CLEARWATER — It was a speech designed to save a business venture.
Clayton Irwin, who once owned the Lucky Anchor Irish Pub on Cleveland Street, had asked the City Council to let him operate a couple of pedal pubs on Clearwater Beach. The unique vehicles are a common sight in many tourist towns: A dozen or more people drinking beer as they pedal a bicycle-powered bar down the street. There is a sober driver steering the bar on wheels, but the booze-powered legs of the paying passengers make the thing go.
As Irwin looked on during the Dec. 19 council work session, the council seemed ready to OK his pedal pubs — but minus the alcohol. In other words, Irwin would have to operate sober pedal pubs.
Believing the council — which wants to preserve Clearwater Beach’s reputation as a family destination — was missing the big picture, Irwin approached the podium to speak. As Irwin puts it, he wanted to prevent his pedal pub operation from failing at the starting gate.
“I did my own survey in the beginning when I first started this venture because I had a feeling it might not go through,” Irwin began. Clearly feeling the pressure, he continued. “I felt it out about how people would feel about having alcohol and not having alcohol on the megacycles. It wasn’t good. I don’t think I found one person that said, ‘Oh yeah, that wouldn’t bother us at all.’ The whole part of the program is to have a beer or a glass of wine while you’re on the party bikes. And while you’re going around seeing the city pedaling. It’s kind of the fun, it’s the excitement, it just adds to it.”
Irwin has invested in two megacycles, or cycle pubs or party cycles, whatever manufacturers call them. Prices range from $31,000 each and higher; if potential customers learn that Clearwater Beach pedal pubs don’t serve alcohol, Irwin said, he would quickly be out of business.
“Because of the cost of the bikes and how much it costs to operate these things, the reviews on Facebook and Yelp would kill the program for me,” he said. “I don’t think I would be able to move forward unless (alcohol) was part of the bikes.”
He asked the councilmembers to let him serve alcohol during a six-month pilot program to give the pedal pubs a chance.
“I would be willing to do the pilot program with it, if you guys could allow it,” Irwin said, pleading. “If we could just allow (alcohol) maybe for just a short time during the pilot period while you guys could say, ‘All right, this is going to work’ or, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ That’s fine with me.”
He promised to train drivers to watch for overdrinking.
“We’re going to monitor it, we’ll have very well-trained staff to make sure everyone stays in check; it’s going to be very family friendly,” Irwin said. “No swearing allowed, no alcohol is allowed to leave the bike, it is all going to have to stay on. I just want the city to give it a shot, and if you guys tell me down the road, ‘This is not going to work out for us’, either you pull the alcohol or get the bikes off the beach, that’s where we’ll go from there. I’ll find another market for it. This is the market I want, this is where I live, I am very passionate about this city as you all know.”
Clearwater Mayor George N. Cretekos, who is opposed to alcohol on the pedal pubs, asked Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter to give his opinion. Slaughter served on a panel of city staff that researched the pros and cons of pedal pubs in other tourist destinations. Slaughter, who reminded the council that his job is to implement city policy and not make it, stated his opposition to alcohol on the vehicles.
“We are constantly in a battle of trying to balance this tourist residential district and trying to keep that family atmosphere you’re talking about,” Slaughter told the council. “We can make it fun for everyone and take away the alcohol ordinance entirely and have alcohol, (but) we already have plenty of legal opportunities for people to partake in alcohol.”
Slaughter, who was friendly with Irwin during the meeting, said he is not convinced drinking can always be controlled.
“We all know people will get excessive,” Slaughter said. “It is no different than any nightclub or bar we have on the beach that we are already dealing with at the close of business. It is one additional item that I just think will cause additional disruption as people are driving around, hooting and hollering and drinking.”
Irwin’s speech had its effect: Three councilmembers agreed to allow beer and wine only on the pedal pubs. To accomplish this, however, the council had to vote down the alcohol-free megacycle program and direct the city’s attorney to write a new ordinance allowing beer and wine on the six-month pedal pub pilot program.
City legal staff will return in January with the new commercial megacycle ordinance and let the council vote on that version. At that point, they will vote to amend the “Clearwater Code of Ordinances, Chapter 25 - Public Transportation Carriers, Article I - Public Conveyances” to allow beer and wine on megacycles.
Because council members Hoyt Hamilton, David Allbritton, and Jay Polglaze verbally agreed to allow staff to rewrite the code to allow beer and wine at the Dec. 19 meeting, things look good for pedal pub customers.