GREENSBORO — Once the trolley topped the hill and crossed the railroad tracks on South Elm Street, it started picking up speed and rolled through a green light at Washington Street.
“Whewww!” yelled riders Emilee Barr, Brooke Stoner and Jamie Golob as they raised their plastic tumblers of beer that read "K, Bye."
The newly-minted nurse anesthetists were celebrating their graduation from UNCG in style by taking a ride with friends and spouses on Brew Peddlers, one of the city’s newest and coolest ways of getting around downtown.
"It's Greensboro's only mobile beer garden or patio," said Ben Graham, who co-owns Brew Peddlers with Kenny French.
The trolley is a rolling bar that seats 14. Each seat has a set of pedals, like on a bicycle. Riders help power the trolley by pedaling.
“I had trouble staying on the seat at first and trying to keep my flip flops on,” Barr said.
But she quickly got the hang of it. She said she’s ridden pedal trolleys in Raleigh and Savannah.
“You can listen to music. You can drink a little bit. You can hang out with your friends and laugh and bounce around to bars you wouldn’t normally go to,” she said.
Husband Michael Barr agreed.
"You can go out and have fun and see the city in a completely different way," he said.
Pedal trolley businesses are trending across the country. Places like Atlanta, Nashville and New York have had them for several years. They've become a popular attraction in Asheville, where Graham and French got the idea to start one here.
“With the development of things in downtown, we thought this would be a great opportunity to bring one to Greensboro,” Graham said.
They floated the idea past the city of Greensboro and small economic-development groups like Downtown Greensboro Inc.
“They were really on board,” Graham said.
Finding a trolley was a little harder. There aren’t many companies that produce them. Most are custom-built. Graham and French talked to a lot of other small-time trolley operators.
“We searched… from California to Texas to Florida to Alexandria, Va., and finally found somebody here locally to help us out,” French said.
They bought the trolley from a vineyard owner in Elizabethtown who builds them.
It's essentially a giant golf cart with a maximum speed of 8 miles per hour. It has an electric motor that runs off a battery bank, and the driver can give the riders a little help with the tap of an accelerator pedal.
The trolley meets Department of Motor Vehicles safety requirements, like having seat belts, head and tail lights, turn signals and a brake. It has an awning cover and see-through plastic sides that can be lowered during rain or cooler weather. Accent LED lights on the top and bottom add a little whimsy and make the trolley more visible at night.
Graham said they worked with the city for a year and half to establish the trolley’s safety features and determine where it can and can’t go. It can't operate on any street with a posted speed limit of 35 or more. It's not allowed on busy Friendly Avenue, West Market and Smith streets but can cross those streets.
Jonathan Jarvis is one of Brew Peddlers' three licensed, and very sober, drivers. He has been with the company since its debut last summer. He admits he was intimidated when he started driving.
“It was a little difficult at first because it’s the size of a boat,” said Jarvis, who now navigates city streets with ease.
The driver is the captain of this boat. He is responsible for having riders sign a waiver and explaining all the rules before the tour begins. Drivers can refuse any rider too intoxicated to be on the trolley.
“I just make sure everyone is safe and the roads are open for me to get through,” Jarvis said.
Tour itineraries vary. Pubs like Stumble Stilskins and breweries like Joymongers, Preyer and Little Brother are popular stops.
“We don’t have specified tours, per se. We have a list of downtown partners, but we kind of leave it up to the customers to choose where they would like to go,” Graham said. “It’s their tour. We’re just here to help make it as fun as possible.”
A two-hour tour starts at Lewis Street.
“Two to four stops is the max for a two-hour tour,” French said.
Adds Graham: “That gives you 10-15 minutes for each stop to sample a beer or a wine or whatever it is that takes your fancy.”
Riders face each other across a bar equipped with cup holders. It's BYOB. The trolley is permitted by the city of Greensboro to allow open containers of alcohol. But open beverages cannot be taken on or off the trolley. For safety reasons, Brew Peddlers does not allow glass containers. The operator will provide snacks and coolers of ice. Or bring your own.
Two types of tours are offered.
Private tours can accommodate up to 14 people and cost $350. Groups will reserve the trolley to celebrate special occasions like birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties and other outings.
“We have had several 40th birthday parties this year, as well as 30th birthday parties with the trolley fully decorated with balloons, streamers, etc.,” Graham said. “Last Christmas we did have a few Christmas sweater parties."
Graham said they work with downtown bars, breweries and restaurants for custom tours such as one in which riders can call in an order for appetizers and make a stop to take them onto the trolley.
The trolley can be reserved for alcohol-free parties, such as a 16th birthday party that made a stop at Cheesecakes by Alex. One party brought their own cupcakes.
“That is something we have an option for because it’s something different,” Graham said. “We provide soda, snacks, chips, stuff like that. We can stop at various places for ice cream or cake.”
The other type of tour is a mixed tour of smaller groups. You reserve a time for you and your friends and get to meet other people who booked seats on the tour. Tickets are $28 each and include two to three stops.
The real fun is the ride. It’s all about seeing and being seen.
“There’s an amazing number of people along the street who stop and take pictures, take videos. People on the tour wave at them,” Graham said.
Back on the trolley with the UNCG grads as it rolled along Elm Street, Vanilla Ice crooned "Ice Ice Baby" on speakers. Riders can play their own music, or Brew Peddlers will provide some.
“I think everybody enjoyed it, even the bystanders on the sidewalk,” Barr said as the trolley pulled up to its first stop at Beerthirty. “There’s no way I’d rather spend a nice afternoon.”