A Recipe for Theft

Admit it: At some point in your life, you’ve wanted to walk out of a bar with a souvenir, whether it’s the vintage crystal coupe your Manhattan came in, a cool coaster or even a piece of furniture.

Now, we know you’d never steal, but all the time, we hear from bartenders about how things have a way of disappearing. Intrigued, we asked a few to tell us what’s taken most often.

Top of the list? Menus. While some joints don’t mind if you swipe a photocopied drinks page, fancier menus are a different story. Trick Dog in San Francisco has one of the coolest menus we’ve ever seen: It looks like a paint-color sample deck. Co-owner Scott Baird says they’ve lost more than a hundred in the six months they’ve been in business and have had to reprint four times!

Menu theft is more than just an annoyance. Liquor.com advisory board member Jim Meehan says the custom-made, leather-bound volumes at his award-winning modern speakeasy PDT in New York are his most frequently stolen item; three or four a month go missing. “At $60 apiece, it hurts!” Meehan says.

Another popular target are the copper mugs traditionally used to serve Moscow Mules. At The Bitter Bar in Boulder, Colo., head bartender Justin Lavenue says one or two mugs disappear each week. “It is a nuisance that we have tried to curb through taking IDs until the mug is returned,” he says. “However, it is almost impossible to keep up with that practice when the bar is full and busy. So, Bitter Bar kind of takes a hit when one is stolen, unfortunately.”

Handling these situations can be tough for mixologists. They don’t want to lose a regular over a glass, but then again, they don’t want to lose the glass, either. “I overheard a lady the other night saying that she usually takes a Mule mug when she’s in my bar,” says New York bartender Naren Young. “I served all her drinks in regular glasses and then asked her to leave.” But Young has seen a variety of items find their way out of his establishment Saxon & Parole: “People steal our leather coasters, steel straws and Julep cups all the time,” he says.

And sometimes, dishonest patrons aim even higher. “About a year ago, somebody stole a stuffed black bear head that we had hanging above the hostess stand at the front door,” Lavenue says. “We tried to recover it by putting up a ‘missing’ sign with a picture of it, but no one came forward with any valuable information.”

If you’re responsible, please return it. The Bitter Bar wants its bear head back.

Ever stolen something from a watering hole? Leave a comment to ‘fess up about what “souvenirs” you’ve taken.

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  1. I have once walked in to a party to witness a guy hanging two disco balls from a local student club. That was… unusual.

    Bar stools were somewhat usual room accessory in the dorms, and most rooms contained a beer mug or a beer glass, often left behind from previous generations, some with brands long gone printed on them. I believe most of them were not taken maliciously, but taken as a keepsake from a closing of a beloved bar, or perhaps a drunken dare, the original aim of returning afterward forgotten the morning after…

    Me, personally, I had a beer glass that I might or might not have won for drinking an obscene amount of beer one night.

  2. Shot glasses. Tho it was in my younger days when I really didn’t care. I am more respecrful nowadays. An ex of mine took one that looks like a small martini glass at a New Years celebration he handed it to me after we were in car and down the road. Now I ask if I can have or buy one. Most of the time bartenders oblige in some way.

  3. In my younger days a beer glass or ashtray sometimes found its way home. In the past 20 years though if there’s something unique I usually ask to buy it and the bartenders are usually good about that.

  4. Redacted says

    I have swiped a steel straw from a popular NYC speakeasy. I use it at home – maybe I’m weird but I think the slightly metal tang is kind of delicious.

  5. The only thing I’ve swiped was a menu at a really cool martini place in Portland. Twice. The first time was just the paper insert, but I admit the second time was the leather holder and all. But I’ve done the same as the comments above. if I really like a shot glass or something of that sort, I’ll ask the bartender where they got it and I’ll usually come home with a gift souvenir.

  6. Once an old boyfriend took a flag with the logo for the Chicago Bears on it. I promptly stuck it in an envelope & mailed it back to the bar with an anonymous apology

  7. Big Gnarly Bob says

    I’ve been known to abscond with a cool souvenir now and again. In my younger days, it was usually on a drunken dare. The BIGGEST thing I ever got away with was…I’m not even sure how many bottles it holds, or what it’s called…Double Jeroboam, Nebakaneezer…scratch that…Nebuchadnezzar…(I looked it up) of Veuve Cliquot…it’s not QUITE as bad as it sounds…it was a display bottle, so it was empty! ‘;-)) Most recently, it appears (in my defense, I woke and found it in my hotel room, so I assume that it was a pilfer job, but I really have no idea! ‘;-)) that I walked off with a really cool, thick, ceramic bottle with on of those hinged, rubber-stopper-tops that is housed in an aluminum wire cage (like a Grolsch beer bottle) at Cote (there’s a little “arrow” above the “O” in COTE…I believe it’s called a “circumflex”…not sure what sound the “O” is supposed to make with that thing above it…) in the Richmond District of London.
    In my further defence (see what I did there? I used England’s version of “defense”! ‘;-)), I did this over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, which was spent half I London, and half in Dublin, but all of which is a bit blurry… ‘;-)) OH! And now that I think about it, I actually did once take something bigger than the display bottle of Veuve…I walked off with a full-sized cardboard cut-out of “The Most Interesting Man in the World” (the Dos Equis guy)… So I guess you could say that I’m a “Serial Souvenir Absconder”…or Bar Thief…although I prefer the former…doesn’t sound as bad… ‘;-))

  8. No' Smoky says

    Since there are no ashtrays to steal anymore, I stopped going to bars. Stopped smoking, too.

  9. bryan landaburu says

    I feel like if youre a cool person and you enjoy the bar, that you should always ask before taking something. I’ll share a couple of my experiences…

    I have about 10 single-sheet paper menu’s from Noble Experiment that i’ve had the luxury of collecting over many years of visiting the bar. I didn’t steal any of them. They are not for taking but I visit enough that when I asked Anthony or Nathan if they’d let me have one, they approve. I know they can’t and don’t do this for everyone, but a respectful request usually meets a positive response. For me, i love them, and they are part of a display on my home bar.

    Similarly, i just visited The Dead Rabbit in NYC and was amazed by their beautiful menu. I asked our waitress if they had them for sale. They actually did, for $50. I paid for the book. It’s spendy, but i respect the establishment, and all the creativity that went into it so for me i purchased the souvenir.

    One note for bar owners…if people love the experience they have in your establishment, some will want to remember it. Developing a cool keepsake, or a copy of the menu they can purchase solves some of these crimes, and leaves a nice lasting impression on the customer. Of course scalawags will always be scalawags…never gonna stop that.

  10. Karl Schappell says

    The Merchant Hotel Bar in Belfast, Northern Ireland has the best cocktail menu I’ve ever seen and they sell them! I think they realize that they will go missing so it’s easier and more profitable to do it this way. As a bartender I know that branded glasses are always going to walk at some point. Most popular are Schneider Weizen glasses and Stella Artois chalis. Moscow mule copper are impossible to keep in stock.

  11. 1986. I was in Cannes while in the Navy. A pub slightly off the beaten path served Stella Artois in the neatest .5 liter embossed glasses I’d ever seen. You were allowed to remove them from the premises to drink out front on the sidewalk and street. As they were emptied, I collected. I shipped them home wrapped in T-shirts. Upon my return to the States, I asked to see my trophies. While they had all survived their voyage, they did not all survive my Mom putting them in the dishwasher. I still have two.

  12. I’m a bartender … I will tell you that ANYTHING and EVERYTHING grows legs and leaves the bar, perhaps going to a better home LOL. Doesn’t matter if it’s a plain old beer glass or the craft glasses like Stella, Blue Moon, Sam, etc. Cool neon signs, when small enough have been known to “disappear” as well. What else …. tap handles, flatware, beer buckets, posters, coasters, I could go on but I’ve given away too many ideas already LOL

  13. I usually walk out with a couple of wallets or credit cards.
    Easy pickens for a guy like me….you people get so trashed it’s childsplay.

  14. I’ve been known to borrow an ashtray or two…but as mentioned above…thats no longer a viable souvenir. I used to get cork coasters. My best find was a wonderful wine menu from a national chain restaurant. I didn’t steal it…I ask if I could have it (I would have paid for it). The waitress said if it could fit in my wife’s purse, she wouldn’t see it fall in there…it fit.

  15. Well the problem would be solved if they wouldnt charge so much for the drink itself and the glass! why not charge a little more just like a dollar more for the glass?

  16. Forty years ago in college there was a windstorm that blew down a 300 lb barsign outside our local watering hole. My frat brothers and I got organized (and drunk) and “liberated it” to the frat house.

  17. The bar that I manage has had all types of things go missing: crystal old fashioned glasses, small stools (those 2ft high things), liquor bottles on display (they must not realize they are empty) at New year somebody even stole a magnum bottle of Armand de Brignac that was on the menu for 700$!

    I have only ever stolen a menu from the most upscale bar in town (thick folded paper) to compare our prices and drink variety.

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