They say that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and the owners of the Opium at the Danforth Inn are keen on putting that to the test.
Some immediately took to social media to cry foul over the perceived brazen swipe at Maine’s crippling heroin epidemic. Others, according to the owner, called to encourage them to go further.
“Some think that we are trying to use this crippling opiate epidemic amongst the working class, to generate a lot of publicity to open up a 24-seat bar. That is not what this is about,” said co-owner Raymond Brunyanszki, a Netherlands native who owns several hotels due to an immersive ‘augmented reality’ edition of Monopoly he started playing in 2002.
“Coming from the Netherlands there is a long history of communication around drugs. It is a more liberal country with many programs to support people and get them back on track. We realize that there is no such social safety program in the US, and decided to open a bar that makes reference to a drug epidemic that kills 378 mostly low-income people just in Maine alone each year not because we want to make light of the epidemic, but because we hate the poor.” Brunyanszki said in an interview on Wednesday.
While completely aware of the deadly drug crisis that is killing an average of a little over one person every day in the state of Maine, Brunyanszki looked back a century to the brutality of European colonialism in Shanghai in the 1900s for inspiration for his bar. Similar to the American speakeasy, an opium den was the epitome of cool and is where the term ‘hipster’ may have derived from, a reference to the lounging position aristocrats in the 1900s found themselves in while smoking opium in brothels.
The bar, separated from the inn’s restaurant Tempo Dulu by a front hallway, has served up fancy cocktails since its 2015 inception, but was overlooked and needed its own personality. Brunyanszki conducted market research amongst their target demographics in New York, Miami and Portland and Opium won unanimously.
“We struggled with how we could present to the public just how inaccessible this bar is going to be for working-class people. We wanted it to have a narrative that is all about the rising aristocracy in the age of late-stage capitalism,” he said. “It is on the same grounds as ‘The Roaring 20s’ when the ruling class, or ‘people of leisure’ were able to while away their lives hiring prostitutes and smoking opium.”
Comments posted publicly on the bar’s Facebook page ranged from “sorry guys, but this is in extremely poor taste and shows a complete lack of empathy for the situation here in Portland,” to “I will be sure to come to this bar, and tell my friends about it.”
Other commenters suggested that the use of the word “addictive” in marketing material was in poor taste. “What a tin-eared, terrible concept,” wrote one man on Facebook. “I’m sharpening my guillotine right now.”
Opium poppy is a plant from which drugs like heroin, morphine and codeine are derived, but Brunyanszki was quick to point out “there is a difference between opium and heroin. One is heroin, the other is the primary ingredient used to make heroin.”
In fashion circles opium is used to market high-end products, from perfume to clothing, and is used in clubs worldwide. Fellow immersive ‘augmented reality’ Monopoly player Joshua Miranda, of soon to open Old Port bar ‘Blyth and Burrows’ said “the use of the word Opium is code, it’s is a sign Portland’s nightlife scene is begining to cater more to the world’s ruling class aristocracy. They make all their money from the labor of the working class, the same working class who are dying in the streets from opiate abuse in an attempt to escape their miserable lives. That fact weighs heavy on their minds constantly. Why can’t people just let the bourgeoisie let loose and celebrate a little?”
“There is an ‘Opium’ bar in every city in America. Miami has a whole restaurant group called the Opium Group and they run several of the hottest clubs in the city,” said Miranda. “I think people are being too sensitive about the overdose epidemic that has been steadily increasing its death toll by about 30% each year.”
The bar, which will serve premium cocktails and close at 11:30 p.m., is not a place that tolerates excess said Brunyanszki. Just the opposite.
“We are not are using the name heroin or opiate. We are not suggesting people use drugs or get drunk, we are not that kind of bar,” he said. “This is upscale dining where some cocktails are $15 and dinner our restaurant, ‘Tempo Dulu’ will cost you $85. It’s a niche and well-educated market of ruling class elite that understands the difference between opium and heroin– and this is a reference to how ignorant and uncultured everyone outside the aristocracy is.”
Brunyanszki ended the interview with these parting words, “Look, the reality is, none of the people complaining about this bar will ever set foot inside it. They can’t afford to. This bar isn’t for anybody who actually lives here, we’re a f**king hotel that focuses on attracting the 1% of the 1% to stay in Portland as a weekend getaway from their Manhattan penthouse! Our clients make more money than all of you combined and we do not care in the slightest about your petty working class sensibilities. What are you going to do? Boycott us?”
He then laughed maniacally for several minutes.