Justin Timberlake is singing “SexyBack.” Lena Peters, 23, a native Russian, plays bartender and dances in her red shirt with peekaboo holes, long hair flying. Forget pedaling. Passengers groove in their seats, loud, buzzed, happy to have the breeze wash over them. Passing cars honk their approval, their envy.
A white van pulls up at a stoplight. In an act of spontaneous benevolence, a pedaling partier hands over a beer. That’s when HandleBar driver Nick Domogalik, the only one sober, steps in to be the adult.
“No, you can’t give him a beer,” he calls back, his voice friendly but firm.
The partier jokingly whines, “You didn’t tell us that rule.”
Some people would call this job a nightmare. Domogalik calls it fun. He’s a designated driver, bouncer, tour guide, photographer, and master of ceremonies for the two-hour joy ride that is the HandleBar, one of two pedal-pub businesses in downtown Indy. Holding down the law comes naturally to him. During the week, he works as a bailiff.
“You just have to make sure that everyone stays safe,” the 29-year-old says. “Be able to take control of the crowd, if need be.”
Tours make three downtown stops—Monument Circle, Massachusetts Avenue, and Georgia Street—so riders can hop off, grab a drink at a bar, and climb back on. For the ride, bikers can BYOB. They can bring their own music, too. One fun-loving bachelorette party on Cinco de Mayo brought costumes and dressed Domogalik in a poncho and sombrero.
The rules? No hard liquor. No fire drills. No profanity. Domogalik says he “reads the crowd” before departing Madison Avenue and adjusts the tone of his opening spiel accordingly.
A big group can rent out the whole movable feast for $300 to $450, depending on the day of the week. A person can also buy a single seat for $25 to $35. Popular occasions include birthdays, office retreats, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and family reunions with grandparents perched on the back bench.
“They go by so fast, and everyone is excited when they get on it,” Domogalik says. “I have yet to have a bad experience.”
“Well, I had to pull over to the side of the road once to rein a couple people in. Literally, no issue the rest of the night.”
Bar Handlers earn $30 a ride plus tips, which can reach $100. Domogalik once did five back-to-back rides for a 12-hour day. (He was saving for an engagement ring.) Summer weekends are busiest—eight vehicles operate day and night—but the HandleBar has run in the rain and even, occasionally, the snow, since it first fired up in 2012.
“If you have a group that embraces the weather,” Domogalik says, “it’s fun no matter what.”
At the bike-slash-bar’s various pit stops, Domogalik bartends, chats, cleans spills, watches valuables, and monitors the time. Batteries provide a boost when the going gets tough, but the bike pub is mostly powered by human exertion.
“Pedal!” Domogalik yells back. His charges pedal.
“We’ve got a pothole. Watch your drinks.” Everyone watches their drinks.
They pass city landmarks. Monument Circle. The Capitol. Arby’s. The wooden vehicle takes up an entire lane, but drivers don’t seem to mind. Speeds never top 12 miles per hour. There’s the delicious smell of Bazbeaux’s pizza. Then a sweet smell emanating from a passing car. “That’s definitely not legal,” says Jenny Bobo, who is visiting Indy from Illinois for a conference and signed up for the trip with two friends. The HandleBar was on her bucket list.
All good things must end. Back in the parking lot, “Sweet Caroline” blasts, cupcakes circulate, and no one wants to leave. Friends, drinks, music, fresh air. So good, so good, so good.