Topeka Kansas is one of the few states that prohibit self-service beer taps at bars and clubs, though a bill under consideration in the Legislature could finally allow patrons to be their own bartenders.
Behind the bill is a trio of Topeka entrepreneurs who are aiming to open a new downtown bar, the Brew Bank, that would feature a wall of self-serve beer taps boasting the best offerings from local breweries. The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee had a hearing on the bill Tuesday but didn't vote on it.
The idea proved popular with city business leaders, who named the Brew Bank the $100,000 winner of the Topeka Top Tank Competition, a contest searching for business ideas to revitalize downtown Topeka.
While self-service wine taps are legal in Kansas, the team discovered that wasn't the case for beer.
"This is a huge part of our plan and our idea, so we're really motivated to see the law change," Brew Bank co-owner Ryan Cavanaugh said. "Self-serve taps are more than a gimmick."
The big differences between a standard bar and a self-service bar are convenience and control, according to Zach Campbell, who owns the 417 Taphouse in Springfield, Missouri. Waiting in line for a bar's lone bartender isn't fun, he said.
Campbell said that at his bar, patrons can take their time selecting what they want or even try something new that they otherwise wouldn't.
The automated taps vary slightly depending on the manufacturer. Generally, a customer walks in, talks to a bartender who then gives the customer a card or bracelet with a set amount of money attached to it. The card is then used at the self-service taps, charging by the ounce.
"It's like a beer buffet," Campbell said.
After 32 ounces have been poured using the card the customer will have to report to the bartender who then decides whether they are good to have a few more drinks or need to be cut off. Also, video surveillance on the taps is required to ensure that the person using the card is who it is supposed to be.
The Brew Bank's taps system would look similar, Cavanaugh said.
Philip Bradley, who heads the Kansas trade association for bars, clubs and restaurants where alcohol is served, said that although there is no opposition to self-service taps, he doubts that the system of monitoring the taps would be as effective as the traditional approach that requires a face-to-face interaction with a bartender.
The committee chairman, Sen. Bud Estes, a Dodge City Republican, said he has no issue with the bill and doesn't think anyone else on committee does either.
"We do it with wines now and we're just adding beer to the list," Estes said.
Cavanaugh is optimistic that the bill will pass. When the Brew Bank eventually opens, "there will be a line around the block for at least a year," he said.