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

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Just Bill’s doesn’t need your name or phone number to sell you cheap drinks. - DANIEL HILL
  • DANIEL HILL
  • Just Bill’s doesn’t need your name or phone number to sell you cheap drinks.

Just Bill's

Now, I'll grant that eight drinks for $30 is a pretty damn fine deal. But how does it stand up to a normal St. Louis-area bar? And would said normal bar be more or less likely to cut me off?

To get the answers to these burning questions, I made a trip to Just Bill's, an Overland bar where I've spent more than a few foggy-memoried nights over the years.

Just Bill's, or "Exclusively William's" in the parlance of some regulars, is the quintessential dive-bar experience. Located in the center of scenic downtown Overland and flanked by a quaint little diner on one side and a sandwich shop on the other, the beloved north-county watering hole exists utterly and completely without pretense, serving as a sanctuary for those dedicated drinkers who just want to tilt back a few without dealing with the hassles that come with pretending to be fancy.

In other words, I've seen people blow snot-rockets onto the carpet. It's my kind of place.

I stopped by the bar on a Monday with an accomplice again in tow. Upon our arrival at 3:44 p.m., I spotted a pair of plaid boxer shorts on the sidewalk just outside the front door.

As we headed inside, the bartender remarked on the abandoned unmentionables, saying they'd been there when she arrived and that she'd opted not to pick them up because she thought it was funny.

"When there's underwear on the ground, you know somebody had a good time the night before," she said.

One of the televisions behind the bar was playing a fistfight between a couple of Nascar racers on what seemed to be a loop. Another simply showed a race that was already in progress. On this afternoon, the bar's TouchTunes jukebox churned out a steady stream of alternative rock, from Smashing Pumpkins to Foo Fighters to Kid Rock, though I've heard everything from Deicide to Waka Flocka Flame to the theme song from Friends on prior visits.

Upon arrival I promptly ordered ten drinks: one bucket of Busch beers, two pickle shots (vodka and pickle juice) and two whiskey and Cokes. They were all handed to me at once within about five minutes.

At first, the bartender tried to give the drinks to me and my associate, but I corrected her and explained that they were all for me. She laughed and handed me a receipt to sign, with my total coming to just $17. I tipped $10 on top of that, making for $27 for ten drinks — already cheaper than Open Concept (and indeed, among the cheapest in town — take note, fellow thrifty drunks.) Within a half-hour, both shots, two beers and one whiskey and Coke were already down the hatch.

I took my time from that point, relatively speaking, as I knew I had little further to prove here. I finished my last Busch at 5:40 p.m., just under two hours after my arrival.

The experience was enlightening. What critics of Open Concept fail to consider is that the bar's business model actually disincentivizes staff from overserving its patrons. The fact of the matter is, you're only gonna pay a set rate for your time, and every beverage they serve to you during that time is actually money out of their pockets. It's a needle-threading game, then, wherein it's in the bar's best interest to serve you just enough to keep you happy without going too far and hurting their bottom line. When it comes to the top-shelf liquor options this is probably especially the case.

Your average bar, on the other hand, is financially incentivized to sell you all the alcohol you can consume while still being able to stand. As God intended it.

Before leaving, I ordered one final pickle shot, just to see if I was served. Unsurprisingly, I was.

STATS:

11 drinks

2 hours

$32

The ‘Bees serves dollar drinks and cheap apps until you literally can’t take any more. - DANIEL HILL
  • DANIEL HILL
  • The ‘Bees serves dollar drinks and cheap apps until you literally can’t take any more.

Applebee's

With trips to both a standard-bearer north-county bar and Cherokee Street's revolution in inebriation entered into the record, a clearer picture begins to emerge of the triumphs and tribulations inherent in each — but rigorous scientific study of this matter demands a third point of reference so as to triangulate our findings. Luckily, Applebee's serves Dollaritas.

For those hopelessly unskilled at deciphering a portmanteau, a Dollarita is a margarita that costs only a dollar. Applebee's debuted the preposterously inexpensive drink in October 2017 to combat millennials' apparent fast-casual-chain-killing bloodlust following a tough fiscal year of restaurant closures and declining revenues. The move seemed largely predicated on the notion that the lack of financial security and upward mobility that tends to result in younger generations' refusal to spend what little money they have on overpriced, subpar food in a chain setting could be overcome with dirt-cheap booze. Which, OK, is not the craziest gambit I've ever heard.

So it makes sense, then, that I include the 'Bees (I like to call it "the 'Bees") in my search for the thriftiest buzz in town.

Now, I'll concede that this particular experiment is not exactly a new one. In my Dollarita research, I found that a Vice writer had hit a New York-area Applebee's in July 2018 in an effort to see if it is possible to get drunk off of its dollar drinks. That month's drink was the $1 L.I.T., or Long Island iced tea — Applebee's apparently rotates out the name and specific elements of its bottom-shelf mixed swill on a monthly basis — and the writer in question declared herself drunk after just three of them, because Vice writers are posers. In addition, her research found that this particular Applebee's cuts its customers off after three drinks, at the insistence of its franchisee, because New York-area Applebee's restaurants are evidently also posers. In short, I felt there was room for further experimentation, despite a friend's suggestion that all that would be gained from this trip would be a ferocious case of Dollarrhea.

My designated driver and I arrived at a St. Louis-area Neighborhood Grill & Bar™ on a Sunday at 5:35 p.m., whereupon I ordered a Dollarita. I was told that this month's cheap boozy drink is called a Vampire, a bright purple concoction consisting of rum, passion fruit, dragon fruit, strawberry and pineapple juice (according to the official Applebee's website, it is also supposed to be served with a plastic set of fangs, but I never got those, which is disappointing). I drank two in ten minutes. They tasted exactly like you'd expect a watered-down fruity rum drink to taste, which is to say, fine.

I opted at this point to try to take it easy, fearing that I'd be cut off just like Vice was. I turned and struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me, an older fellow with a mustache and glasses, a thin build, a pocket knife clipped to his belt and a sweatshirt that read "COOLEST UNCLE IN THE WORLD." He had a set of souvenir photos from St. Louis' new Ferris wheel sitting on the bar in front of him and had visited it with family earlier that day before leaving them at home and heading up to Applebee's for a drink.

"Everyone was asleep when I left," he said. "I thought I could sneak out for a beer, but my daughter has other plans."

With that, the man quickly downed the latter half of his beverage and took his leave, wishing me a happy Sunday on his way out.

Confident that I'd now cemented my status as a run-of-the-mill Applebee's barfly rather than a man trying to see how many $1 drinks he could pound, I got back to the task at hand and ordered a third Vampire, which was delivered to me at 5:55 p.m. Eleven minutes later, I ordered a fourth and crossed my fingers that my luck wouldn't run out as Vice's had.

To my delight, the bartender didn't bat an eye and promptly brought me my drink. As I sipped it victoriously, Chumbawumba's 1997 hit "Tubthumping" came on over the stereo, providing the perfect soundtrack as I rewrote the song's lyrics in my head to better fit the matter at hand: "He drinks a Vampire drink, he drinks a Vampire drink. He drinks a Vampire drink, he drinks a Vampire drink!"

Oh shit, how about some apps?! A Classic Combo Platter™ would be the perfect complement to my current state of chain-restaurant alcoholic bliss, with spinach dip and boneless wings and a quesadilla and mozzarella sticks pairing nicely with the purple booze water I was already enjoying. I ordered and ate greedily upon my food's arrival, downing drinks all the while, and for a moment I wondered why anyone would spend their time drinking anywhere else.

But then, as the one-hour mark rolled around and I started in on drink seven, I began to hit a wall, as the oh-so-sugary beverages joined forces with the greasy chain fare in my stomach to stage a rebellion. I did what I could to push through, downing two more Vampires by 7:10 p.m. and ordering one final drink in order to make it to ten.

The Vampire Drink. - DANIEL HILL
  • DANIEL HILL
  • The Vampire Drink.

But there was no going further, and that tenth drink would remain untouched. Though my head only felt moderately buzzed, my guts were in full distress. It would not be possible for me to consume any more apps or beverages. To again paraphrase 1997's favorite band of anarchist one-hit wonders, I got knocked down, but there was no chance I was getting up again.

I hastily asked for the check, and when I got it, I saw to my confusion that I'd only been charged for five Vampires. I did not notice, in my addled state, that I'd also been charged for a brisket quesadilla, an order of chicken parmesan and a side salad, whereas my sampler platter was nowhere to be found. In short, I'd been given the wrong bill, but I wouldn't realize that until days later when I went over my notes and photos from the visit. I wrote in a $10 tip on the bill, which was around $40, but when I looked at my bank statement days later I found that I'd only been charged a total of $34.12. I still have no earthly idea what all that's about.

We left at 7:15 p.m., less than two hours after our arrival. My designated driver dropped me off at home, where I promptly got to work vomiting excessively into a travel-sized charcoal grill I'd forgotten was sitting by my back door. I spent the rest of the night curled in a ball in pain.

STATS:

9 drinks

1 hour and 40 minutes

$34.12, apparently

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