Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ruins Pub - A Review of KC's First Self-Serve Beer Bar

Ruins Pub--KC's first self-serve bar.
The Ruins Pub opened a couple weeks ago in the Crossroads at 1715 Main. It's KC's first self-serve craft beer bar. I went down to check it out just before the grand opening to get an idea of what the hell a self-serve craft beer bar is. To be honest, I figured that the self-serve part of it was going to be a silly gimmick. (I despise the self-checkout lines at grocery and hardware stores.) But in spite of my skepticism, I was surprised to find that I love the concept. More on that beer part later--first, a little background on the place.

A few years ago, Scott Kalwei was doing the daily grind as an engineer in KC. In what seems to be becoming one of our generation's American Dreams, he got fed up with the desk job, quit, and went to Europe to teach English. The plan originally was teach in Europe for a while, then go over to Asia to teach there as well. But he landed in Prague and loved the area so much that he just ended up sticking around there for a couple years.

VW Bus in the middle of the bar!
While there, Scott discovered the ruin pubs. They're essentially just bars set up in old decaying buildings and courtyards that have been neglected for decades--not unlike setting up shop in the West Bottoms or Crossroads. After Scott came back to the US, he decided to recreate his favorite kind of Eastern European hangout in KC.

The bar has the same feel as a ruin pub from Budapest--there's a VW bus parked in the middle of the bar with a table in it, all manner of weird stuff hangs from the walls and ceilings, there's a mishmash of random furniture (including a bathtub cut in half as a love seat), and a huge graffiti-style mural adorns the wall next to the bar. The bar has a feel to it that is just weird enough that it doesn't come off as silly or disingenuous.

The food is an eclectic mix to match the decor--they've got the typical Eastern European goulash, fried bread and sausages, but also street tacos and pub sandwiches. Everything we ordered was good and reasonably priced. Service was slow, but it was the first day they opened for full lunch service, so I'm sure they've ironed out any issues in the kitchen or with the servers by now.

Self-serve taps with the RFID card.
Ok, now what you're probably really interested in--the beer! Like I said, I thought it might be a gimmick, but I quickly realized that idea is awesome. How it works--you get a card with an RFID chip and a pint glass when you sit down. Take the card and your glass up to the bar, set your card in the slot of whatever beer you want, and pour away.

The system measures and charges your pours to the 0.1 oz, so you can fill up a tiny sample while you're trying to decide, or just fill your whole glass. The system ticks up like you're at a gas pump. When it's time to pay, you just hand your beer chip card over to your server. You could literally stand there and go down the line and sample every beer on tap. And the beer selection was great, so you'll probably want to get a taste of all of them.

If you're really adventurous, you could even use Ruins Pub as your very own beer blending laboratory! No, I'm not talking about making a suicide...I'm talking about real beer blending like the pros do--blending various sours to get the perfect level of tartness, blending unrelated beers like IPAs with hefeweizens or sours with stouts to create something new, or even rounding out a barrel aged beer with some fresh stuff to get it just to your liking. I really don't know of any other place, unless you own your own bar, where you could do anything like this with this many different beers at once.

The bar has 40 self-serve taps.

I do see some potential difficulties with the self-serve concept that they're going to have to work through being the first of their kind. Normally your bartender would fix you up with the perfect pour--not necessarily so with the self-serve system. If you pour a beer, and you get all foam, you're not going to want to pour off that foam to fill your glass since you already paid for it. I'm also wondering what happens if you blow a keg and the get last bit of dregs or if you get a beer out of a keg with a dirty tap line? Will there be a way to dump a beer and get the money comped back from your card if something like this happens?

The other tricky thing is to keep an eye on how much money you're spending. They give you a 16 oz. pint glass but some of the beers are priced like they should go in a snifter (and rightly so). I managed to accidentally fill my pint glass full with New Belgium le Terroir to the tune of about $12. The per-oz and per-pint prices are on the menus at the table, and the system tells you exactly how much your pour costs real-time, but even with this it's still easy to pour yourself a mighty expensive beer if you're not paying attention.

Regardless of these potential pitfalls, I thought the place was great, and will definitely be making it one of my regular stops. Go check it out and let us know what you think of the self-serve setup!

Owner Scott Kalwei. 

Yep--that's a bathtub and a wire spool.

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