The Barley Room Bar & Grill offers a service in which General Manager Phil Lovato will ride around on a motorcycle that might look at home in a three-ring circus.

Patrick Lovato, a manager at the Barley Room Bar & Grill in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights, warms up the bar's foldable motorcycle before closing time. If a bar patron can't drive home safely, workers can fold the motorcycle, put it in the patron's car trunk, drive the car home and then drive back to the bar on the motorcycle. The service costs $20. 

As funny as that might sound, it isn’t meant to be amusing.

"Our main goal is to make sure people stay safe," Lovato said one day last week as he folded a circus-clown-size motorcycle into a package the size of a large suitcase.

The Northeast Heights restaurant sees the tiny motorcycle as an innovative way to help its patrons get home with their own vehicles and, most important, without driving drunk.

Here’s how it works: The motorcycle, once folded, is placed in the trunk of a bar patron’s vehicle. A member of the restaurant staff drives customer and car home. Once there, the Barley Room worker unfolds the motorcycle and drives it back to the restaurant.

The customer ends up home safe without driving drunk and the vehicle parked in the driveway rather than at the bar.

The Barley Room, 5200 Eubank Blvd. N.E., charges $20 for the service, which has been available for about a month. That covers maintenance costs for the restaurant’s single motorcycle, although owner Scott Bollinger said staff wouldn’t turn away customers who can’t afford the fee.

"A lot of people just don’t want to leave their car (at the bar). That’s the main thing we offer," Bollinger said.

"You can get home safe for a relatively small cost compared with the cost of a DWI, and your car is in the garage."

The Barley Brigade, as Bollinger calls it, was born out of the restaurant’s quest to find a more efficient way to help patrons get home safely.

Bollinger said the Barley Room always offered rides home to customers in need. But that often meant using two staff members — one to drive the customer home, the other following behind.

"Resources-wise, we were losing two people who could be in the bar observing other customers, making sure people weren’t overserved," Bollinger said.

Bollinger’s wife and co-owner of the restaurant, Jamie, searched for solutions online and came across a similar program in Los Angeles called Home James. Other large cities offer similar programs, all using a tiny Italian foldable motorcycle made by DiBlasi Industriale that costs about $2,500.

Jim Valentine, chairman of Folding Motorbike Inc. in Atlanta, which imports the motorcycles from Italy, said about 30 companies have sprouted across the country that use the bikes for anti-DWI services.

One of them, Zingo Transportation Inc., is owned by Valentine, who has expanded the business by offering franchises in Florida.

Rachel O’Connor, New Mexico’s DWI czar, lauded companies like the Barley Room for seeking solutions to the state’s drunken-driving problem.

"I think it’s great that bars and restaurants are looking at creative ways to partner with us in reducing DWI," O’Connor said, "as long as people understand that you still can’t overserve."

Bollinger said the $20 charge isn’t for driving the patron home but for the cost of riding the motorcycle back — a nuance he said helps the Barley Room avoid being subject to a chauffeur license or other regulatory issues facing taxi drivers.

The Barley Room checks first to see that the patron’s vehicle is covered by an auto insurance policy, Bollinger said. The restaurant’s staff are covered by an auto insurance policy while driving the motorcycle, he said.

The Barley Room’s drivers are required to have a motorcycle license. They’re also given a test to check their competency on the bike and are required to wear a helmet, gloves and protective eyewear while driving back, Bollinger said.

The rides are generally limited to about a five-mile radius. Barley Room drivers are instructed to return using less-traveled side roads, he said.

Bollinger said restaurant staff will suggest the service to customers who appear as though they might appreciate it.

But this week the staff has begun putting postcards on restroom display boxes, and the bike is parked outside the restaurant next to a large sign advertising the service. The company also is working with an Albuquerque liquor distributor to create small displays to place on tables, Bollinger said.

"The main idea is to get them to see it as they’re walking in," Bollinger said.

Bollinger sees the Barley Brigade as a business model he hopes to expand citywide under a company he formed, Rough Riders LLC. He envisions the service being successful in places such as Nob Hill.

"Obviously, we’d like to get the idea and run with it. I think it’s good for everyone," said Bollinger. "We’re not trying to capitalize on it. We’re just trying to get a more working model for us going and then try to expand it."

For now, though, he’s testing the waters at the Barley Room with a single motorcycle. One recent Saturday, Lovato said the service was used five times between midnight and 2 a.m. Sunday.

"The cool thing is, it’s usually not just one person (using the service)," said Lovato, who has been one of the Barley Room’s main drivers. "It’s a few people in a car."

Via: Albuquerque Tribune