323 Main removes “Tuskegee Experiment” cocktail from menu

By Rachel Suggs ’21

When customers now walk into downtown Westport’s 323 Main, they will not be offered an official cocktail menu.

“We used to have a cocktail menu with names that featured historical events. But now we have no real cocktail menu. Just a list of our wines and beers,” Reign Kinseley ’19 said, who has worked at 323 Main for over one year. “Customers just order what they want.”

This is following the removal of a cocktail titled “Tuskegee Experiment” from their specialty drink menu on Friday, Aug. 17, after community backlash.

The specialty drink’s title referred to a series of tests conducted on black men in the mid-1900s, with the full title of “The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” According to a report by the Brought to Life Science Museum, it was a “clinical study that has become a byword for racist and unethical medical experimentation.”

It involved almost 400 impoverished black men with asymptomatic syphilis. For 40 years, they were not told that they had syphilis, and therefore never received treatment. After the experiment, “only 74 of the original participants were still alive. Twenty-eight men had died of the disease and a further hundred or so of related complications. Forty wives had been infected and 19 children had been born with congenital syphilis,” according to the Science Museum study. The goal of the study was to find out if syphilis affected black men differently than white men.

New York resident Leah Bornstein, who dined at 323 Main on Aug. 11, was among the first to object the drink, according to Westport News. She discussed the drink title with the bartender and contacted the owner, campaigning to have the drink removed from the menu.

In addition, Westport resident Eric Armour made a Facebook post four days later on Aug. 15 that received national news coverage. When he noticed the drink’s name, he took a picture of the menu and posted it to Facebook with the caption “Umm. This is ridiculously horrible.”

Between the joint efforts of Armour and Bornstein, as well as several other Facebook posts from equally outraged patrons, the drink was removed from the restaurant’s menu on Aug. 17, according to Fox News.

The cocktail consisted of Myers dark rum, Malibu rum, pineapple juice, fresh lime, a pineapple and jalapeño mash and a dash of Tabasco, according to Eater.com.

However, while having a name with a racist connotation appear on a cocktail menu was a shock to many, some residents were less offended than others. “323 is a good place with good people. There’s no racism here,” Kinseley said.

But not all agree.

Brenda Penn-Williams, president of the Norwalk National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), gave a statement to Westport News.  “The Norwalk NAACP condemns 323 Main Restaurant for naming a drink after ‘The Tuskegee Experiment,’” Penn-Williams said. “It is a shame that 323 Main Restaurant continued with the same racist mindset in these times.”

Following the complaints, 323 Main released a statement on the restaurant’s official Facebook page. “We sincerely apologize for our insensitivity and the lack of forethought on our part,” 323 Main said. “The name of the drink was clearly inappropriate, and we will seriously be considering the history and impact behind the names on future menus.”