St. Louis bar charges by the hour rather than the drink—what could go wrong?

Photo: jacoblund (iStock)

This summer, word hit the digital street that a St. Louis city government employee was planning to open a bar called Open Concept that charged patrons by the hour rather than by the drink. Surely, some skeptics figured, this unique payment structure would never actually clear the necessary hurdles and actually open its doors. Well, Open Concept has proved the skeptics wrong.

The bar launched Friday and plan to charge guests $10 per hour for access to premium beer, wine, and liquor; and $20 per hour for access to top-shelf beer, wine, and liquor. Owner Michael Butler tells The Takeout the first option includes mostly draft beer, draft wine, and draft cocktails, while the second option includes all those in addition to straight pours of alcohol.

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Open Concept bills itself as an “open bar” to which guests pay to gain access; its website says “for an average price of $10 per hour you can drink as much as you can handle.” Customers are encouraged to buy their “time” in advance on the bar’s website, though walk-ins are also accepted. (Guests are able to tip the bartenders either in advance at the door or with cash after each order.) Customers who booked online will receive a confirmation code to show at the door; all customers also receive text messages at the bar alerting them as to how much time they have left on their booking.

“Our bar wait time is less than other bars because all that payment is done at the door,” Butler tells The Takeout. “We serve mostly draft drinks so we turn around orders quickly, and the interaction at the bar is not nearly as long as at a regular bar.”

We’re surely not the first to think this sounds like a recipe for overconsumption. But Butler says Open Concept’s bartenders are trained like any other bar’s staff to recognize the signs of overconsumption.

“When we see people becoming visibly intoxicated, we then serve them Pedialyte. We care about our customers,” he says. “Most people once they’ve been drinking just want something fruity and tasty, so we can serve them that Pedialyte and say ‘Hey you need to slow down.’”

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Reports that Open Concept uses the height and weight information on a guest’s driver’s license to determine how many drinks to serve them per hour are unfounded, Butler says, though bartenders may take into account a person’s physical stature when visually evaluating how intoxicated they are.

Perhaps the only true test of whether Open Concept’s model is successful will be to watch the bar’s first few weeks in business. After all, when pour-your-own-beer bars first emerged as a concept a few years ago, they elicited similar fears of overconsumption. Now, they’re a dime a dozen and drinkers haven’t drunkenly rioted in the streets. Here’s hoping the St. Louis are all responsible enough to not abuse the “drink as much as you can handle” mandate, in which case, they’re stronger-willed than most of us.

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About the author

Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.