Young and Hungry

Copper Mug Theft Epidemic Sweeps D.C.

Yesterday, Y&H took a look at the theft of nearly all of Bar Pilar's copper mugs and the extreme measures manager Jonathan Fain has considered to protect them. It turns out the problem is far more rampant than that. Washington's kleptos seem to have a thing for copper mugs.

Theft forced Black Jack to stop serving drinks out of copper mugs just a few months after its launch in September 2011. "Our numbers kept dwindling," says manager Beau Monroe. "They kept being taken, especially with the window at the patio." He estimates that more than 200 mugs disappeared before Black Jack made the switch to Mason jars.

Rather than cutting the mugs out of the lineup altogether, Lincoln attempted last summer to curtail theft with a system: Customers ordering Moscow mules had to hand over their IDs, and they got them back when they finished their drinks.

"We were losing literally 10 or 15 copper mugs a night," says bar manager Boris Stojkovic. "We tried to come up with something."

Turns out customers didn't like being viewed as potential thieves (even though some of them inevitably were). "The feedback we were getting from our customers was not really good," Stojkovic says. "So, we stopped doing it."

Lincoln tried to cut costs with a new mug provider, switching from a $20 Canadian-made mug to an $8 cup from Turkey, but the decrease in quality was too noticeable for management.

"We just have to deal with our loss," Stojkovic says.

Todd Thrasher agrees. At his Alexandria bar PX, copper mugs constantly disappear into customers' bags. He says 12 out of 24 vanished during PX's first six months in business. Thrasher calls it the "cost of doing business," though some of that cost is passed along to the customer: "It's going to get stolen, so you charge a quarter here or a quarter there so you don't lose your neck on them," he says.

It's not clear why copper mugs are such a target. Even in restaurants and bars with plenty of novel glassware, the cups seem to get lifted more than other items. The Mason jars that Black Jack now uses for its Moscow mules pretty much go ignored by would-be shoplifters, Monroe says, and at PX, pewter mugs do get stolen, but not as often as their copper counterparts. (Monroe offers a logistical explanation for this: The copper mugs are smaller than the pewter, and thus easier to slip into a handbag.)

Same story at Lincoln, where there is plenty of attractive barware to lift but thieves stick to copper. Stojkovic says that punch is served in antique glass punchbowls, along with "small, really nicely designed cups." None of the bowls and just five or six of the cups have gone missing, though, compared to 30 copper mugs that have vanished this winter. (And Stojkovic says they go much faster in the summer, when the patio is open.)

Stojkovic sees a sort of silver lining in the thefts. "It is stealing," he says, "but if you ask me, at least they're going to have some kind of memories of our restaurant. It's a kind of advertising, too. That's the way I look at it."

And Thrasher can tolerate the missing mugs as long as people leave his menus alone. "I don't care about the cups," he says. "The menus drive me bonkers. The menus are 100 bucks a pop."

Photo via Shutterstock

  • Bossi

    Do they sell the mugs? Feel like I'm taking a page from the music industry (not sure if that's good or not), but offering a legal alternative might help curtail that somewhat.

  • Jenny Rogers

    @Bossi: I know they sell the mugs at Lincoln

  • jay

    This is horrible. It is just disgusting that affluent white children in our nation's capital are being forced to drink Moscow Mules out of glass jars and not copper mugs.PS - Mr. Thrasher, maybe as the top ruling manager of PX you should make better managerial decisions about the menus?

  • dave b

    I've never been to a place with copper mugs. Didnt know they exist and didnt know they are cool. I will now go steal one. It IS like free advertising, or $20 advertising

  • Guy

    Thrasher has the right attitude about this. These guys come off as so petty when they whine about their precious cups being purloined... just deal with it and look at the bright side! treating customers with hostility and an inference of guilt is a great way for them to never come back.

    If a cup is $20, a bar probably made that much IN PROFIT from most customers visiting one time. Let it go man.

  • BW


    They're usually not branded, but just plain copper mugs you can buy anywhere.

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  • RIk

    Just charge the customers $20 up front for the copper mug when the drink is served, and if they return the mug, refund the $20.

  • Sam Wang

    You really don't know why people steal copper? Someone needs to take a field trip to the scrap metal recycling facility on South Capitol St.

  • MJ

    Sam, I'm pretty sure the privileged, upper class folks stealing these mugs are not turning them in for scrap metal cash. They just want them because they look cool and they keep drinks really cold. If they are hurting for money so much that they would go to a scrap yard to sell the mugs, they wouldn't be paying $12 for a drink they could just make at home.

  • Clifford Mclean

    They should use modern security equipments to stop theft, because this problem is is facing in retail shop, shopping malls, bars, and nightclubs etc. So that they should use detection systems, secure electronic displays, security mirrors, security seals & taps

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