‘The losers are small businesses’: Avondale bar owners warn of crooks using counterfeit cash


CHICAGO — Brendan Byrne owns the Wolfhound Bar and Kitchen on North Elston but the luck of the Irish was absent on Thursday. 

“Two women came in, sat down right at the bar, very quickly ordered a drink and asked to cash out,” Byrne said.

That’s when they handed over a $100 bill, or so it seemed.  

“The bartender took it, did what she’s supposed to do, ran the pen across it and she noticed it felt weird,” Byrne said.

The pair waiting to pocket change seemingly grew more anxious.

“While we were checking it with the pen, I could hear a whole bunch of fidgety tapping and shuffling around. I kind of looked over my shoulder and could see them looking around, looking at the door, which was a red flag in and of itself,” Byrne said.

But with no immediate signs it was fake, Byrne handed the tandem $92 in change.  

“They actually giggled as we were taking the cash out of the register,” he said.  

While at face value, the $100 bill with Benjamin Franklin looked real, but a closer look reveals the face of a hidden Alexander Hamilton.

“Just the wrong guy entirely,” Byrne said.

But it seems the pair remained busy.

“Then we heard there was another place in the neighborhood that had caught it that same night,” Byrne said.

Right down the street, DMen Tap was struck too. The bill handed over to workers also passed the pen test, but the bartender was suspicious, said owner Dave Duchek.

“Something about the interaction stuck with her as weird,” Duchek said. “I checked the watermark and I saw that it was Alexander Hamilton and not Benjamin Franklin and that’s when I was like, ‘oh, this is a counterfeit bill, this is a real one.’”

That’s not all.

Kuma’s Corner and Alice’s Lounge, both on Belmont Avenue, were allegedly targeted that same night, although WGN News has learned the scam failed at the latter.  

“Their bartender was able to catch it in time and refuse service,” Byrne said. “He said the situation was intense, at least when he sent the message to me. I don’t know if there was a scene or what.”

But each time they were successful, those responsible pocketed about $80-$90.

“Two hundred and 40 bucks an hour is quite the haul, I guess,” Duchek said.

The loss in revenue stings, says Duchek.

“The losers are small businesses. We’ve been struggling the last few years with the pandemic and everything and giving away real change for something a bank is going to turn away.”

“It’s not like corporate will deal with it. That’s me. I’m that guy, so every dollar counts,” Byrne said.

And they want others to be aware.  

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“You know what to look for now,” Byrne said. “You get burnt once and you learn from it.”

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