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Instead Of Charging Per Drink, This St. Louis Bar Is Charging By The Hour

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

At a new bar in St. Louis, customers don't pay by the drink. They pay by the hour, and they can drink as much as they want in that time. Of course, that raises concerns about people overdoing it. Jonathan Ahl of St. Louis Public Radio went to see the bar for himself.

JONATHAN AHL, BYLINE: It's a Saturday night on Cherokee Street in St. Louis. It's an artsy neighborhood with lots of taquerias, coffeeshops and bars, and the newest bar here is called Open Concept. Its brightly lit with a tin ceiling and white walls. There are TVs broadcasting sports, and you can play vintage video games that are projected on the wall. Tonight there are about 50 people here sitting and talking and playing board games and cards. First-time bar owner Michael Butler says he opened this business because he wanted to create a welcoming and affordable place.

MICHAEL BUTLER: We have a very diverse crowd every night, and we really like that. One thing you find in St. Louis is that bar crowds can be a little segregated. We wanted this space to be a space where everyone can feel comfortable and everyone can afford it and everyone can have a good time.

AHL: Open Concept works like this. You check in at the door, show your ID and give them your name and phone number. It costs $10 an hour, or $20 an hour if you want higher-end drinks. Then you get a text message when your time to drink has started. When you want a drink, you go to the bar. They check your name and give you your order. Kyle Fisher is visiting St. Louis and heard about this bar and thinks it's a great deal.

KYLE FISHER: I bought two hours for myself and my wife. My wife's had three drinks. I've had four. So I think we've gotten our money's worth, but we haven't done it to the point where we've overdone it.

AHL: Overdoing it is a concern for some. Jessica Lucas is with the addiction counseling group Prevention Specialists of Missouri. She says allowing and even encouraging people to drink too much is irresistible for some and can be dangerous.

JESSICA LUCAS: As a society, we've been taught to get the most out of our money, and so it encourages unlimited drinking. And any time you have more than five drinks in an hour, it's considered binge drinking, which is detrimental to health.

AHL: But supporters of the concept say that's not what's happening. Jenisha McKinney and her friends have been here for two hours tonight. She says they're having fun and actually not drinking as much as they thought they would.

JENISHA MCKINNEY: Since it's so lit up and you have games and cards and - it's just more alive than other bars. The other bars, you feel like, I need another drink.

AHL: Parnell Foots is here with a date. He says while all-you-can-drink may sound dangerous, there are much cheaper ways to get drunk if that's your goal.

PARNELL FOOTS: You would just take $10, get some cheap liquor, down it real quick and you can be at that level you want to be at. But this is - I don't really see that being a problem, especially the people here. Like, you can look around now, and everybody's just casually drinking and talking, so I don't foresee it being a problem.

AHL: Owner Michael Butler says he's done his homework on this. They're not afraid to cut someone off or not serve them if they think they're impaired. He says his lawyers have told him he isn't exposed to increased liability because of the setup. Butler says so far, his customers are averaging only two drinks an hour. That's a number that he says bodes well to make the bar profitable and also keep things from getting out of hand. Butler also says this is a new way to run a bar and has ambitious plans to open dozens of new bars in the next few years.

For NPR News, I'm Jonathan Ahl in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jonathan is the General Manager of Tri States Public radio. His duties include but are not limited to, managing all facets of the station, from programming to finances to operations. Jonathan grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. He has a B.A in music theory and composition from WIU and a M.A in Public Affairs Reporting from The University of Illinois at Springfield. Jonathan began his journey in radio as a student worker at WIUM. While in school Jonathan needed a summer job on campus. He heard WIUM was hiring, and put his bid in. Jonathan was welcomed on the team and was very excited to be using his music degree. He had also always been interested in news and public radio. He soon learned he was a much better reporter than a musician and his career was born. While at WIUM, Jonathan hosted classical music, completed operations and production work, was a news reporter and anchor, and served as the stage manager for Rural Route 3. Jonathan then went to on to WIUS in Springfield where he was a news anchor and reporter covering the state legislature for Illinois Public Radio. After a brief stint in commercial radio and TV, Jonathan joined WCBU in Peoria, first in operations then as a news reporter and for the last ten years of his time there he served as the News Director. Jonathan’s last job before returning to Tri States Public Radio was as the News Director/ Co-Director of Content for Iowa Public Radio. During Jonathan’s off time he enjoys distance running, playing competitive Scrabble, rooting for Chicago Cubs, listening to all kinds of music and reading as much as he can. He lives in Macomb with his wife Anita and children Tommy and Lily.