When a Cocktail Collides with American History

When a Cocktail Collides with American History

The Friendly Toast removes controversially-named cocktail from menu

  • Posted on: 10 February 2015
  • By: bevmire

February is a short 28-day period designated Black History Month. During this time, familiar faces and accomplishments that have changed the face of America are celebrated.

However, the recent story about a cocktail served at The Friendly Toast in Kendall Square serves as a stark reminder that history, and the hurt it sometimes inflicts, is often diluted, minimized, ignored, or just plain not noticed.

“Strange Fruit” is the name of a drink on the Friendly Toast’s cocktail menu. For those who don’t know, the song was written by Abel Meerpol in the 1930s as a response to the lynching of black men. It became a signature song of Billie Holliday, and later Nina Simone. When you research the words Strange Fruit, the analysis is accompanied horrific images of black men hanging from trees—hence the title.

A social media storm took life last week when some astute patrons of the cute, kitschy, and beloved-by-many Kendall Square restaurant saw the name and took to Twitter and Facebook to demand the cocktail, the name, be taken off the menu. Questions by patrons to Friendly Toast staff seemed to prove that they were unaware of the hurt Strange Fruit invokes. According to Mita Shah Hoppenfeld in her blog post and story that ran Monday (2/9) in Cambridge Day a staffer said, “We can’t take down everything that offends anyone in the restaurant What about that picture [a picture of a man holding two animals on a leash], is it animal cruelty? Should we take it down if someone is offended by it?”

The larger question remained: how did the cocktail, that name, land on the menu in the first place? NeighborMedia.org contacted Friendly Toast owner Eric Goodwin who immediately returned our email inquiry. “We just heard about this earlier today,” Mr Goodwin said. “We bought the restaurant in Oct of 2013 and inherited this drink without any knowledge of this historical connotation or negative context to it. It has never been brought to our attention in any way. At the Toast if anyone is familiar with it, we celebrate diversity on every level. If there is anything offensive about this in any way, then of course we will change the name and remove that title. We are in process of doing that now. We are respectful of those who brought it our intention and intend to promptly honor their request to remove it. “

A quick bit of research to verify Mr. Goodwin’s explanation found him to be right...the name came with the restaurant. And, sadly, research found that the name is still in use. The Friendly Toast’s former owners, Robert and Melissa Jasper, have opened a restaurant, Zenith, in Detroit, and “Strange Fruit” is on the menu. NeighborMedia is in the process of contacting the Jaspers to ask their reasoning.

We’re hoping they don’t compare lynching with two animals on a leash.