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Mo’s Bar and Lounge, located at 80 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, is a neighborhood institution. For over two decades, it has served as a place to enjoy craft cocktails and socialize with friends amid cozy seating and a congenial atmosphere.
“It’s a neighborhood sanctuary, like Cheers,” describes owner Calvin Clark. But, unlike the television show, Clark’s plans for his Fort Greene establishment go beyond just serving drinks to regulars. Instead, he aims to increase the circulation of Black dollars in the community—and it all begins with pouring, spotlighting, and introducing Black-owned wines and spirits at his bar.
Cheers to Black Representation
“This is a multi-billion dollar industry. And, the Black representation of brands is very small in terms of the usage that Black people purchase. A lot of people don’t know about Black-owned brands even though they purchase some of them,” states the hospitality industry veteran.
For his part, Clark makes it a point to craft top requested cocktails at Mo’s Bar and Lounge using leading Black-owned spirits including, among others, Gran Coramino (by Kevin Hart), Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, Mercer + Prince (by A$AP Rocky) and Lobos 1707 (co-owned by Lebron James).
It doesn’t go unnoticed that some of the popular premium spirits are linked with celebrity names. Clark sees this as an advantage. “Lending your name to something is not new. But it is new to Black-owned products like liquors, wines and beers. And that [celebrity affiliation] gives a product certainly more exposure than it would have had it not been supported by a celebrity,” he notes. “Black people support brands. But we’re not exposed to or aware that there are excellent Black brands out there.”
More Than a Motto at Mo’s Bar and Lounge
Clark won’t promote, let alone pour, a product that doesn’t pass his high standards and taste test. “I select brands that have quality. We’re not just saying, ‘Oh, this is a Black brand, consume this.’ Black excellence starts with good taste. That’s our motto, and that’s what we want to follow,” he states.
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“I’ve tasted Black brands that cost a lot of money and they’re garbage. I won’t name them. But they go through great lengths to make their brand special, but at best, they’re mediocre. And so I try to have ones [that make me say], ‘Wow, this is really good’—ones that are in competition with recognizable brands.”
Clark shares that his bar carries about 16-20 Black labels, which represent about 15 percent of the stock at his establishment. To create momentum for those companies at his bar, he created The Black List: a dedicated area for Black-owned bottles paired with a special cocktail menu.
“It’s a way those brands can be easily recognized, giving them more exposure than otherwise having them spread throughout,” notes the Queens, New York, native about building awareness for the labels.
“It makes it easier on the consumers and bartenders; putting Black-owned brands on two shelves with a sign over it that says The Black List. We’re trying to expose people to Black-owned brands, some of which [customers] may not even know were Black owned.”
Times Are Changing
With a bar and restaurant career encompassing 25-plus years, including owning and operating the iconic Langston’s Lounge (one of the last gay nightclubs in Brooklyn, New York), Clark sees a shift happening in the industry that tips the scales in favor of Black-owned distilled beverages.
“I’ve seen the big brands that are very recognizable get shaken up by the little brands,” he observes. “The big brands had the money; they had the media dollars to promote. So, they made it difficult for smaller brands to break into the industry…Now we have all these little brands popping up, giving them a run for their money.”
He attributes this, in part, to quality products and great word-of-mouth reputations from the upcoming companies. Consumers are also willing to try new things thanks to bar staff recommendations, observes Clark.
This is all excellent news for Black-owned wines and spirits, and we’ll drink to that.
To enjoy cocktails made with Black List brands and more, visit Mo’s Bar and Lounge at 80 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn.