BALTIMORE — He wears a madras shirt and straw fedora, tells of partying with designer Gianni Versace and says he left a $4,000-a-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 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-and-jelly 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.