So you're one of those pessimists who say the triumphant era of American business has faded. That the great Yankee entrepreneurial spirit, which once burned so brightly, is now barely flickering. Well, take heart. And take a seat at the bar. And buy a round for Steven Kaplan and Steven Edisis. Young men with the same first name. Young men with a vision. Young men with a Beer Buster.

A Beer Buster? Twenty-one-year-old Edisis explains: "It just shotguns the beer right down your throat."

It was actually Kaplan, five years Edisis's senior, who invented the Beer Buster, way back in 1986. "I was out in California and I was playing around with my friends, getting a little drunk, a little high. And you know, once you do that, your mind starts thinking," he recalls fondly. "We had been funneling A you know, using a beer bong. And, well, before we knew it, with a little ingenuity and my background in construction, the Beer Buster sort of came together."

The Beer Buster is a compact version of the generic beer bong, a favorite on college campuses for years. Here's how the bong works: A long, one-inch-diameter tube is filled with several beers. One end of the tube is then placed in a drinker's mouth while the other end is raised high into the air. Gravity forces the liquid down the drinker's throat and into his stomach in a matter of seconds. The result: beer drinker's nirvana.

The astute Kaplan, aware of the bong's inherent drawbacks (two people required, necessity of high ground, long messy tube to cart around), dreamed of a version that would do away with all those complications, that would allow the serious beer aficionado an opportunity for supercharged guzzling, say, in the privacy of his own home. Or while conveniently perched at a bar stool.

After some creative tinkering, Kaplan hit on an elegantly simple and easily assembled design that accommodated a single bottle of beer. A thick piece of plastic tubing fits snugly over the neck of the bottle, like a collar. A thinner length of tube runs through the side of the collar and then down to the bottom of the bottle, like a straw. The drinker carefully places the open end of the collar in his mouth and tilts his head back. When the bottle is turned upside down, the smaller tube allows air to get behind the beer, rocketing it out of the bottle and down the satisfied drinker's throat. Twelve-ounce-bottle guzzle time: approximately three seconds. The result: beer drinker's nirvana minus the hassles.

Kaplan, a 26-year-old Long Island native, made and sold several thousand Beer Busters in California and New York, mostly for fun. But when he moved to Florida to start a construction company, he pretty much forgot about his invention. That is, until he met Steven Edisis, a hospitality-management student at Florida International University. Edisis immediately recognized the Beer Buster's potential.

The two began making them at home and selling them in bars around South Beach, Coconut Grove, and Fort Lauderdale. "We'd walk into a bar with a bag of them," Edisis says with a grin. "Then we'd get on top of the bar and start beer bustin'. We'd do three beers in a row, and the crowd would just stare at us in awe. They'd all say, 'How can I get one of them?' That's when my salespeople would go around. We would just start selling them like crazy.

"I knew the item was a great item," Edisis adds, "but I was amazed at how fast they took off." In the past few months, the Steves have sold more than 5000 Beer Busters A at five dollars apiece A in such popular spots as the Baja Beach Club in Fort Lauderdale, and the Clevelandar, the Sinatra Bar, the Spot, and Society Hill on South Beach. Says Robert Meyers, part owner of Society Hill: "People that buy them are basically amazed at how fast they can polish off a bottle of beer. It's like a rash. Everyone wants to have one. It's a million-dollar idea."

Grove Calloway's in Coconut Grove was the first to sponsor a full-blown Beer Buster night. "You pay a cover and get one for free at the door," says Edisis, still grinning. "The bars love it because it increases their bottle-beer sales. For us it's virtually all profit." (The Steves have little overhead and few expenses. The materials cost about 50 cents, and Kaplan puts together all the "items" in his apartment. "I can make a hundred of them an hour," he boasts.)

Edisis and Kaplan are now considering offers to take the Beer Buster nationwide. Visiting tourists have asked for hundreds to take home for sale. Attorneys have been hired. Marketing firms are showing interest. "They want to get it into stores and catalogues," Edisis chirps. "It's very exciting."

But first there are some less exciting, more meddlesome, issues to resolve, such as insurance and liability. "I really don't want to see people do a lot of these in a bar," Kaplan intones soberly. "I'd rather see them do two or three of these for fun and then sit around and enjoy a beer normally. Mostly it's a guy thing.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede