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The craziest things people steal from Chicago restaurants and bars

We asked chefs, bartenders and manager: What's the weirdest items that go missing from your business?

Photograph: Nick Murway
By Samantha Lande |
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Restaurateurs and designers spend countless hours (and plenty of money) picking out the perfect decor—right down to the cutlery on the table and the artwork in the bathroom to the tiny knickknacks above the bar. They love it when patrons admire their stylist approach, but they can’t stand it when kleptos pocket their prized possessions. If you’ve ever swiped a bottle of hot sauce or stuffed a tiki mug from one of the best cocktail bars in Chicago in your bag, we’re looking at you. But no matter how sneaky you think you are, personnel behind the best restaurants in Chicago take notice. Here’s what they see go missing on a regular basis—from leather-bound menus and embroidered napkins to photos of celebrities on the toilet.

Things people steal from Chicago restaurants

Bars

Cocktail menus at Lazy Bird

West Loop

“The menu at Lazy Bird is a beautiful leather-bound book illustrated by the talented Kate Dehler and written by yours truly. It includes recipes, feels valuable and is the perfect size to fit in a bag or purse. We lost so many in the first 90 days we’ve had to limit how many can go to a table and implement intense systems to track them on a busy night. We sell them now, as it’s expensive to self-publish a small hardcover edition. Please, people, buy the book or come back to see it in person, I’d be happy to make you a drink.” —Lee Zaremba, beverage director

Photograph: Galdones Photography
Restaurants, Mexican

Milagros at Dos Urban Cantina

Logan Square

Milagros or Miracles, are charms that represent something that you are trying to be mindful of. We basically felt we needed a million little miracles to happen to be able to open our restaurant, and our art installation reflects that. The charms were shipped from Mexico. We think it’s a little strange that some have gone missing over the years, especially since they are nailed in. I guess they must have really needed a miracle.” —Brian Enyart, chef-owner

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Restaurants, Pan-Asian

Chopstick rests at TAO

River North

“Since opening, we’ve had nearly 6,250 chopstick rests stolen. The fun and flirty settings, in suggestive positions, embody TAO’s sexy vibe while serving a practical purpose that remind the guest of their culinary experience. We mark the bottoms ‘Stolen from TAO,’ which makes even our most innocent guests feel a bit naughty when sneaking one from the table!” —Brendan McManus, director of operations

Photograph: Morgan Scofes, DineAmic Hospitality
Restaurants, American

Framed photos at Bar Siena

West Loop

“When determining the decor for the bathrooms at Bar Siena, our initial inspiration derived from an Italian café that clad its walls with vintage Vespa scooter advertisements. We took this idea and spun it in a more risqué route with shots of models on scooters, some topless or entirely nude. We then found images of nude models and celebrities on toilets and thought the combination would be a fun conversation starter in a vulnerable place. Little did we know a photo of James Franco smoking a cigarette on a toilet would be on our most stolen item. We now have them bolted to the wall.” —Laura Korpal, DineAmic Hospitality brand director and partner

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Photograph: Madee Moran
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Rumchata Ferris wheels at Joy District

River North

“We wanted to add something Insta-worthy and interactive to our drink menu for the winter. The Rumchata Ferris wheel seemed like a great way to give our guests an original and unforgettable experience. However, it seems as though our guests may have enjoyed the Ferris wheels a little too much, as we noticed that they started going missing on a weekly basis. But because they were such a hit last event season, we’re planning to bring them back this winter. Remember, stealing is a crime!” —Joseph Proppe, director of marketing and events

Cafe Marie-Jeanne
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, Cafés

Skewers at Cafe Marie-Jeanne

Humboldt Park

“We have these ornate decorative skewers, like kebab skewers that have little brass animals on top or these colorful wooden doohickies. They’re pretty long, like 12 to 14 inches, but without fail, they end of disappearing one by one. They’re so cute and I think that’s why people take them but also, they are a foot long. Where are you hiding that anyway? People need to stop stealing from restaurants, like, right now.” —Mike Simmons, chef-partner

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Machine: Engineered Dining & Drink
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Bars

Mini hammers at Machine: Engineered Dining & Drink

Wicker Park

“Gosh, the hammers. I guess they get stolen because they remind the guest of the delight of smashing a cocktail. I can't imagine that they are useful for much else, but they are cute and pocket-sized. We go through quite a few, though, and it is a big trouble. I imagine that theft like this deters a lot of restaurants from exploring intricate cocktail presentation. For us, the fun is worth the hassle and expense.” —Aneka Saxon, beverage director

Photograph: Nick Murway
Bars

Coasters at Young American

Logan Square

“Each coaster is an original piece of art from Chicago’s Tired Projects. It comes as no surprise that people want to lift them for their own homes.” —Wade McElroy, co-owner

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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, American

Bathroom accessories at El Che Bar

West Loop

"Literally anything in the bathrooms: candles, plants, especially soap and lotion dispensers, even though they are difficult to remove (although apparently not difficult enough) from their mounts on the walls. It's a constant battle, and we end up spending too much money on it." —John Manion, chef-owner

Photograph: Clayton Hauck
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Embroidered napkins at Cherry Circle Room

Loop

“We do in fact sell our napkins and are happy to do so. I once had a gentleman purchase one for his home. ‘Great,’ he said. ‘That completes my dining room set.’ ‘A set for one?’ I inquired. His response: ‘No, my table seats 10. I already stole the other nine.’ Every now and then you catch someone slip it into their coat or bag. I'll surprise them with a gift of a fresh one, neatly folded to take home. They'll get red in the face, but who wants to walk around with a greasy napkin in their pocket like an episode of Seinfeld?” —Joey Giannini, general manager

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Frontier
Photograph: Meghan Leigh Photography
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Antelope skull at Frontier

River West/West Town

“We have a lot of cool, whole-animal–themed decorations at Frontier, most of which are really big or out of reach, but the antelope skull hangs right above the fireplace. We know people, especially after a few cocktails, love stealing little things and we let it slide, but antelope skulls are hard to come by. After a few days of searching and talking to friends, we found the woman and she returned it. It's back where it belongs and will stay there—it's nailed down now!” —Brian Jupiter, chef

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants

Shot glasses at Split-Rail

Ukrainian Village

"We have a wide variety of shot glasses. I bought a ton at a vintage shop before we opened, but since then, our collection has grown. When we go on vacation, we always bring back kitschy vacation shot glasses, and our guests have begun to do the same—our regulars bring us shot glasses from all around the world. As you can imagine, people tend to pocket these. In a way, it's a bummer, but at the same time, it's always kind of a rotation. Some come and some go, and we're always excited to see what people bring us." —Zoe Schor, chef-owner

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