Self-serve tap beer now a thing in Pittsburgh: Vault Taproom opens on South Side |

Self-serve tap beer now a thing in Pittsburgh: Vault Taproom opens on South Side

Paul Guggenheimer
The Vault Taproom, a bar featuring a self-serve tap system, will open July 18 on the South Side.

Pittsburgh’s first restaurant where customers can pour their own draft beer will have its official opening Thursday on the South Side.

The Vault Taproom, featuring the iPourIt self-serve draft wall, will open at a location once occupied by an iconic East Carson Street coffeehouse.

When customers arrive, they check in with a credit card and a driver’s license and are given a card with a chip. Each tap has a tablet above it with a chip reader. Customers scan the card, which allows access to the tap. A flow meter tracks how much they’re pouring to the 10th of an ounce.

The customer is allowed to pour 32 ounces of beer, 12 ounces of wine or a combination of both, up to a total of 44 ounces. The Vault Taproom charges by the ounce. With a two-ounce taste test of each beer, an imbiber could conceivably try 10 or 15 different beers in one sitting, a couple of ounces at a time.

“It allows people to be adventurous. It allows people to try new things without the risk of purchasing a lot of something it turns out they don’t like,” said Kyle Wolfe, Vault Taproom co-owner. “If you don’t like something and you’ve only poured yourself an ounce of it, we’re talking about maybe 50 or 60 cents on average for all of the beers on a tap wall. You’re only charged for what you pour.”

Of course, the self-serve system might raise concerns about being too much of a good thing. What happens when a consumer reaches or exceeds his or her alcohol limit?

“The system is really, really slick because after the initial 32 ounces of beer, 12 ounces of wine, or a mixture of the two, the system will then actually let customers know that they need to see a wait staff to be re-upped,” said Wolfe. “That’s our opportunity to make sure that the patron is still fit to be served.”

The system allows the Vault staff to keep track of how much customers have been drinking, including which beers and when they started so that they know what their alcohol consumption has been over time. Wolfe said it gives them the ability to make a far more informed decision on whether or not to serve that person, as opposed to a bartender just making a judgement call based on a five-second interaction with a consumer.

The Vault is taking over the former home of the Beehive Coffeehouse and Trixie’s Bar and Game Room. The wall separating the two former businesses has been knocked down to open the space up.

Wolfe grew up in Lancaster and moved to Pittsburgh eight years ago to attend the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied chemical engineering. He says the technical and project management skills he learned as an engineer have served him well.

“This is proven technology, so what we’re doing here requires no more legal hurdles than what’s already been achieved in other states. In fact, out of all of the things that we had to go through, the PLCB was the least of our worries,” Wolfe said. “Not only are we providing a safe means of evaluating how much someone has had to consume, we’re also providing upscale dining options, something the South Side is sorely in need of.”

Wolfe describes the menu as “Southern fusion,” with dishes ranging from smoked shrimp and grits to a Reuben sandwich built with smoked brisket, Gruyere cheese and house-made dressing.

Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].

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