City grants alcohol permit to new downtown pub on wheels

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Kai Kaapro, owner of Trolley Pub, can now allow riders to drink beer and wine while aboard the stretch pedi-cab. Photos by Hilary Snow.
Kai Kaapro, owner of Trolley Pub, can now allow riders to drink beer and wine while aboard the stretch pedi-cab. Photos by Hilary Snow.

Riders aboard the foot-powered Trolley Pub will now be able to sip while they pedal.

During its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, Wilmington City Council approved a resolution to an existing ordinance that will allow beer and wine consumption on the trolley, which opened in December for tours of the Port City’s downtown breweries and watering holes. The ordinance passed 5-2, with Kevin O’Grady and Paul Lawler dissenting.

Trolley Pub’s appearances on local streets last month was actually two years in the making. Owner Kai Kaapro brought the stretch pedi-cab to Wilmington in March 2014 in an effort to get the process rolling for his unique bar-on-wheels concept. At that point, Kaapro had been talking with city officials for a year but said there were some gray areas when it came to the local public consumption ordinance.

Trolley Pub passengers hop on for a two-hour tour for a fee of $30, stopping at area bars and eateries along the way. The hope all along was that riders, who keep the trolley in motion by pedaling, can bring their own beer and wine along for the trip.

The Wilmington Trolley Pub already has acquired a limousine permit with the state but it didn’t jibe with the city’s existing ordinance, so Kaapro presented a “BYOB” ordinance resolution to council last month for consideration.

It’s a hurdle Kaapro is used to jumping, with Trolley Pub sites now operating in five other cities in addition to Raleigh and Wilmington: Arlington, Virginia; Charlotte; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin; and Houston, Texas. Of the company’s seven total sites, two–Charlotte and Arlington–were never approved to allow passengers to drink while pedaling.

Riders on the trolley will be limited to three drinks on-board and must leave open containers on the trolley when they make pub stops.
Riders on the trolley will be limited to three drinks on-board and must leave open containers on the trolley when they make pub stops.

While awaiting approval from the city, the business operated on a pub crawl concept, with plans to stick around as a “dry” vehicle if council members objected to on-board drinking, said Evan Wood, general manager of the Raleigh Trolley Pub, said.

Councilor Kevin O’Grady said he was concerned a bar on wheels wasn’t putting downtown Wilmington’s future on the right path.

“My vision of the future of downtown is of enhanced residential, commercial, enhanced retail–a much upgraded version of downtown than we have,” O’Grady told Trolley Pub officials. “I see this as the wrong direction, through no fault of yours. Please don’t take this as an insult, but I just don’t see this as the direction we want to go.”

Charlie Rivenbark disagreed.

“I don’t think these other cities would allow these if they were as bad as people say they are. I think it’s just another piece of the puzzle of the downtown area. I’m ready to move forward with this,” he countered.

According to the newly approved ordinance, which Lawler argued was “incomplete,” passengers on the Trolley Pub will be limited to three drinks and no liquor will be allowed. Riders will also have to leave their open containers on board when they make tour stops and the trolley will have to stop running at midnight. The mobile pub will check IDs before allowing guests to take a seat on the trolley.

The company will start out in Wilmington with one vehicle, running five tours a day starting at noon. The trolley holds up to 14 passengers. Reservations for tours must be made in advance on Trolley Pub’s website.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.