St. Augustine Commission OKs alcohol on carriages

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – No matter the occasion, cracking open a bottle of wine or champagne while riding as a passenger in a horse-drawn carriage is illegal. But it may not be for much longer.

The St. Augustine City Commission is met Monday about an ordinance that would allow alcohol aboard a carriage under certain circumstances.

The ordinance was passed to a second reading during Monday night's City Commission meeting.  If the ordinance passes during public hearing, the ordinance will go into effect after the councils October 24th meeting.

Some carriage companies were previously allowing alcohol aboard because they didn't realize it was illegal.

Horse-drawn carriage rides are a staple of St. Augustine, one of the tourist attractions where visitors can tour the city or enjoy a romantic evening.

"This is such a wonderful wedding venue for destination weddings, and having champagne on the carriage is just perfect, so the city realized the ordinance makes it to where we can't do that," said Bob Bellas, of Southern Carriages.

The horse-drawn carriage industry says customers frequently ask about drinking onboard, whether it's to celebrate a proposal, wedding or to just relax while touring the town.

"A lot of times, you know, they'll ask can they have a drink on the carriage. 'Can we have wine or champagne, you know? It's our 25th anniversary. Can we bring a bottle of champagne?'" Bellas said. "In the past we would be like, 'Sure, as long as it's not on the street.'"

Bellas says his company was doing wine tastings on carriage rides until a month ago when it was notified it was illegal. Since then, it only does dry rides.

"For years we've had wine, and basically it was an oversight in the open container law in St. Augustine," he said.

The proposed law would allow alcohol aboard carriages if the driver holds a commercial driver's license and passenger endorsement.

This is consistent with Florida statutes, unlike the current St. Augustine open container law.

"We've talked to the commissioners and the mayor when we brought it to their attention a couple of weeks ago at the meeting and they didn't even realize that the ordinance excluded us," Bellas said.