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Serve Yourself 

Pour-your-own beer is all the rage, for proprietors and customers alike.

click to enlarge Dozens of beers are available at Thirsty Joe’s Draft House, formerly RVA Draft Room.

Ash Daniel

Dozens of beers are available at Thirsty Joe’s Draft House, formerly RVA Draft Room. 

No waste. No waiting. Plenty of options. That pretty much sums up establishments that let you serve up your own booze, and they're starting to take off.

For the unfamiliar, imagine a bar where you snag a glass and move from tap to tap, filling your vessel with a little bit of this or a whole lot of that, usually paying by the ounce using a pass that's linked to a credit card. The possibilities are endless. There's the bonus of mingling and moving about rather than sitting on a bar stool for an hour or two. In the past few years, Richmond has embraced a handful of these joints, and according to their owners, business is flowing steadily.

"One of the best parts of our pour-yourself beer system is the opportunity for you to sample something new, without having to go for an entire pint," says Brian Sullivan, manager at Thirsty Joe's Draft House in Carytown, formerly RVA Draft Room. With rotating taps of beer, wine and cider, no visit is like the one before.

"At any given time, we have almost every category of beer that is available, from lagers to sours, IPAs, cream ales and stouts," Sullivan says. "By having 50 taps, we can carry some of the more unique styles and flavors of beers and ciders that other bars may steer away from."

Over in Scott's Addition, the Circuit bar-cade runs a similar operation, and it's even so bold as to include Miller Lite and Pabst Blue Ribbon in the lineup. Both places ensure discerning drinkers have the right kind of glassware as well. You can choose from goblets or pints at both spots. Sullivan also points out that eliminating table service ensures you get what you want with less hassle.

"There's also no waiting to flag down a bartender or server," he says. "Any time you want to get a refill or sample something new, you simply choose a glass and pour."

You'll notice something similar at all of these self-serve stations. The systems. PourMyBeer, Table Tap, and iPourIt are big dogs in the automatic dispensing biz, each leveraging similar technology. Aside from getting your cold one more quickly and easily, there's the advantage of becoming a more knowledgeable drinker. By way of interactive screens, these machines offer total transparency about price, the quantity being dispensed, and in some cases a little bit of info about the beer itself, like style and amount of alcohol.

"At most bars, you have only the name and tap handle design available to help you choose your next beverage," Sullivan points out. In many cases, the software also can be programmed to limit how much can be poured to ensure no one is overserved. These numbers even get kicked back to businesses so they can track their inventory, so it's a win-win." This a Weird quotation mark at end . … We need to check with the writer.

Senior partner Jeff Wells at Richmond Wine Station says there are enormous benefits to proprietors of do-it-yourself bars. It might not seem an obvious choice if you're a beer lover, but Richmond Wine Station has eight suds stations with the potential to double that in the future. At a classic bar setup, he explains, much is lost due to things like spillage and spoilage. Ultimately, customers end up with the bill as mark-ups have to occur to recoup costs. Self-serve spots don't have that. The machines pour exact amounts that eliminate waste, and there are fewer servers which means less overhead.

"We can pass those savings along to the customer, which we are passionate about," Wells says. "Look around at these people. They've been here over an hour, and not a single phone has come out. People like to hang out and talk. It's a different mindset in places like this."

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