Local drinking establishments
prepare for the college onslaught
|The infamous Sixth Street
Liquors counter of shame displays the latest victims
of the store’s
zero tolerance fake ID policy. Owner John Munn says
he expects to net one to two fake IDS a
week with school back in session./Photo by Todd Newcomer.
With the arrival of a new Fort Lewis College
school year, students are streaming back to class and
– much to the chagrin of educators, administrators
and parents everywhere – back into the bars. And
while liquor-selling establishments welcome the annual
arrival of some of their best customers, the influx also
signals the arrival of an annual problem: fake IDs.
“We always see an influx when school starts or
the semester begins,” said Chip Lile, co-owner of
El Rancho Tavern, a perennial Main Ave. favorite among
the late-night drinking crowd. “We see everything
from kids who make fake ones to kids using someone else’s.”
Durango Police Sgt. Doug Embree said although the use
of fake IDs is not a huge problem in Durango, it is one
that is persistent. However, he noted that gone are the
days of underground, amateur dorm room operations involving
Polaroids and poster boards. Thanks to modern technology
such as holograms and new laminating techniques, identification
cards are becoming harder to manufacture, he said.
“With the new IDs, it’s a lot harder to make
a fake one look more real,” he said. Nevertheless,
technology is a two-lane super-highway, he noted. “You
know how it is – there’s always people who
can do it, or at least try to do it.”
In fact, “Debbie,” an underage second-year
Fort Lewis College student who did not want her real name
used for obvious reasons, said the use of fake IDs is
commonplace among her peers.
“I have a real license that’s not me, but
most of my friends have fake ones that work most of the
time at the bars,” she said.
It is the latter that poses the biggest problem in detection
“With graphics programs today, some are really
good,” said Aaron Sinberg, co-owner and bartender
at Lady Falconburgh’s. “That’s when
it gets difficult.”
Nevertheless, bar and liquor store owners say they are
up to the challenge, employing everything from scare tactics
and zero tolerance policies to employee incentives to
weed out the fakes.
John Munn, owner of Sixth Street Liquors on College Drive,
said he employs a number of tactics, including the always-effective
threat of public humiliation. Sixth Street
is home to the infamous counter of shame, a shrine to
fake IDs that have been confiscated over the years. According
to Munn, the counter was started by a former employee
a few years back, and the IDs on display represent only
a fraction of the ones the store has nabbed.
“We have a whole box of them downstairs, the ones
that are displayed are just the most current ones,”
he said. “It’s part of the game that they
play, so we play the game, too.”
Munn, who said he sees an unusually large number of fakes
likely because he is the only downtown liquor store that
sells kegs, said he takes a hardline approach to the issue.
“We confiscate them if we think they’re fake,”
he said, adding that the approach has earned him a reputation
as the toughest liquor store in town, something corroborated
“Sixth Street Liquors always takes IDs,”
Sinberg, at Lady Falconburgh’s, said his establishment
makes it a policy to card everyone who looks younger than
30. He also said the bar has a book detailing every state’s
ID for questionable cases, and when in doubt, he asks
for multiple forms of identification.
“That way, when they open up a wallet full of stuff
and say they have no back up, I know it’s a fake,”
he said, adding that this often spells the end for the
possessor’s night out.
“If it’s fake, and we know it, we’ll
cut it up and throw it away,” he said.
At El Rancho, employees are given an incentive for confiscating
fake IDs, said owner Lile. And although Lile would rather
not disclose the amount, he said the program is quite
“We’re known as the bar in town where you
get your fake ID taken,” he said. “We have
bouncers every night who make good money at it.”
A similar approach is taken a few blocks away at Wagon
Wheel Liquors, according to manager John Leonard. He said
the store’s owner has implemented an incentive program
for employees who confiscate fake IDs.
“We were told, ‘Don’t mess around,’
by the boss,” he said, adding that the incentive
program seems to be effective.
“Ted has the most because he hates kids,”
said Leonard of a fellow co-worker.
And while to the average college kid this may seem vindictive,
Leonard points out that there is more at stake than someone’s
Saturday night out – namely financial hardship or
ruin for the business
“They do send the sting around,” he said
of local police. “And if you sell to a minor and
lose your liquor license for a few days, it can be a trainwreck.”
Despite all the tactics, bar and liquor store owners
say occasionally they will encounter a belligerent individual
who refuses to give up his or her hard-earned ticket to
“If they throw a fit, we tell them we need to call
the police, and they usually leave when we reach for the
phone,” he said.
Nevertheless, there are always a few stalwarts who don’t
succumb to the threat of police involvement, noted Lile.
“Some ride it out and try to B.S. the cops,”
However, this may not always be the best approach. City
Prosecutor Bill Corbin said that possessing a false ID
is punishable by 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine, or
both, although such instances are extremely rare. In fact,
Corbin noted that in his nine years as city prosecutor
he has yet to see a single case go in front of a judge.
“My guess is they plead guilty,” he said,
adding that such cases often carry a $100 fine.
However, both the perpetrators and the confiscators say
they don’t like to see the situation get to this
Debbie, our FLC informant, said a good dose of reprimand
and embarassment is all it takes for her to steer clear
of an establishment.
“Once I got busted trying to buy beer and they
gave my ID back but wouldn’t let me buy,”
she said. “I felt pretty stupid.”
By the same token, bar owners say they try to handle
such situations as humanely as possible.
“We try to abide by the laws set forth by the state,
but we don’t want to make it some sort of witch
hunt,” said Sinberg. “We always try to be
respectful to our customers and try to keep them happy,
after all, they’ll be 21 some time.”
Lile also noted that although he won’t hand back
fake IDs, he will hand back some dignity as well as a
little friendly advice.
“We just tell them to come back when they’re
21,” he said. “We tell them we were all under
age once too, and so we know all the tricks.”