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Owner of Bar Hopper in Fargo hits another roadblock -- officials say state must decide fate

The Bar Hopper, owned by Jamestown, N.D.-native Jon Vannett and seen in this 2010 photo, is a pedal-powered vehicle chartered by riders who can bring their own alcohol and drink as they cruise streets while a hired sober driver steers. Forum file photo

FARGO - The owner of a 15-seat pedal-powered vehicle that allows alcohol on board took another shot Wednesday at getting permission to operate in Fargo.

But city officials say it's up to state lawmakers to decide the fate of the Bar Hopper because those on board would violate a North Dakota public-drinking law.

Owner Jon Vannett approached the city's Liquor Control Board and the City Commission last year, when he was told the vehicle violated public consumption laws.

Both boards voted against allowing the business to operate.

In contrast, the Bar Hopper is allowed to operate in Detroit Lakes and Moorhead because Minnesota law allows an exemption for alcohol aboard such a vehicle.

A Minneapolis-based business worked to get the state law changed there, and that's the step Vannett needs to take, City Auditor Steve Sprague said during Wednesday's monthly liquor board meeting.

"Until the law is changed, the law is the law," Sprague said.

In North Dakota, anyone drinking alcohol on a conventional bicycle would be subject to a drinking-in-public citation, Police Chief Keith Ternes said.

Though Vannett's vehicle may not be classified as a bike, Fargo prosecutors say riders would be subject to the same violation, Ternes said.

Vannett argues his business is covered under the same law that allows limousine and party bus riders to drink on board.

But city attorneys say it's a matter for the state.

"I think our hands are tied," said Assistant City Attorney Garylle Stewart.

Vannett said he isn't sure what his next step in Fargo will be, but he will operate this year in Moorhead.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511