Employees at one of the most popular bars in Lawrence, Kan. maneuver the rough waters of fake ID use and underage drinking in a college town.
by Addison Lake
Dec. 9, 2016.
Bouncing from person to person, junior AJ La Rocca smiled and joked with his co-workers at the Jayhawk Cafe on a chilly December night, but snapped to business when a group of girls walked towards the entrance. La Rocca is a bouncer at one of Lawrence’s most popular bars, which many KU students believe to be a hub for underage drinkers with fake IDs.With lines wrapping around the block and music shaking the walls, bouncers must make quick decisions on who can enter based off one piece of plastic, an ID. While students wait nervously to see if their ID will gain them access to the bar, bouncers say little, with no smile and stiff body language, standing seriously like La Rocca did. A conflict unique to Jayhawk Cafe bouncers is that, often, they are underage themselves.
“I think any person who works at a bar would know that IDs should be horizontal, it has to be the proper birthday, and it shouldn’t be peeling; it has to be a good ID,” La Rocca said. “If it’s vertical, or it looks suspicious I would go ask [my boss]… But if they have an ID that says they’re 21, and it has their face, I can’t tell a difference. So, as long that’s the deal, then they can come in. I’ve shut down plenty of people… I’m really good at just talking to people when they’re drunk and just saying ‘Hey, we’re trying to be cool, but can you please get out of here?’ They’ll usually listen.”
La Rocca, 20, has been working at the Jayhawk Cafe, commonly known as the Hawk, since March 2016. According to the Kansas Liquor Control Act, state law requires that employees be 21 to pour alcohol, but underage teens and 20 year olds can work as security guards or ID checkers. La Rocca is one of those 20 year olds.
La Rocca said there are about 60 doormen or security guards who work with him, 20 each night the bar is open. The majority are also underage, he said, including freshman bouncer Nick Vance.
“I mostly see freshmen and sophomores when I work at the door,” Vance said. “It’s always known as the underage bar but I never ID people, I just kick people out and make sure everyone is safe.”
In many college towns, fake IDs and underage drinking are common occurrences when students encounter new freedoms of higher education, according to the College Drinking Prevention website. Nearly 60 percent of KU undergraduates are under the legal drinking age, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Planning.
When asked how he dealt with his underage friends seeking entrance to the Hawk with fake IDs, La Rocca said, although it happens rarely, “It’s still business.”
“I don’t want to lose my job, and my friends know that,” La Rocca said. “So if my friends were going to make a choice like that, they’d know that I’d have to go get a manager. And then they’d take the proper action.”
Hawk managers declined an interview regarding fake IDs and strategies they trained employees to use to distinguish between fake and valid IDs. La Rocca expressed confidence in his and his co-workers ability to spot the differences.
“I don’t know how it was like back in the day, like ten years ago, but when me and the guys are working, if you’re not 21 you’re not going in,” La Rocca said. “I’ve shut down plenty of guys and girls, both. I look at a card and I’m like ‘You’re not 40 years or 30 years old; I’m sorry dude, you can’t do that.’”
In 2011, a local coalition called Draw the Line Lawrence intended to help police officers and bar bouncers identify invalid driver’s licenses with a training program called Fake ID 101, funded by the Kansas Department of Transportation, according to Norraine Wingfield. Wingfield said Fake ID 101 lasted in Lawrence for two years, but the city hasn’t participated since.
“You [hear] people saying that they have IDs that are Pokemon cards,” La Rocca said. “You hear about people saying, ‘I use a person who is a guy when I’m a girl,’ but honestly I’ve never seen that ever happen before. I think that is a total myth.”
La Rocca said he takes a firm stance on denying entrance with a clearly invalid ID. But with no concrete way for bouncers to distinguish between real and fake, the Hawk might continue to be considered a popular nightlife destination for underage KU students.