St. Louis bar that charged by the hour switches to drinking without a time limit [UPDATED]

Illustration for article titled St. Louis bar that charged by the hour switches to drinking without a time limit [UPDATED]
Photo: jacoblund (iStock by Getty Images)

Update, May 3, 2021: Open Concept, the St. Louis bar that received national attention for its pay-by-the-hour model, was not immune to the effects of the pandemic. Over the winter, it was closed. But now, phoenix-like, it has risen from the COVID ashes, in a new location with a new business model.

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Yes, it’s true: Open Concept is no longer charging by the hour. Alert reader Justin Juengel emailed us with the news, along with an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That article was, unfortunately, behind a paywall, but we were able to find more details from Sauce, a local food magazine.

“The new Open Concept is a bit mellower,” Sauce reports, “offering a flat $24 cover charge for bottomless drinking without a time limit; patrons wanting to experience the concept in full can pay $44 for bottomless premium and top shelf drinks [translation: shots].” There is also boozy brunch on weekends.

(Caveat: the $24 is if you reserve your drinking slot in advance. If you’re the spontaneous type, the price is $30 at the door.)

Michael Butler, the bar’s co-owner—and also the St. Louis city recorder of deeds and the chair of the Missouri Democratic Party—boasts that this business model makes Open Concept the fastest bar in the country. At any given time, there are 40 beverages on tap, including 25 cocktails. Upon arriving at the bar, he promises, you could have a drink in your hand within 30 seconds.

Will this new model be more cost-effective for St. Louis drinkers? Perhaps Daniel Hill, the intrepid Riverfront Times reporter who tested the original pay-by-the-hour Open Concept can be induced to return for another round. Or maybe some other brave St. Louisan can take up the challenge. It’s vax summer, right? Time for fun for everyone!

Original post, October 7, 2019: 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.

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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.

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.

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“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.

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“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.’”

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.

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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.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

Associate editor of The Takeout. Chicagoan. Owned by dog.

DISCUSSION

I have spent my entire adult life living in DC and NYC so my views are extremely skewed but the pricing seems incredibly reasonable for both the high and low options.  Even at less expensive bars, I can easily hit $40 in an hour or two at a bar and I can (or at least could) handle my booze pretty well.  I wonder how they make this model work financially and if it is possible to add tip to the tab when pre-paying or if it’s the standard dollar bill per drink at the bar.