On an unscheduled inspection of the Sidebar on Bromfield Street last month, BPD Sgt. William Gallagher asked a young-looking customer with a draft beer for his ID. The man handed over a Dutch ID showing him to be over 21. But then Gallagher flexed the card - a standard step to check whether an ID is fake, because fake IDs often have cheap laminating that separates from the paper underneath when bent.
The laminating split open and out dropped a card promising 20% off a burrito at a British burrito chain, Gallagher told the Boston Licensing Board this morning. Gallagher added that left behind in the newly split laminating were the two pieces of paper on which the 20-year-old - an exchange student at BU - had printed what looked like the front and back of a Dutch ID card.
Gallagher cited the bar for serving a minor. The guy, in turn, will be charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol, although the odds of him appearing in court are low - he went back to the Netherlands at the end of last month.
At this and other hearings this morning for other bars also caught serving alcohol to minors - including what was the last such violation ever at the venerable but now closed Punter's Pub on Huntington Avenue - bar managers and lawyers asked the board for leniency, saying they are grappling with ever more sophisticated fake IDs, many of which now pass as good even through the expensive scanners more and more bars buy.
Police say the Dutch kid with a burrito card was an exception - students more typically go online to buy IDs from Chinese companies that are a bit sturdier and more realistic.
Gallagher and Det. Daniel MacDonald said the Punter's Pub incident on Dec. 12 involved five Wentworth students with fake Massachusetts licenses - until recently a rarity because our IDs were hard to fake convincingly. "They're good IDs," MacDonald said of the fake Mass licenses confiscated that night. "They're very hard to spot." A sixth student had a fake New Hampshire ID.
Finnbarr Murray, co-owner of Flann O'Brien's on Tremont Street on Mission Hill, had to explain how two kids got drinks on Dec. 11 - one a margarita, one a bottle of Miller Lite.
Murray said the two young people BPD found that night had their IDs checked by the bartender. He said that to help prevent a recurrence of the Dec. 11 incident, he now has his doormen come in earlier, on the theory they will have more time to scrutinize IDs than a busy bartender.
Murray showed up with several dozen fake IDs - and several fake passports - confiscated from students. He also brought one of the bar's two computerized scanners, but said they're proving of limited use, because so many fake IDs now provide bar-code data to fool the machines.
Murray said he now pays his door staff $10 for every fake ID they catch. Murray added that one of the tools they use is a jeweler's loupe - with which to pick up the incredibly tiny type some states now use to print things on licenses. Fakers still haven't perfected copying those lines; Murray said the technique is particularly useful for catching the fake Rhode Island licenses that seem to be the rage these days.
MacDonald suggested that bars in student areas, such as Flann O'Brien's, ask people for their college IDs as backup, since they usually list the holder's year of graduation, which can provide a harried doorman another bit of information on just how old the person might be.
What could be Punter's Pub owner Steven Newman's last appearance before the board was to explain how six underage Wentworth students got drinks - some beers, some cranberry-vodka drinks - on Dec. 12. It turns out the bartender never asked any of the six for IDs, because he had served them in the past, based on the fake IDs they showed him.
Newman apologized for the gaffe. In practical terms, there's not much the board could do, since Newman closed the bar six days later and is planning on selling its license.
Newman added that although the establishment is shut, the actual bar inside will live on - the Museum of Fine Arts across the street agreed to take it, although not for actually serving alcohol.
After 48 years in business, "it's an unfortunate way to go out," Newman's attorney, Dennis Quilty, said.
Also having to explain underage drinking was Eataly in the Prudential Center Mall, where BPD licensing detectives found two underage people - one 20, one 19, at the pizza bar with Corona beers. One had a fake Michigan license, the other had his older brother's valid Pennsylvania license. An Eataly manager told the board all staffers were retrained in ID checking and that anybody who shows an ID that gives their age as 25 or younger now has to show a second form of ID.
The licensing board could decide at a meeting on Thursday whether any of the citations merit punishment and, if so, how much.