Published On: Sun, Sep 10th, 2023

What It’s Like to Ride and Booze and Cruise

If you live near a major metropolitan area, or a college town, or anywhere with a street that can be referred to as “the strip,” you’ve seen them. Pedal pubs: those long, slow-moving, party-music-blaring picnic tables on wheels. You’ve seen those rows of revelers, pedaling and drinking and whooping away, celebrating the bride-to-be, or toasting the graduate, or enduring the corporate team-building exercise. You’ve seen them, and you’ve shaken your head. “What kind of idiot does that,” you’ve grumbled to yourself.

Well, I have done the research, and I have an answer: the kind of idiot who does a pedal pub is you. I rented one last month, it was the best and dumbest night I’ve had in ages, and these hideous things get my highest recommendation. Hurry up and do it before some other idiot gets killed on one of them.

The rental was a surprise for my boyfriend Ben’s birthday, because surprises are fun, and also there is no way he would have agreed to it the normal way. I’d seen a flyer for this particular pedal pub— E-Bird Express in Glendale, CA— and it caught my eye. E-Bird Express was more than just a couple of benches on wheels, E-Bird Express was what we could call “tricked out.” LED rope lights, booming speakers, a big monitor screen for karaoke. It was as though Xzibit and the gang at West Coast Customs had had their way with it on a day when they were having trouble focusing. I snuck that flyer into my pocket, mentally compiled a guest list, and congratulated myself for having a high percentage of friends who will answer “yes” to the question “wanna do something stupid?”

You catch the E-Bird Express inside a parking structure near the Glendale Galleria, which is good because those LED rope lights really pop in the relative darkness, but also bad because in a time of true-crime podcasts, it is hard to explain to your partner why you’re Ubering them deep into a parking garage. Our guests were there and all their waivers had been signed by the time we reached the E-Bird, and Ben stood blinking at the vehicle. “Did he know?” someone asked me a few minutes later. “I don’t think he knows now,” I answered.

pedal pub

Everything is gonna be fine.


Our hosts introduced themselves: Chris, the night’s driver and the owner of the company, and John, whose job description was “Hype Man.” We took our seats, we belted ourselves in, and we pulled out into the Glendale evening. I mentioned the speakers, but I must repeat that they were loud; Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” was John & Chris’s choice for first song, and as Ozzy’s laughter bounced off the external walls of the Nordstrom, we sounded like a portable strip club that had just moved into a very wholesome shopping district. People peeked out of the HomeGoods in amazement. The young families with fresh Mrs. Fields’ cookies couldn’t believe their eyes. Shake Shack was shook.

The exact rules on this will vary from state to state and town to town, but here in sedate downtown Glendale, there is no actual drinking on the pedal pub itself. Instead, we’d be going on a pub crawl, hitting up to six bars, each with about a fifteen-minute ride between them, each offering discounts to E-Bird customers and free shots for the birthday boy, who does not like shots and who especially does not like wearing a light-up shot glass around his neck on a chain of plastic beads, but we do not always get what we like in this life. We were not yet sure how many bars we’d be able to hit in our three-hour window, but everyone agreed we should have hit at least one before, because this is an experience for which a person has to be pre-loosened up.

pedal pub

Going off the rails on a crazy train.


The very loud speakers on the E-Bird were bluetooth-enabled, and John the Hype Man controlled them from his phone. “Crazy Train” opened the night on the exact right note, but from there it was up to us. A friend requested “Life Is A Highway,” because we were still sober enough to think in a linear way. John the Hype Man added it to the queue, and we forgave him when it turned out to be the Rascal Flatts version rather than the 1992 Tom Cochrane original, because pedal pub MCing is a young hype man’s game. After that, AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell,” still pretty on the nose, and still extremely loud, especially compared to the gentle acoustic music playing at our first stop, Paperback Brewery. If you have longed to arrive somewhere and have people say “the fuck is that thing” in a tone that you can’t quite determine, a pedal pub is for you.

We stayed long enough for the two beers we should have had before any of this began, and then we got back on the road. I should mention that, at least in the case of the E-Bird Express, the pedals on the pedal pub do nothing. This bird was motorized. There is allegedly a pedal mode that can be activated, and we asked whether we could take it to a big parking lot and try that mode out, but that was just the two beers talking. We recognized right away that we were on an open-air party bus, and we were grateful.

pedal pub


Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets To Paradise” wailed out into the Glendale skies as we pulled away, but I found myself craving a vibe shift, and I knew exactly how to achieve it: Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.” Can a ride on a pedal pub feel like the trailer to an independent movie about a writer who moves back to his New England hometown to take care of an aging parent and maybe rekindle a romance that’s finally found its right moment? I can exclusively reveal that if you hit it at the exact right time, under the pink sunset of Glendale, it can. John the Hype Man was not familiar with this song; he read the lyrics right off his Spotify app and made no attempt to hide it, but he did improvise a fist pump at the “boom boom boom” part. John’s hype mentor has taught him well.

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There was only bottled water on the pedal pub, which was a blessing in disguise. A person of a certain age— and we were all hovering around 50—has to pace himself. A water course in between every couple of drinks is the responsible thing most of us never do, so it was good to be forced into it. The simple cardio of pedaling sobered us up just enough in between stops, and even though we knew the pedaling had nothing to do with the movement of the E-Bird, we all pedaled faster when we approached a yellow light. All of us.

We ran into a couple of people we knew at the second bar, Tavern on Brand, and because there were a couple of unclaimed seats on the bench at the back of the E-Bird, we had them sign waivers and ride with us to the third. En route, as a tribute to Sinead O’Connor, I added “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to the queue, and if you have never watched a twentysomething hype man try to hype-man along with the line “you know how it is and how a pregnancy can change you” as he reads it off his phone, go ahead and add it to your to-do list.

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We rolled up to the third place, Dave’s Bar, and because it was karaoke night and we’d each had a few drinks, we knew this would be our final stop. Chris and John parked the E-Bird, joined us inside, and bought us shots. You have guessed correctly that these shots were Kamikazes.

Our pedal pub excursion was a success. I do wish we’d had more time on the road, not only because I want to try out that pedal mode, but because our fellow motorists seemed delighted with us. They honked, they pumped a fist, they sang along. I’ve probably scowled at a few of these in the past, or gawked vacantly, but the next time I see one, I’m going to give them the thumbs-up they deserve. These things are fun, and fun is necessary, and any kind of mass transit that gets cars off the road should be encouraged. Do a pedal pub. It’s actually irresponsible not to.

The next day, one of my guests texted to thank me. “That was way more fun than I thought,” he said. “I think I want to do one for my birthday.” I said, “Yes, and you’re welcome. When’s your birthday?”

He texted back right away: “Next week.”

Headshot of Dave Holmes


Dave Holmes is Esquire’s L.A.-based editor-at-large. His first book, “Party of One,” is out now. 

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