Dap­per diner is ac­cused of charm­ing Bal­ti­more eater­ies, then dash­ing on bills

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY TIM PRUDENTE

bal­ti­more — He wears a madras shirt and straw fe­dora, tells of par­ty­ing with de­signer Gianni Ver­sace and says he left a $4,000a-month apart­ment be­cause he just couldn’t take New York any­more.

Since com­ing to Bal­ti­more this spring, the dap­per diner has in­dulged in some of the city’s bests. He’s par­tied pool­side at the Sag­amore Pendry ho­tel, tasted ce­viche in Fells Point and sipped San­giovese in Lit­tle Italy. He has also, ac­cord­ing to restau­rant own­ers, left a trail of servers wait­ing for him to pay.

In four days alone, he skipped out on a $45 tab at Golden West Cafe in Ham­p­den, a $59 check at Joe Benny’s in Lit­tle Italy and a $52 bill at Todd Con­ner’s in Fells Point, restau­rant own­ers say.

Staff at two other pop­u­lar Bal­ti­more restau­rants say they en­coun­tered the old sport who charms with ban­ter, dines with style and walks on the check.

The restau­rant work­ers formed a Face­book net­work to track his where­abouts. On­line they re­fer to him more for his celebrity re­sem­blance than din­ner habits; they call him “Woody Har­rel­son.”

When po­lice ques­tioned him at the Sag­amore Pendry last month, of­fi­cers couldn’t de­ter­mine his iden­tity. They found no trace of his name in Mary­land or New York records, po­lice wrote in charg­ing doc­u­ments. He said he was stay­ing at 2611 St. Paul St., but the ad­dress doesn’t ex­ist. He had no driver’s li­cense. No means to pay the $237 bill. Who is the man in the fe­dora? Court records list him as Alex Todd McKay, an ad­mit­ted check coun­ter­feiter who was scolded a decade ago by a fed­eral judge in Sa­van­nah, Ga.

“It’s ob­vi­ous to me that you are a ha­bit­ual liar, that you are a cheat and that you are a con man,” U.S. Dis­trict Judge Wil­liam Moore Jr. said af­ter sen­tenc­ing him to four years for bank fraud.

Now in Bal­ti­more, McKay, 54, says that the past is “no­body’s busi­ness” and that the present fuss over his un­paid tabs comes from mis­un­der­stand­ings, al­beit ones that can send him to state prison on two pend­ing charges of mis­de­meanor theft.

One re­cent morn­ing, he agreed to meet at the park in the city’s Mount Ver­non neigh­bor­hood and ex­plain.

“I didn’t do it in­ten­tion­ally. I think it has some­thing to do with this,” he said, open­ing a folder with pa­pers from Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal.

It all started three weeks ear­lier. McKay breezed into Beth Hawks’s Fells Point bou­tique, dishing of de­signer Michael Kors and homes in the Hamp­tons. He didn’t drop names; he scat­tered them like glit­ter.

Hawks was daz­zled by the time he in­vited her to din­ner. Af­ter ce­viche and tacos, he ex­cused him­self and re­turned to say he paid, Hawks says. De­lighted, she dropped off her new friend in Mount Ver­non.

“Ev­ery girl’s dream is to have some guy who knows fash­ion, in­te­rior de­sign, great restau­rants, great food,” she said.

Back at the restau­rant, the wait­ress waited for him to pay the $83 bill.

“He said he left his credit card in his blazer and he had his blazer dry cleaned,” said Kari Bryan, the wait­ress at Points South Latin Kitchen in Fells Point.

McKay says he paid Hawks $40 for his meal, which she dis­putes. She posted on Face­book and so be­gan his rep­u­ta­tion as Bal­ti­more’s dap­per dine-and-dasher.

Such char­ac­ters have emerged else­where. This year, a Bri­tish man dined in class at D.C. ho­tels, even down­ing a $1,200 shot of rare Irish whiskey, with­out pay­ing, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported. In Los An­ge­les, a hand­some sin­gle made the news for aban­don­ing blind dates to pay for his steak din­ners. Of course, there was the no­to­ri­ous Bal­ti­morean who faked seizures at the sight of a check.

“It’s aw­ful. It’s theft,” said Chris­tian Wilkins, who owns Todd Con­ner’s. “You feel vi­o­lated.”

McKay has a habit of re­view­ing his meals on­line, though his posts make no men­tion of his al­leged thefts. Af­ter din­ing with Hawks, he wrote on TripAd­vi­sor: “Sit­ting out­side, was an ab­so­lute de­light! We had ter­rific drinks, and tacos, trout en­tree. . .”

Four days later at Todd Con­ner’s, he ran up a $52 lunch tab, or­der­ing fried peanut but­ter-and­jelly sand­wiches, a pub spe­cialty, and Long Is­land iced teas, bar­tender Gareth Charyszyn says.

McKay told the staff that he for­got his wal­let in the pre­vi­ous day’s clothes, the bar­tender says.

“He said, ‘I left my clothes at the laun­dro­mat, and can I leave some­thing of value?’ ” Charyszyn said.

McKay is charged with theft over the lunch. He is sched­uled for trial in July.

Next, he tried the Tex-Mex at Golden West in Ham­p­den. Af­ter a burger and tater tots, two mar­ti­nis and a mez­cal cock­tail, the bill was $45. Bar­tenders fig­ured he stepped out for a smoke.

“We were kind of hoping, that with him be­ing so per­son­able and talk­ing to us, he was go­ing to come back in and pay,” bar­tender Alex Cham­pagne said.

Con­fronta­tion came the fol­low­ing evening at Joe Benny’s in Lit­tle Italy. By then, warn­ings had spread on­line about the man in the fe­dora. A neigh­bor qui­etly gave Joe Gardella the scoop about the cus­tomer eat­ing pizza and meat­balls at the bar. Out­side, Gardella flagged down an of­fi­cer. The man in the fe­dora emerged.

“He goes, ‘ Joe, I had this pro­ce­dure done at Johns Hop­kins and I left my wal­let there,’ ” Gardella said.

Sit­ting in the park weeks later, McKay says they were rude at Joe Benny’s.

“I would have come right back and paid him, but he was such [a jerk],” McKay said. “It doesn’t make it right. . . . They’re mak­ing it a drama.”

He feels un­justly hounded by the restau­rant work­ers, he says.

McKay says he moved from Man­hat­tan, where he par­tied with fash­ion de­sign­ers at the old Stu­dio 54 night­club and threw run­way shows and posh wed­dings as an up­scale event plan­ner. “Talk­ing to me is $5,000,” he said.

He moved to Bal­ti­more in April, he says, with plans to buy a grand home in Mount Ver­non and throw events for politi­cians, so­cial ac­tivists and artists.

He ex­plains his un­paid tabs as mis­takes — ei­ther he for­got to pay or he cov­ered his share of the bill. At the Pendry pool bar, he was par­ty­ing with a birth­day group when every­one skipped out, he says, leav­ing him with the check.

“I stayed be­hind,” he said. “If I did all these things, I would be bar­rel­ing out of there.”

McKay is charged with theft over the in­ci­dent at the Pendry. He is sched­uled for trial June 25.

Fed­eral court records re­veal more about his life be­fore Bal­ti­more.

In early 2007, Se­cret Ser­vice agents be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing nearly $65,000 worth of phony checks turn­ing up in Sa­van­nah at fancy bou­tiques, inns and gal­leries. McKay pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud, ad­mit­ting that he printed coun­ter­feit checks on his home com­puter. Un­der the plea deal, pros­e­cu­tors dropped more than a dozen other counts.

Back then, McKay told the court that he came from Wash­ing­ton, where he was an in­te­rior de­signer mak­ing $150,000 a year. Ac­cord­ing to the tran­scripts, he also ad­mit­ted to be­ing con­victed of bank fraud in New Or­leans.

In the Georgia court­room, Moore had harsh words.

“P.T. Bar­num said there’s a sucker born ev­ery day,” the judge told him, “and you’re out there ev­ery day do­ing the best that you can do to find some way to cheat them.”

McKay broke the terms of his re­lease in July 2011 when he checked out of the Dis­trict’s Tabard Inn with­out pay­ing a $1,030 bill, pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers wrote in an ar­rest war­rant. He also failed to make resti­tu­tion pay­ments or­dered by the court, they wrote. He was sen­tenced to two more years in fed­eral prison.

Prison records show McKay was re­leased in April 2013.

To­day, he says he doesn’t want to dis­cuss the decade-old case.

In­stead, he of­fers yet another ex­pla­na­tion for his un­paid tabs, say­ing he suf­fers bouts of for­get­ful­ness ever since he drank par­a­sitic wa­ter in Man­hat­tan.

“I’ve been tak­ing this re­ally pow­er­ful antibiotic,” he said. “It’s got to have some­thing to do with it.”

Then he opens the folder from Johns Hop­kins as proof. Doc­tors wrote that he com­plained of los­ing con­scious­ness, but blood tests and CT scans found noth­ing.

They di­ag­nosed him with un­ex­plained mem­ory loss from am­ne­sia.

“We were kind of hoping, that with him be­ing so per­son­able and talk­ing to us, he was go­ing to come back in and pay.” Alex Cham­pagne, a bar­tender at a restau­rant vis­ited by Alex Todd McKay, an ad­mit­ted check coun­ter­feiter

CHRIS­TIAN HO­RAN/SAG­AMORE PENDRY BAL­TI­MORE

Alex Todd McKay is ac­cused of skip­ping out on ex­penses he racked up dur­ing a visit to the Sag­amore Pendry ho­tel in Bal­ti­more. He says he was par­ty­ing with a birth­day group when every­one de­parted, leav­ing him with the check. McKay is sched­uled for trial...

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