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Butler sworn in as city's first African-American recorder of deeds

Michael Butler breaks away from supporters and media as he rushes to a reception on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2018, after being sworn in at City Hall as St. Louis' first African-American recorder of deeds. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — Owning a saloon isn’t an unheard-of occupation for politicians, especially in tradition-bound St. Louis.

But Michael Butler, the St. Louis recorder of deeds who also is the city Democratic Committee chairman, recently opened a bar on Cherokee Street with a new wrinkle.

Instead of paying per drink, customers at his establishment, Open Concept, are charged $10 when they walk in to imbibe as much as they can handle over the following hour.

“Our customers pay at a host stand” with cash or credit and debit cards, he said. “They are required to provide us a phone number; we use the phone number to send a text message” when their time is up.

In the meantime, they can go to the bar and order as much as they want during the hourlong period.

“They give their name at the bar each time,” he said, and are allowed one drink at a time.

He said there’s also a $20-per-hour option for “top shelf” cocktails and beer.

“At our bar, we don’t sell drinks, we sell time,” the Open Concept website says.

Open Concept doesn’t sell food, Butler said, but customers are free to bring in items to eat.

Asked if the pay-by-hour charge encourages people to drink more than they otherwise would, Butler said that “95% of our customers govern themselves responsibly.” He said that before his official opening Oct. 4, the bar had several “soft opening” days earlier.

But another local Democrat is concerned about Butler’s business model.

Marie Ceselski on Friday resigned as the 7th Ward Democratic committeewoman in protest, saying she won’t be affiliated “with organizations that associate with an all-you-can-drink for $10 an hour.”

In a statement, she cited people killed or injured by drunk drivers or with alcoholism or liver damage.

She noted that the state and city Democratic parties are holding a presidential debate watch party at Open Concept on Tuesday.

Ceselski said she had considered resigning from her party position for some time for various reasons, including her general dissatisfaction with Butler as the central committee chairman and the possibility that she might move her residency out of the 7th Ward.

Ceselski, a retired employee of the recorder's office, said she also spends time at a vacation home in Hickory County in southwest Missouri. But she said the bar issue "was the tipping point" for her decision to resign. She said she remains a voting resident of the 7th Ward.

Editor's note: This article was updated on Oct. 16 to include additional information on Ceselski's resignation.

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