“John McDonald, CEO of Mercer Street Hospitality, recounted to me the rise of premium vodka during his days running MercBar in the 1990s—first Absolut’s explosion onto the scene, then the rise of Stoli’s flavored vodkas, and ultimately Grey Goose “crushing everybody.” But when I mention to him that everyone I know who’s been to Russia has returned with a supreme loyalty to Russian Standard ($16), McDonald is effusive. “[Customers] always love that! It’s a good brand. We’ve always sold Russian Standard,” he says, referring to his several upscale hotspots in downtown New York, including Lure Fishbar and Bowery Meat Company.”

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