BY RYAN MARSHALL
It was a little before 8 p.m. on a Saturday in October when Charlie Lakatos wheeled into the parking lot of Rockwell Brewery on East Street in Frederick.
Dressed as Waldo in the spirit of the weekend before Halloween, Lakatos had a large basket of candy on one of the seats behind him.
Lakatos drives the Frederick Brew Bus, a shuttle that ferries passengers to seven Frederick-area breweries and tap houses.
The idea came to Lakatos recently when he was out with his wife and friends, serving as the designated driver while they visited several local establishments.
Now, he spends his weekends driving a 12-passenger Econoline van on the circuit that includes Roasthouse Pub, Monocacy Brewing Company, Rockwell Brewery, Olde Mother Brewing, Flying Dog Brewery, Barley & Hops and Attaboy Beer.
He tries to stay on a roughly one-hour loop. While people can call for pickups, he prefers that they don’t, because it throws him off schedule for other stops.
“But when I’m slow, I’ll do what I can to get business,” he said.
On Saturdays, he drives from noon until 10:30 p.m., and noon to 7:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Asked if driving the bus has taken any getting used to, Lakatos said not really and noted that he normally drives a Chevy Tundra pickup truck.
“This actually has less blind spots than the Tundra,” he said.
Lakatos is careful to establish that his is not a “party bus;” no drinking is allowed. It’s purely a means of getting from place to place.
The breweries seem enthusiastic about his idea. The bus is definitely a positive thing to get people out into the Frederick brewing scene, said Keith Marcoux, co-owner of Olde Mother.
It especially helps for people from out of town to know they can ride the bus and go to the next stop, he said.
Marcoux said he thinks Lakatos’s bus will bring more tourists to the local Frederick scene.
It’s exciting that the Frederick craft beer community is growing to the point that it can support other, peripheral businesses, said Jim Bauckman, sales and marketing director for Monocacy Brewing Company.
“We at Monocacy Brewing Company hope that Frederick Brew Bus is a success and that craft beer enthusiasts visiting Frederick will utilize this service as a safe and convenient way to responsibly enjoy the craft beer scene in our county,” Bauckman wrote in an email.
Hopping off the bus at Attaboy that Saturday, Lakatos asks several people on the patio if they need a ride and tells them a bit about his business.
He briefly haggles with a woman over the price of a trip.
He normally charges $10 per person for a day’s worth of riding. But since it’s nearing the end of the evening, he offers to knock it down to $5 a head.
She says she has to check with the rest of her group. Eventually, they decide not to take Lakatos up on his offer.
While several people at various establishments have heard of the Brew Bus, no one takes him up on his offer.
Until he gets to Barley and Hops. There, he runs into a group of eight that he’d picked up at Attaboy earlier in the day.
Gia Gries said she and her friends had heard about it at another bar recently, and she and Lakatos traded emails and she made reservations.
Gries said she liked that the Brew Bus offers a tracking app so that riders can follow Lakatos’s route and know when he’ll arrive at their location.
“The bus is awesome,” Gries said.
Gries’s group assembles on the bus, and Lakatos drops them off at Rockwell.
Lakatos said he would like to add group tours of wineries and distilleries to his schedule eventually.
With establishments spread out around the city and the county, Lakatos sees his shuttle as a valuable service that benefits the businesses and their customers.
“I’m trying to promote responsible drinking,” he said.