Detroit bike pubs now let riders drink and pedal

Still making New Year’s plans? Consider this new way to drink (and travel) around downtown

Stephanie Steinberg

It was below 20 degrees one recent Saturday night, but that didn’t stop Candice Miller from bundling up and hopping on The Michigan Pedaler bike pub to celebrate her 30th birthday in Detroit.

Afterward, she had one recommendation she shared in her five-star Facebook review: “If you do a winter ride, just bring hand and feet warmers!”

Miller was part of the first group that rode the quadricycle while kicking back cans of Blue Light. Before the Detroit City Council passed an amendment to an ordinance in late November, the three Detroit bike pubs, including The HandleBar and Detroit Cycle Pub, could only shuttle riders to downtown bars. Beer, wine and the newly popular spiked hot beverages were not allowed on board.

While riders still can’t bring their drinks from the bar on the bike, they’ve gotten creative with a new BYOB policy.

“There’s been some hot chocolate or eggnog mixed with something,” says Mike Gill, owner of The Michigan Pedaler.

His one rule on board: No glass.

“For safety reasons,” he says. “We don’t want any accidents if something gets dropped.”

Now that alcohol is permitted, the bike owners expect to see a bump in riders in the coming months, including New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, when all three will run tours.

The tours typically last two hours and stop at three bars. Prices vary by company, but bookings average about $20 a person. There are just a few restrictions with the new ordinance: Tours can’t run past 11 p.m., riders can’t make a pitstop at a liquor store (again, stock up and BYOB beforehand), more than two bikes can’t be parked outside a bar at one time, the driver can’t serve alcohol and, like anyone operating a vehicle, the driver can’t partake in the drinking.

“The drivers have to blow zeros,” says Brian Lindsay, owner of The HandleBar, the first bike pub to arrive in Detroit in August 2015.

That summer, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that permitted quadricycle riders to consume beer and wine while pedaling. But Detroit had a disorderly conduct ordinance that outlawed drinking on streets and sidewalks. It was interpreted that the bike pubs fell under that rule, so the owners banded together and petitioned the city to exclude commercial quadricycles from Section 38-5-1 of the Detroit City Code.

Lindsay met with a few council members to state their case and says District 3 City Councilman Scott Benson, a small business manager at Midtown Detroit Inc., was very supportive.

Benson says he’s always interested in finding new ways to draw visitors to Detroit and spend money in the city.

“I’ve seen it in Nashville, Los Angeles and New York City, and I thought it would be a good attraction. When the bike pub owners came to my office asking for assistance to have the city ordinance comply with state law, I said I would,” says Benson, who took a ride for research. “I just wanted to make sure we were being responsible in how riders were imbibing on the vehicle.”

He adds that Detroit has a “robust bike pub culture.”

“From my experience, people get so excited at the sight of the bike pubs and people having fun,” he says. “It’s just a really good image for the downtown area and another way to have fun in the city.”

On Nov. 22, the ordinance passed unanimously.

Lindsay estimates his four bikes that each seat 16 people have given over 1,000 tours this year. The no-alcohol-allowed issue was “a huge time suck,” he says, because they had to explain to riders why they couldn’t drink on board. “Now, it’s going to be so much easier to run the business,” he says.

Gill also expects to see interest pick up and is adding two more bikes to his fleet, which will accommodate 45 riders.

“There were some people who held out and said, ‘Oh I’ll never do this without alcohol.’ I think that will bring them out of the woodwork,” he says, adding that The Michigan Pedaler’s cameo in a February episode of the new Comedy Central show, “Detroiters,” may also attract riders.

Until the end of the year, The Michigan Pedaler is offering an $83 discount on each ride (use promo code CHEERS).

Why $83?

“It’s been 83 years since prohibition ended,” Gill says.

He also partnered with a Detroit roaster to sell Morning After Coffee — a potential remedy to aleve those bike pub hangovers.

Besides seeing “a lot more happier people” on the Detroit Cycle Pub, owner Nick Blaszczyk says he’s seen an influx of bookings for spring, summer and the big one — St. Patrick’s Day — since the ordinance passed. He’s also offering a special Valentine’s Day ride. For $100 per couple, you get a three-hour tour and dinner with a bottle of wine at Downtown Louie’s Lounge on Clifford.

“People are booking now for next year everyday,” Blaszczyk says. “A lot of the feedback we’re getting is, ‘Yeah, (the drinking change) makes a big difference. I don’t want to go on a dry ride. I’m not looking to get out of control, but it’s nice if you can have a drink.’

The Detroit Cycle Pub has given 45 tours since the ordinance passed and is ending the year just shy of 1,300 rides. Next spring, Blaszczyk is planning to test the waters with a new venture: The Detroit Cycle Boat.

The 32-foot pontoon will accommodate 16 people for a two-hour ride on Lake St. Clair that departs from WaterMark Bar & Grille. Drinks are, of course, welcome, but for this tour, no pedaling is required.

“Everyone wants to be on the water, but a lot of people don’t have the opportunity, so this gives them the opportunity,” Blaszczyk says.

Yet for now, the three bike companies are focused on making sure riders have a merry time pedaling through Detroit’s winter wonderland.

Gill puts it this way: “It’s like a horse-drawn carriage ride” (minus the horse and add the booze) with 14 of your friends.”

(313) 222-2156

Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg

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Detroit Cycle Pub

The HandleBar

The Michigan Pedaler