Like many people who like Phish, Matt McGrath really likes Phish. He'll attend his 225th Phish show tonight when the quartet performs the first of three nights on the beach at the Riviera Maya on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula (webcast it in HD!). And a few weeks ago, he hit up all four nights of Phish's sold-out New Year's Eve run at Madison Square garden. But he almost missed it all after a midtown bartender allegedly swiped a stash of 12 tickets belonging to McGrath and his friends. This is their story.
On December 30th, McGrath was pre-gaming before the first night of the Phish run at the Haymaker on 29th Street, enjoying their excellent craft beer selection with a group of friends who collaborate to buy excess tickets and share the extras communally with each other. They were wrapping up in the back room when an envelope containing tickets for all four nights disappeared.
"As we were getting ready to go, I might have forgotten to pick them up and put them in my pocket," McGrath, reached by phone in Mexico, told us today. "I went to the bathroom, came back and got my jacket, got out the door about 15 steps before I realized I didn't have them."
McGrath says he immediately ran back before he took another step, and the only people in the back were the waitstaff. He says he searched bussing trays and the trash and found no sign of the tickets.
"I was feeling complete and utter panic," McGrath said. "There were a lot of tickets. I don't know how I was going to replace these. Because typically MSG won't reissue tickets into third party names." (Most of the tickets in the envelope had originally been purchased by other members of the group and traded for extras on different nights of the run.)
Scalper prices for Phish tickets during this year's New Year's run were starting at $200 and running up into the thousands, depending on where the seats were located.
But McGrath successfully got his ticket for that night cancelled and reissued. After the show, he returned to the bar and spoke to a bartender who insisted no one had turned anything in.
On New Year's Eve, McGrath spent the day getting almost all of the missing tickets reissued and was able to attend Phish's three-set New Year's Eve extravaganza. In addition to being a fun show, this is where he caught a break in the case.
A photo posted by phishfromtheroad (@phishfromtheroad) on
Before the first set, McGrath says a young lady approached him with a ticket stub in her hand and said, "Excuse me, this is my seat. It was exactly the ticket for my seat. Turns out she had been hanging out at Haymaker the last day or two, and was chatting with the bartender, quite possibly the one I was talking to when I went back after the first night's show."
The woman, who McGrath declined to name, told him the bartender had offered her tickets for $100 a piece. When she declined, she says he gave her the ticket for free. But when she arrived for the New Year's Eve concert, that ticket had already been cancelled and reissued. Nevertheless, McGrath says she was able to persuade the box office that there was a mistake and reissue her a ticket.
"The bartender told her a customer left the tickets as a tip," McGrath recalls. "Then she said he changed his story to 'his uncle gave him the tickets.' I got lucky. I never would have known any of this had MSG not given her a ticket."
McGrath returned to the Haymaker again after the NYE show and spoke with the manager, who forwarded his complaint along to owner David Smith.
Smith tells us that after reviewing security camera footage he found "pretty damning evidence" that one of his bartenders had swiped the envelope of tickets. The employee, who he declined to name because it's now a police matter, was immediately terminated.
"This guy is an idiot," Smith says. "He was working here for two weeks, a total of five shifts, and he's an idiot. There are cameras everywhere in this place."
McGrath also reported the alleged theft to the 10th Precinct, but he and Smith both wonder how hard police are gunning for the bartender. Smith says no one from the NYPD has come to his bar to view the surveillance footage, despite a promise from investigators that they would.
To be fair, it's possible there are more pressing police matters in the 10th Precinct than stolen Phish tickets. An NYPD spokesman says the incident is still under investigation and there have been no arrests yet.
"The worst thing about it is the Phish fans that night were the perfect clientele," adds Smith. "They're very knowledgeable about beer, and it's a shame this one guy put a stain on their experience. And this really doesn't reflect what we're about."
"There's no reason to steal from your fellow man, it violates the social contract," McGrath concludes. "I feel very strongly about that."
But he says he wouldn't hesitate to pregame at the Haymaker again, and in the end he's just relieved he and his friends were able to attend the concerts. "The hourglass jam on New Year's Eve is up there as a tie with the 2002 comeback from hiatus, when they did 7 Below and made it snow inside MSG." Translation: