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Offbeat bar crawls offer a fun spin on your night out

A pub crawl is simple: Gather some friends, hit some bars and stumble your separate ways home.

While fun, the routine can get a little repetitive. That's why, in the past couple years, a number of off-beat bar crawls have sprung up.

Now, you and a gang of friends or family can pedal from pub to pub on a custom-made 16-person bicycle, or learn about the haunted bars of Ellicott City — and then hoist a pint inside. You can even cover yourself in fake blood and makeup, and shuffle like a zombie down Harford Road.

Take a break from the average bar crawl with one of these three options.

Charm City Pedal Mill

When Amanda Linden, the 28-year-old owner of Charm City Pedal Mill, moved to Baltimore from Milwaukee last year, she saw plenty of similarities between her new home and the Cream City. Both towns were sociable drinking spots with an emphasis on their pro sports teams.

Linden can't take responsibility for the business idea — she watched two guys from her high school find success with it in Milwaukee — but she's the first person to bring a 17-foot-long, 9-foot-high, Netherlands-inspired tandem bike to Baltimore.

Linden launched the Pedal Mill in August, and she organizes crawls for birthday celebrations, bachelorette parties and everything in-between. The bike and its Pedal Mill-employed driver (who's along mostly to steer), meet the parties, and then it's up to the crawlers to pedal the bike from bar to bar.

There was "a lot of running back and forth" to get the 16-person bike its proper license, Linden says. Luckily for her, the city's bike and pedestrian planner, Nate Evans, put his support behind the company.

"He wrote the letter of endorsement from the Department of Transportation, which is what the Finance Department wanted to see," Linden says." They gave us the license because of the bike initiative and that we're a green business."

Yes, "green": as in there's no motor and patrons have to help the sober company driver pedal the bike. Although it takes some work and "it's not for everyone," according to Linden, you can ride in style. Most parties decorate the bike and there's an iPod connection for your own playlist.

"There's music blasting while you're pedaling," says Brittney Mitchell, a Butchers Hill resident who celebrated her 25th birthday on the Pedal Mill. "It's a great conversation-starter when you hop off and go into the bars."

Tour routes include Fells Point (Ale Mary's, Alexander's Tavern and One-Eyed Mike's are a few of the stops) and Canton (Dark Horse, Mahaffey's, Nacho Mama's and more), and Linden says Annapolis could be next. Parties can even rent the bike for block parties. For now, the season will end Dec. 15, Linden says, but that could be extended as long as the roads aren't icy. She hopes to have the bike back on the streets by the end of February.

There's one question Linden gets a lot: Is drinking allowed on the bike? Maryland law prohibits open containers unless the vehicle is a limousine, bus or taxicab. Linden says she's trying to make her bike the next exception. If so, the Mill would sell wine and beer.

"We will never sell liquor," she says. "Our insurance won't cover it. Riders will never do shots of Jack. We want to get a pony keg and hook it up to the bike."

The Charm City Pedal Mill runs through Dec. 15. Prices range from $150 to $170 per hour, depending on the day and length of the bar crawl. Drinks are not included. Call 443-956-6455 or go to

The Spirits of Ellicott City

If you're looking to get tipsy and spooked, the Spirits of Ellicott City tour could be the perfect combination. Now in its second year, patrons — typically limited to parties of 16 — hear the legends of the town's haunted taverns while being served drinks from their bars.

Ed Lilley, welcome center manager for Howard County tourism, says the Spirits tour is an extension of the Ye Haunted History of Olde Ellicott City walking tours.

"The Spirits tour was developed because the one request we get most is 'We wish we could have gone inside somewhere,'" Lilley says.

Offered the second Thursday of each month, the $20-per-person Spirits tour visits the Wine Bin, Diamondback Tavern, the Rumor Mill and Ellicott Mills Brewing Company. While some of the bars offer drink specials and the occasional platter of free food, the tour's main attraction remains the ghoulish tales. Just don't expect cheap frights, Lilley says.

"No props. No gimmicks," he says. "No one jumps out."

One of the ghosts you'll learn about, or meet, is a fixture at the Rumor Mill's table 23. Known as the Dapper Diner, he's been seen in a bowler hat or ascot. The tour occasionally swings by another bar, the Judge's Bench, home to the ghost Mary, who many claim is the daughter of the owners of the original Berger's Grocery. Legend says Mary hanged herself after "being forbidden to see her Ellicott City sweetheart," according to the Howard County website.

Lilley says business owners often stop him to share their latest ghost stories.

"They're always telling us, 'You're never going to believe it!' They'll arrange things a certain way [in their store front], come back and it'll be different," he says.

Tour guides are believers, too. While some are more spirited than others, Lilley says many guides think something strange is going on in town. There's even a husband-and-wife team who do investigations on the side.

It's that ghostly enthusiasm that makes the Spirits tour so popular, especially in the fall. Lilley says the tour is 45 percent ahead of last October's bookings.

"Some nights there's no drinking, and some nights they're really into the drinking portion," he says. "That's more of the exception than the rule. Most people are there to hear the stories."

The Spirits of Ellicott City tour takes place every second Thursday of the month. $20/person and reservation is required. Drinks are not included. Call 410-313-1900 or email

Harford Road Zombie Crawl

Searching for ghouls is fun, but dressing and acting like one could be the ultimate Halloween drinking experience.

On Saturday, bar-crawlers dressed as zombies will do just that as they lumber along Harford Road.

Rik and Shannon Marshall, a couple of Halloween enthusiasts, started the Harford Road Zombie Crawl in 2009 after a disappointing crawl downtown. It was their response to underwhelming drink specials and typical costumes ("too many people dressed as Superman and Chewbacca," Rik wrote in an email). Another improvement: a nonsponsored crawl would give the zombies control of how much they spend.

The Marshalls were nervous on the crawl's inaugural night, but they were pleasantly surprised to find zombies waiting for them at Koco's Pub. The group eventually swelled to 30. The turnout doubled the next year.

The couple hope this year's crawl — which kicks off at Koco's at 8 p.m. — continues the trend.

"To be honest, it's just so much fun walking down the street, dressed as (and acting like!) a zombie, and scaring (amusing?) all the motorists and residents as we go," Rik writes.

The Harford Road Zombie Crawl meets at Koco's Pub, 4301 Harford Road, at 8 p.m. Saturday. Free. Drinks are not included.

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