Bar with no bartender, on the honor system- Bar in Hillsview, South Dakota


$100 Site Donor 2023
Nov 28, 2014
Steilacoom, WA
This was in the South Dakota Magazine. This bar burned in 2013.

Hillsview SD. Bar.

It was a most unusual bar. Cletus stocked it with beer, wine, whiskey and non-alchoholic drinks like any other tavern, but there was no bartender. There were no employees of any kind, in fact, the door was never locked. If you wanted a drink you walked in, helped yourself and left the money in the bucket. Lawrence Wolf ran Hillsview Bar in rural McPherson County until it closed in 1959. The building sat empty for 42 years, then Lawrence's nephew, Cletus Imberi, bought it. He intended to use the space to expand his shop but friends (doesn't every man have friends like these?) suggested he forget that idea and reopen the bar. So that's what Cletus did. Honor in a Country Bar.

Of all the businesses you could imagine, bars would seem to be one of the least likely to operate successfully on the honor system. Yet it worked for a dozen years. Cletus' bar hosted birthday parties, bachelor parties, Imberi family gatherings, even a wake. Visiting hunters enjoyed the pub, and they spread word of South Dakota's honorable bar to every state and across the Pacific to Australia.

The demise of many pubs can be traced to unpaid drinks, however it was an early-morning fire last January that ended the Hillsview Bar ----despite a valiant effort in frigid weather by volunteer firefighters from Eureka and Hosmer. Cletus' shop and the family dog were also lost. Not even the cash bucket was left.
But fire isn't likely to stop the spreading of stories about the little bar with the most honest drinkers in America.

I like to think an establishment like that would succeed where I live--that the people would be honest enough.

But I can think of places where it wouldn't.
Drank in two places like that...walk behind like you own it. With honest folks, they wind up way ahead. I would do dishes, carry ice, and leave the change. It was nice.
Very interesting. I've seen this open bar concept in the business lounges at hotels, but never at a standalone bar like this.
I guess there are breweries and pubs now where you can insert a prepaid card for drinks. I prefer an old fashioned bartender...
Gamer's Cafe in Butte, MT was a similar place. While the owner was there to take your order, when you were done with your meal you walked over to the register, punched the buttons and put your money in and took your change out of the drawer.

Last time I was there was in the mid-1980's. Things have changed since then, no doubt.