Hi-Dive Lounge’s beer vending machine is a proven draw

It's the robot bartender of the future.

It’s the robot bartender of the future.

The most well-known drink slinger at the Hi-Dive Lounge (1411 W. 39th Street) weighs more than 900 pounds. Obviously, it isn’t any of the svelte and attentive bartenders. Rather, it’s the vintage late-1970s beer vending machine that has been Hi-Dive’s hook since opening last February.

“It cost as much to ship as it did to buy,” says co-owner Bill Howgill of the dispenser that sits illuminated behind the bar. He and fellow owner Grant Nagle bought the machine off of eBay for about $450 from a seller in Wisconsin while they were remodeling their space, a former Minsky’s Pizza.

Howgill says the idea was to have an iconic piece of low-brow décor to fit Hi-Dive’s classy-meets-cheap vibe. “The concept to our bar is that we’re a high-class dive bar,” he says. “We thought that the vending machine would be a good way to dispense yard beers.”

The machine is always stocked with cans of a couple of decent brews along with an A-List of trashy $2.50 beers including Old Style and Stag. The yard beers might appear to form an odd pairing with the kitchen’s menu of slightly upscale sandwiches and entrees. But, Howgill says, the machine has proven to be a popular draw for his bar.

There are a few other pubs that offer impressive selections of cheap American yellow beers, but the novelty of the machine appeals to people who normally wouldn’t touch that kind of stuff. (Even if the machine is a little forceful with the cans, causing them to foam a little more than ideal.) “I’m fairly certain we’re the only bar in Kansas City that has such a thing,” Howgill says.

The machine also led to the creation of the bar’s popular promotion of putting “mystery beers” in two of the machine’s slots.

“If you order a mystery beer, it’s $2.50, and you get what you get,” Howgill explains. “We put some good beers in there and a nice assortment of different beers that we don’t normally sell. We buy beer just for the mystery slots, in addition to PBR, Stag, Old Style and stuff like that.”

The rush of gambling on beer, he says, appeals to customers that normally drink top-shelf liquor and yard beer aficionados alike. “We sell a hell of a lot of mystery beer,” Howgill says. “We hear from people who say they don’t even like to drink beer, but they want to do it. We can have the bar full, and people that don’t even know each other will cheer or be empathetic toward somebody’s draw.”

And the machine isn’t going anywhere, Howgill says. It’s basically a permanent part of the bar’s construction now. “It weighs 900 pounds empty, so we’re just crossing our fingers that it works forever, because otherwise it’s going to be a nightmare.”

[Image via Facebook: Hi-Dive Lounge]

Ben Palosaari

Ben Palosaari is a journalist in Kansas City who enjoys dive bars and interesting people. Not necessarily in that order. Story tips: Ben [dot] Palosaari [at]Gmail.com