The rise of fake IDs in a college town
Glowing neon signs for Yuengling and Guinness flash through lead paned glass windows, as college students hurry into the small, dark pub already crammed with tipsy co-eds. It’s a typical Thursday night in the small town of Ithaca, voted “the best college town in America,” and Thursday nights for the students at Ithaca College and Cornell University mean karaoke and $3 well drinks at Kilpatrick’s Publick house, or “Kilpat’s” as its loyal college student clientele calls it.
At the pub’s door, a cynical and burly bouncer skeptically examines a pretty brunette’s driver’s license.
“That’s not your nose,” he says with a snort before tossing the ID back to her. The girl, tossing back her long hair, affects an air of mixed injury and offense.
“What do you mean that’s not my nose? Of course it’s me!”
Her friends, their hands already marked with the bleeding green four-leaf clover stamp that declare their legal entrance to the bar, turn to see what the commotion was about; one of them, tall and rangy, comes to the door to chastise the bouncer for daring to question the validity of the ID.
“Of course it’s her ID! She just celebrated her birthday – see?” The girl says forcefully, jabbing a manicured index finger at the laminated card. “You should be giving her a free shot! It’s still her birthday week!”
The bouncer sighs and with more than a little annoyance, stamps the brunette’s hand.
“Why do I feel like I’m being hustled right now?” he says, shaking his head as the two girls sashay to the bar for Jagerbombs before belting out an off-key rendition of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name.”
This scenario is far from surprising. According to the The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 48 percent of alcohol use reported by college and university is done by those who are underage. Additionally, the U.S. National Library of Medicine reported that 12.5 percent of students own fake IDs pre-college, which increases to 32.2 percent in their second year at college.
After a few more rousing rounds of karaoke, the pretty brunette, who identifies herself as Kaylee*, a junior at Ithaca College, is in search of a place to dance with her friends. They ponder between going to Collegetown or staying on the Commons. Convenience being a main issue, the girls then debate between bars on the Commons.
“Moonie’s isn’t letting anyone in anymore,” says one of Kaylee’s friends matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, let’s just go to 2nd Floor. They let everyone in there,” says another just as pragmatically.
It’s true – 2nd Floor is notorious for letting everyone into the bar, especially when competitors have cracked down on examining IDs more closely. In fact, one of Kaylee’s friends, a lanky bean pole of a boy named *Ned, confides both incredulously and with slight contempt for the dive bar, that he’s given them his real ID with his true underage birthdate at least twice before and been given entrance.
The two bars, Moonie’s – short for the Moonshadow Tavern – and 2nd Floor, face each other on the Commons, a block away from Kilpatrick’s, parallel venues of dubstep and top 40 hits, with a healthy dose of strobe lights and grinding, sweaty bodies. From 2nd Floor’s steamy windows, you can see “Third Floor,” the elevated bar that runs along the perimeter of the bar, and is notorious for the gyrating girls that dance on top of it, their silhouettes looming out on the Commons through the windows.
At Moonies, where there are always at least three or four bouncers to handle the crowd control outside of the bar, the identification verification process proves more intense than that of Kilpatrick’s.
Ellis Williams, a bouncer at Moonie’s, smiles when talking about the surefire ways to spot a fake ID.
“Air pockets, that’s for sure,” Williams said. “And the details and colors of different states for driver’s licenses. There are always at least 20 to 25 people who are turned away, but we screen so many people that it’s easier to just let them take back their ID than to cause a fuss.”
“You’re not Hilary Howard*. I know her,” says one of his fellow bouncers to the fresh-faced girl handing him her ID. She shrugs and leaves for Second Floor, ID in hand.
About half a mile away, about 10 minutes walking distance, is Loco’s Cantina, a bar that Kaylee used her ID at before heading to Kilpatrick’s. For Paige Beriont, a senior at Ithaca College and a bartender at Loco’s, the night is still in full swing because of the bar’s Thursday night half-off “Ladies’ Night” specials.
Beriont is hardly surprised when told that Kaylee entered with a fake ID, but feels compelled to defend her bar’s checking process.
“They’ve been getting strict lately,” says Beriont. “There’s this camera by where the bouncer stands that shows we have proof that we’ve checked IDs. They scan at the door always and use blacklight.” She gestures to the door, where a physically intimidating bouncer stands with the scanner, the black light casting an eerie glow over his arm. Beriont starts muddling mint and sugar for a mojito, then adds a final thought.
“I think they’ve gotten stricter with that [New York Times] article about the bars, with all those bars closing because of the fines that they couldn’t pay for, Moonie’s had that scare where that girl got in an accident and said that she had come from there,” Beriont said. “I wouldn’t even blame the bars because there are some really good IDs out there. I don’t think the bars should have to take the full fall for that.”
Loco’s, known for its wickedly strong margaritas and Latin dancing nights, is still packed with girls in bandage, body-con skirts and towering heels, guys in snapbacks and polo shirts. The glowing red digital clock reads that it is 12:03 am; in about half an hour, half of the students will leave for Pixel, a lounge and bar that is colloquially known as the Collegetown haunt where students come to “hook-up” before the end of a night out.
At Pixel, before the hordes of sauced students come, general manager Eric Turner and assistant manager Chris Shortsleeve are standing outside for fresh air. The glow of the blacklight behind them is a testament to their rigid identification verification policies.
“Pixel has been open for 7 years and we’ve never had a liquor underage offense,” says Turner with a hint of pride. “Johnnie O’s [a fellow Collegetown bar] shut down because I heard that they had 8 offenses on their license and when they tried to renew, the liquor authority wouldn’t do it.” Shortsleeve nods, then shakes his head.
“We just don’t take people under 21,” Shortsleeve says emphatically. “We turn away at least 30 in a night. Since Dino’s and Johnnie O’s closed, this has become a Collegetown spot to go to and a lot of underage people are trying to get in. We’re really careful —we use a UV light, since almost every fake ID will scan.”
Turner’s face darkens and his expression gains seriousness as he thinks of the bars come and gone from underage drinking offenses.
“It’s always a danger to a bar. It’s a very steep fine, when you get caught serving [alcohol] to someone under 21. I’ve heard of fines of $3,000 to $10,000 for a single offense.” A gaggle of stiletto wearing girls walks by, giggling and inebriated, a sure sign that the night is soon to begin at Pixel.
An hour later, back on the Commons, sitting outside of Sammy’s Pizza after closing time — 1 a.m. for the Ithaca bars, early by convention but necessary if students want to catch the last bus up to campus at 1:30 — over a slice of a cheese pie, Kaylee confides that the ID she used tonight, was indeed, not her own.
“It was the old ID of a friend’s and I had already used it at Loco’s tonight,” she says with a grin and a hint of embarrassment. “This is the first semester that most of my friends are able to go to bars because they’re 21 or have really successful IDs, and I want to be able to go with them.”
Finishing her slice and leaning against her friend, Kaylee watches the throngs of drunk not-yet adults stagger by before she responds again.
“There’s a certain thrill to getting into bars with a fake ID,” she says. “I don’t need to drink when I go out, but I just want to be a part of the social scene. I think it’s sad when people can’t socialize without an ID.”
*Names changed to protect the identities of the sources.
Cady Lang is a junior journalism major who didn’t even sip alcohol until her 21st birthday. Email her at clang1[at]ithaca[dot]edu.