The Fight Over Painkiller
A few weeks ago, during the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, I told you about my visit to Painkiller. After only a year in business, this Lower East Side tiki bar has become an instant classic, and a favorite among bartenders and cocktailians around the country, myself included.
Well, as you may have seen on Twitter or Facebook yesterday, Painkiller has found themselves in a legal dispute over their name. Pusser’s Rum, a brand based in the British Virgin Islands, claims a trademark to the name Painkiller, and filed suit in federal court against the bar’s owners claiming irreparable harm to its brand, unfair competition and unfair business practices. You can read all about it via The LoDown or Robert Simonson.
The result: Painkiller’s owners – Giuseppe Gonzalez and Richard Boccato – have agreed, according to The LoDown:
“to be “permanently restrained and enjoined” from using the trademarked term Painkiller or “any other confusingly similar term” in association with any bar, restaurant, grill, lounge or other establishment, or any “beverage, libation or cocktail” unless it is made with Pusser’s rum. They also agreed not to use the term in any marketing or advertising materials, and to give up their website domain within 45 days of the order, though the court did not require them to turn it over to Pusser’s.
The plaintiffs agreed not to object to the defendants using the name “PKNY,” which will be the new moniker…”
I’ll be blunt: I think this is bullshit. We could have a long discussion about whether Pusser’s should ever have been granted this trademark in the first place (and there’s a whole Facebook group now devoted to tackling that topic.) But in my mind, the bigger issue is that PKNY is a small business, lacking the resources to take on a corporate battle over intellectual property rights. I have no firsthand knowledge of the negotiations, but the entire ordeal strikes me as an arbitrary attack by a large corporation on a small business in the hopes of… what? Skimming some of Painkiller’s popularity? Hoping to get their brand prominent placement behind one of America’s best new bars? No deal. I hate that they had to give in, but if PKNY is the new name, so be it. A rose by any other name will get you just as drunk.
Pusser’s may have won the battle here, but it may lose a very long, painful war. It’s legal strongarming of Painkiller has already inspired some bad blood within cocktail circles. Gonzalez and Boccato are extremely popular figures in the cocktail world, and their friends are faithful. Within hours of the announcement of the bar’s forced name change, various bartenders and industry figures proclaimed on Facebook their antipathy toward Pusser’s, and said they were thinking of boycotting the rum.
Industry luminary Gary Regan posted yesterday that we should put our energy not into boycotting Pusser’s Rum, but towards supporting PKNY in positive ways (namely, drink there and tell your friends). I think he’s right, but I think we can do both. I’ll be at PKNY tonight, handing over my liver, my money, and all the positive energy I can muster. But I’ve also joined the Facebook group, “Bartenders and Cocktailians against Pusser’s Rum.” I encourage you to do the same.