How L.A. restaurant owners became crime-fighting vigilantes

Illustration for article titled How L.A. restaurant owners became crime-fighting vigilantes
Photo: yacobchuk (iStock)

When you’re in a bar and you’ve had a few drinks, maybe you start staring at your shiny copper Moscow Mule cup and thinking, “This would look pretty nice on my cocktail cart.” Or maybe you start confusing it with the plastic souvenir cups you get at the sports bar down the street. If one bar gives cups away, wouldn’t it follow that all bars do, the same way that all bars dispense alcohol?

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This happens quite a lot, apparently, at bars in L.A. Customers also walk off with tiki glasses, steak knives, coasters, and light bulbs. If enough of those disappear, restaurant owners will find themselves out thousands of dollars. Los Angeles Magazine talked to several bar and restaurant owners about what they’ve been doing about it. Some accept the loss as the cost of doing business. Some resort to meticulous study of security footage. (The stolen object in question was one of the brass animals that decorates Nancy Silverton’s mozzarella bar Mozza. The offender was caught and subsequently banned from Mozza for life.) Others are able to identify the party who stole the item and add the cost to their bill; usually when the guilty customers notice, they return the stolen goods immediately, because in the cold, hard light of day, what Moscow Mule cup is worth $50?

After one customer at Adam Perry Lang’s steakhouse APL was apprehended for stashing a hand-forged steak knife in a baby carriage—and charged $950.01 for it—they returned the knife. And now they are regulars at APL and, Perry says, even friends. Isn’t that beautiful? Sometimes crime does pay.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

Just be honest about your interest in an item. The wife and I told our server that we really liked the bar’s etched beer glasses and jokingly said it’d be a shame if they disappeared (we were legit joking). At the end of our meal our server had two of them wrapped up in a to-go bag for us and said she’d “dropped them”. She got an even bigger tip and we got nice beer glasses and felt great about leaving with them.

This wasn’t the first time we’ve had this sort of interaction either. Obviously no one is going to give us a thousand dollar hand-forged steak knife but you don’t need to resort to theft.