It’s snowing on January 22.

Four women walk into Zog’s, my bar on the college side of Franklin Street. They’re all bundled up with nowhere to go because Math 101 was canceled, and I know what’s coming. I take the first one’s ID. It’s so fake I giggle, but I give her the benefit of the doubt, because, hey, Snow Day. The ID says 1991, so I ask her age.

“Um. I’m, I’m 21,” she says, before hanging her head in mathematical shame. I tell her to work on her memorization and toss the fake into the bar’s victory box of bad Photoshop jobs and bogus addresses.

I knew when I bought Zog’s six years ago that it was out of place. It’s a weird, quirky dive for old people. In downtown Chapel Hill, “old” means above twenty-five, and we’re strictly twenty-one-plus. It’s so close to campus, though, undergrads often try to pass us their fakes. It doesn’t work.

First, kids, your lack of common sense will betray you more quickly than any crinkly laminated forgery. When I ask if you have anything else bearing your name and you stammer “no” while rifling through a wallet overflowing with credit cards with your real name, I just cannot summon much disbelief to suspend. Or, if I ask you what city you’re from, and you say, “Oklahoma,” and I repeat, “CI-TY,” wishing there were more syllables to over-enunciate, and you stutter, “Oh, just, like, I mean, Oh-Oklahoma,” you cannot come in.

Flash back to November 25, last year. A group of delicate children approached my bartender, presenting their IDs in advance of one thousand hypothetical vodka tonics and badly shot pool games. He rejects them and explains whythe laminate peeling off the papery cards, the line on the Maryland ID that extends too far, the out-of-place “R” on the fake Florida job. One kid fancies himself a negotiator.

“We know Jake, the owner. Just give us our IDs back, dude,” he explains.

I’m the owner, and my name’s Mandey. There has never been a Jake at Zog’s.

“Well, at least let us buy the IDs back from you,” he pleads. “We need them.”

The group storms out, yelling that they’re going to tell their friends this place sucks. Please do that, I think aloud. Then we won’t have to bother.

Fake IDs are often produced by secret companies in undisclosed, faraway locations. They’re made in state batches, too, meaning that anyone who orders one during a certain period will likely receive a fake from one of four locations in rotation. Lately, it’s been Maryland, Florida, South Carolina, and Connecticut.

There are tricks for decoding each state. For example, a black line bisects all Maryland IDs. On real IDs, the line stops short of the bottom, right around the base of “Restriction.” If the line extends farther, I reject it. On Florida IDs, look at “Expiration.” On fakes, the “R” will be consistent with the font. On real IDs, the leg of the “R” kicks out. It’s the very first thing I look at on a Florida ID, before your name, your picture, and your birthdate. The dude who prints fakes on his black-market DMV machine in his mom’s basement has, somehow, not figured this out.

And then there’s Photoshop, such a useful program. Problem is, most people don’t understand it. Bad Photoshopping spans all fakes, and it’s completely obvious. Are you smiling as though you’re not at the DMV, because you weren’t? Does your background look like that dude in the basement used the paint bucket tool to administer a hideous shade of blue without first using the eyedropper on a real ID? Yes, we can tell.

And if you’re a nineteen-year-old with a fraudulent license, you’ve probably perused the Fake ID Subreddit. This is a wonderful place where kids upload not only their fake IDs but also the valid IDs of their friends for the sake of counterfeit comparison. Users share tips on getting past doormen and advice on buying fakes. Remember, kids: your local bartender reads the Internet, too.


Directly before the gaggle of young adults who knew “Jake” arrived, I was sitting at my own bar on my day off, minding my business like a customer. The bartender asked a large group for IDs, and a woman in the back stiffened. My bartender couldn’t see her, but I could. She turned to her friend and murmured.

When she handed her ID over, my bartender hesitated and walked away to grab an ID reference book. It contains photos of every state license, which proves useful if the person handing you an ID looks like she was potty-trained last week but talks a good game.

“Oh my God,” she whispered, “this is all gonna be so much easier when I’m twenty-one.”

This time, I heard it. Being busted by the old lady at the bar must be awful. If I had a dollar for every time I listened while underage friends discussed the best tactics for getting past my bartender, I would have retired already. Instead, I just call them out and get called words I don’t even recognize in return. They tell their friends my bar sucks, and that’s fine. I have lots of regulars to protect from shenanigans, anyway, and I’m never going to stop.

I don’t even agree with the twenty-one-plus drinking age. I know plenty of fifty-year-olds who can’t hold their liquor. I grew up in New Orleans, a lawless empire where you can fall face-first into a pile of your own drunken vomit on Bourbon Street at age sixteen as long as you don’t bother anyone.

But North Carolina ALE agents are strict, and by falsifying your way into my neighborhood bar, you are jeopardizing my staff’s livelihoods. The consequences fall on us, not you, almost every time. That’s why we do not like younot because you’re twenty, but because you’re selfish.

You don’t care about anything but a future vision of yourself with an underpoured Long Island Iced Tea, grinding on some dude from your Lit class whom you normally avoid. But, hey, you got into that gross club tonight, so who cares if he’s busted and creepy?

This article appeared in print with the headline “Identity Problems”