The Moscow Mule, a simple cocktail made of vodka, ginger beer, and lime and served in a copper mug, is turning hip bar hoppers into thieves.
According to a story published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, customers are ordering the cocktail in droves and subsequently stealing the mugs they're served in. One hotspot dealing with the mug-lifting is Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, California. And, says Christ Nogulich, its food-and-beverage director, the problem isn't new. "We've been serving the drink for years and people have always taken the mugs. We don't keep count of the thefts but we do have to restock the mugs regularly. One customer even felt guilty about stealing a mug, so he called us to confess. But we don't mind too much - at least people are telling their friends where they got the mug."
Casa del Mar doesn't have an official policy in place to prevent theft, but, according to the Wall Street Journal, many restaurants and bars have gotten savvy in order to stem the sticky fingers. Earlier this month, the Rob Roy cocktail bar in Seattle mandated that the drink could only be served at the bar under the watchful eye of bartenders, and a bar called Drink in Knoxville, Tenn., temporarily removed the concoction from its menu. Some bars require customers to open a tab when they order the cocktail; others simply admit defeat. Adam Hargett, general manager of the MercBar, in Phoenix, told the Wall Street Journal that mug theft is simply "the cost of doing business."
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And while the drink isn't a new invention - Nogulich says it was created by United States liquor distributers in the 1940s, and like any cocktail trend, has ebbed and flowed throughout the years - the demand for its copper cups is inexplicable, begging the question: Are people stealing just for the thrill of it?
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Restaurant theft is big business. David Nepove, who spent 27 years as a bartender and previously served as president of the United States Bartender's Guild, estimates that, each month, restaurants lose thousands of dollars in stolen items. For example, patrons of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia, can't resist nabbing those convenient purse hooks under the bar. "For some reason, they think it's an amenity," owner Meshelle Armstrong told restaurant blog Eater in 2011, adding that when an employee catches a customer red-handed, he or she will tactfully say, "Ma'am, it must have fallen in your purse." Equally tempting are the restaurant's salt-and-pepper shakers with pewter grinders. Those disappear in droves, especially during private events.
Meanwhile, patrons at Smoke, an eatery in Dallas, think the restaurant's ironically adorable animal plates are so cute, they want a set for themselves. "We've had an ongoing problem with customers stealing or accidentally putting our appetizer plates in their purses/bags," Chris Jeffers, Smoke's co-owner, told Eater. "In an effort to solve the problem, we've printed a new message on the bottom of our most recent order of plates. We know our little pink animal plates are cute, but quit taking them home!"
Bolder thieves head over to Baby Wale, a new Washington, D.C. bar that boasts trendy handmade bathroom signs advising employees to wash their hands. Although the place has been open for barely two months, its already had four signs stolen.
"Any time a restaurant has a kitchy, retro, trendy item, some people will steal it," says Nepove. "It's just the nature of the business. In regards to the Moscow Mule, most vodka companies donate those copper mugs free of charge to the restaurant in order to promote the drink. That doesn't mean it's OK to steal it, but people aren't usually costing the restaurant money by taking them." However, the same can't be said for flatware, salt-and-pepper shakers, and other items that disappear into people's pockets. "Restaurants create fun, trendy atmospheres so people keep coming back," says Nepove. "My advice to patrons is to respect the establishment or you'll ruin the very thing you enjoy."