on Aug. 11.
Bornstein said she later spoke with the bartender and called and emailed the owner to have the cocktail removed. By the following Friday, Aug. 17, the Tuskegee cocktail was no longer on the menu.
Two days before, on Aug. 15, Bornstein’s friend, Eric Armour posted a photo of 323’s cocktail menu, which included the Tuskegee drink, on Facebook and wrote, “Umm. This is ridiculously horrible.”
According to the photo of the specialty cocktail menu Armour posted, the Tuskegee drink included rum, lime, pineapple and jalapeno mash, and a dash of Tabasco. Cocktails titled “The Red October,” “Cold War Margarita” and “Capetown Transfusion” were also on the menu.
Affluent and predominantly white, Westport has had some recent racial controversy. The town garnered national attention last year when the fourth annual installment of TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest had white privilege as its topic.
The contest became the center of heated debate in Westport, with sides dividing on the question of whether topic was valid and timely or in itself biased.
The owner of 323, which describes itself as “a friendly neighborhood restaurant serving American cuisine,” has not responded to repeated calls for comment.
Emily Clayton, 323’s bar manager, said last week that she had never heard of a cocktail called “The Tuskegee Experiment” at the restaurant.
When asked for the specialty cocktail menu, Clayton looked through the bar menus but said the cocktail menu was missing.
“It looks like it’s being updated, because I don’t see them in any of the books,” she Clayton said.
“I had heard someone come in and say something about it but I was confused because we’ve never had a cocktail by that name,” Clayton said in response to the cocktail controversy.
But on the restaurant’s Facebook page, management appeared to acknowledge the drink’s existence.
“... we sincerely apologize for our insensitivity and the lack of forethought on our part,” the restaurant said in response to a complaint. “The name of the drink was clearly inappropriate, and we will seriously be considering the history and impact behind the names on future menus.”
Brenda Penn-Williams, president of the Norwalk NAACP, called out the restaurant for choosing such a name for a drink.
“The Norwalk NAACP condemns 323 Main Restaurant for naming a drink after ‘The Tuskegee Experiment,’ based on facts the Tuskegee syphilis experiment was an infamous, unethical and malicious clinical study conducted between 1932 thru 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service which was mean and evil,” Penn-Williams said.
“To conduct such an experiment on rural, uneducated African-American men which was the leading cause of death is a travesty of injustice and a lack of human regard,” she said. “It is a shame that 323 Main Restaurant continued with the same racist mind set in these times.”
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