At the bar, they’re taking more than a drink
As he prepared to open Commonwealth restaurant last fall, chef-owner Steve “Nookie” Postal searched for warm design elements to contrast with Kendall Square’s “very modern, sleek” vibe. He decorated with reclaimed furniture, used wood pallets for dining tables, and bought 55 mugs from the old Anthony’s Pier 4 at auction after the landmark restaurant closed.
But the odds of drinking from one of the ship-themed mugs are diminishing. Customers have been swiping them with unfortunate regularity.
“It’s those darn hipsters,” said Postal, who has lost nearly a dozen mugs to thieves. “They take them.”
With the increasing popularity of craft cocktails comes this problem: people are stealing the quirky mugs and cocktail glasses they are served in.
Several newly opened restaurants and bars report that customers have been filching their cocktail glasses and mugs. In the South End, Wink & Nod has seen the disappearance of several of its Magnum P.I.s, ceramic mugs that look like the moustache-wearing detective of ’80s television. The North End’s Ward 8 has lost a dozen copper mugs used to serve Moscow Mules.
“It’s not a good thing, but it’s cool that they want to take something with them,” said Mike Wyatt, bar manager at Ward 8. “I wouldn’t say we encourage it, but I’m glad people like the glass.”
Industry experts don’t keep statistics on stolen barware, but Adam Lantheaume of The Boston Shaker, a cocktail supply store in Somerville, said anecdotal evidence indicates thefts have become more prevalent as bars serve more craft cocktails in offbeat barware.
“Instead of asking where they can get it, [customers] just grab it,” he said. “Part of it is intoxication, part of it is the rush of doing it. Cocktail glassware is cool, and when you want to make cocktails at home, you can’t go to Bed Bath & Beyond and get them.”
Lantheaume said restaurant owners may not have experienced much theft in the past simply because the glasses weren’t worth stealing.
“People are putting as much care into their bar program as their food program,” he said. “When we started the store [in 2008], restaurants never had high-end stuff. That’s changed.”
Ward 8’s Wyatt thought customers might steal some of his glassware, but he assumed the object of their affection would be the kitschy coconut-shaped mugs used for a drink called the Pain Killer. But no, customers take the copper mugs.
“I’ve seen a couple people” trying to pocket them, he said. “I’ll say, ‘I know what you’re up to,’ and the glass appears back on the bar. But on a busy Friday or Saturday and in a big group, you can’t keep track.”
Postal, who paid 75 cents for each Anthony’s mug, doesn’t have the luxury of reordering as the numbers dwindle.
“I got them all — 55 — at the auction, and I have 44 left,” he said. “They can’t be replaced. It’s a piece of Boston history.”
He admits that logic has little influence with customers, especially those who are embarrassed when they are caught.
“I caught one lady who said, ‘Oh my God, it’s for my father. He used to take us there. I’m so sorry,’ ” Postal said. “She’s become one of our best customers.”
Sometimes the offender is a good friend. Jamie Bissonnette recalls the vintage Fernet-Branca shot glasses he used when he opened the South End enoteca Coppa a few years ago. “Within a month, they were half gone,” he said.
Bissonnette had paid mightily for the Italian glassware — at $20 each, it came to about $1,000. When he mentioned the value of the purloined glasses to a few chef friends, one was especially troubled. The next day, Bissonnette’s buddy stopped by to return two glasses he’d taken.
“I think they just want a Fernet-Branca glass, not a souvenir,” said Bissonnette, who took the rest of the glasses home, and now serves shots in “run of the mill” glasses.
The bespectacled chef, who these days is hunting for 1980s “Return of the Jedi” Burger King glasses for his personal collection, said customers have also made off with giant wine decanters, which they hide in their to-go bags.
“It seems like victimless crime, but it’s not free,” Bissonnette said. “If they’re nice vintage glasses someone bought for a cocktail bar, take a photo of it.”
But Terry Kovel, author of dozens of antiques books and guides, thinks the solution for bar owners wanting to curb thefts might be in the messaging.
“Put a little note somewhere saying, ‘If you love our glasses, we’d be delighted to sell them,’ ” she said. “It’s a difficult problem. If you can’t get it anywhere else, you can be terribly tempted.”
Kovel knows this firsthand. “I’m embarrassed to say I discovered when I went through stuff I had two or three of the tiki mugs from (the Polynesian chain) Trader Vic’s. I have no idea if I paid for them.”
The real problem with swiping the serviceware is that every customer ends up paying for the one who stole the glass. Lantheaume points to a recent example: a patron at Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square reportedly reached over the bar and grabbed a $60 mixing glass.
“All that gets rolled into the costs,” he said, “and it’s rolled into the price of a drink.”