An RFT Investigation: How Does St. Louis’ All-You-Can-Drink Bar Measure Up?

Things got weird.
Things got weird.

It's not difficult to understand why Open Concept's October debut raised a few eyebrows.

Billed as a pay-by-the-hour, drink-what-you-can-handle affair, the Cherokee Street bar housed in the space that was formerly home to Melt brings an admittedly novel concept to south city's bar scene. For a mere $10 an hour, patrons can unlock access to a variety of specialty cocktails and classic mixed drinks, as well as wine and beer. For $20 per hour, beverage options climb out of the wells and closer to the top shelf, with liquors including Maker's Mark, Patron, Hennessy and Glenlivet available in either shot form or as a base to create one's own drinks from a variety of mixers on hand.

Owner Michael Butler, who also serves as St. Louis' recorder of deeds, has said that the bar is "the first of its kind in the region and the state." Predictably, then, media outlets of both the local and national variety quickly took notice.

In the weeks before its official opening on October 4, Open Concept saw a deluge of press from the likes of NPR, Food & Wine, St. Louis Public Radio and many more — much of it focused on the opportunities for overconsumption the bar provides. "New Bar Lets You Drink (Sort Of) Unlimited Booze for an Hourly Rate," reads the headline used by Vice. "St. Louis Bar Charges By the Hour Rather Than the Drink — What Could Go Wrong?" asks The Takeout. "[P]eople tend to drink too much and get absolutely obliterated at unlimited bars (we've all been there)," Maxim notes.

To combat man's natural tendency to overindulge when money is no object, Butler insisted in interview after interview that the bar's staff won't hesitate to cut patrons off when they've had more than their fair share.

"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.'"

But some were not convinced, and early criticism of Open Concept's business model came from both within and outside the ranks of local government, most vocally (but not exclusively) from former 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman Marie Ceselski, who resigned her position upon the announcement that a presidential debate watch party would be held by the city and state Democratic parties at the bar.

"I am a lifelong Democrat as were my parents and grandparents before me. I will continue to support and vote for Democrats. But I will not be affiliated with organizations that associate with an all-you-can-drink for $10 an hour ... bar and ridiculous claims that Pedialyte sobers people up," Ceselski wrote in a statement. "I know too many people killed or injured by drunk drivers, too many with the chronic disease of alcoholism, too many with liver damage from drinking, to think this bar and data mining scam is an acceptable business for State Party and Central Committee to partner with. Shame on all of you that go to Tuesday's Watch Party at part-time Recorder of Deeds Michael Butler's bar."

It's easy enough to understand her concern. St. Louis is an infamously drunk city, built by beer barons and home to Brett Hull, who was recently declared the "drunkest man in America" by the New York Post on account of his boozy appearances during the duration of 2019's Stanley Cup playoffs. Do we really need new and exciting ways to pickle our livers?

But while I can see where she's coming from, I myself am a St. Louisan cut from similar cloth as Hull, just without any of the sports prowess, charisma or national acclaim. For me — and, indeed, many of my fellow St. Louis citizens — the idea of an all-you-can-drink bar provides a potential penny-saving opportunity.

And so it was with thriftiness in mind that I set myself out to get to the bottom of things in regard to St. Louis' most hotly contested new bar, purchasing a block of three hours (the most you can buy at once) on Open Concept's website with the express goal of seeing just how much alcohol I could shovel down my gullet for $30.

What follows is a complete detailing of my efforts.