App helps Hudson Valley revelers StearClear of trouble over Super Bowl weekend

Matt Elling, 28, of Ridgewood, N.J., is co-owner

Matt Elling, 28, of Ridgewood, N.J., is co-owner of StearClear, a smartphone app business that is planning to do brisk business shuttling drinkers on Super Bowl Sunday. He is photographed at the bar in the Pour House in Nyack. (Feb. 2, 2013) (Credit: Xavier Mascarenas)

With tons of options for all-you-can drink beer on game day, Nyack's popular bar strip on Main Street is gearing up for hard-partying NFL fans on Super Bowl Sunday.

But also readying itself for a busier-than-normal day is StearClear, a designated driver service new to Rockland County that will not only drive you home when you've had too much to drink, but will also drive your car home for you.

"We've had a lot of requests coming from Nyack, Pearl River in the past few weeks," said Matt Elling, co-owner of the franchise that has served the northern New Jersey area for the past six months. "The word is really spreading and people really need this service."

How it works: Users download the free smartphone app, enter a location and the time they want to go home. The app's map uses a GPS feature to show where the driver is and how long it will take to get picked up.

StearClear -- available seven days a week from about 4 p.m. until after 4 a.m. -- charges an initial $20 flat rate to pick you up, then an additional $2.50 per mile to take you to your destination.

"Bars like it, too, because people can have the extra couple cocktails and not have to worry about getting home," Elling said. "People are understanding how selfish drunken driving can be and how negative it can be for the community. There's a turn now where people are really trying to make the effort to do the right thing."

You can pay by credit card through the app, Ellis said. If you're a woman and prefer female drivers, that, too, can be arranged.

TAXI TIME

Though the app has its technologically cool factor, there's always the old-fashioned solution: Call a cab.

Nyack's Pour House, featuring a $55 "open bar party package" where patrons can drink unlimited beer or wine and enjoy a buffet, already has booked a party of 50 for the deal. The bar's co-owner, Sean Spicer, expects the place to be packed for the big game between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.

"Nyack is a destination place, so what happens is all the bars and restaurants get people from a wide variety of locations, upstate New York, Westchester, all over Rockland, and they come here and sometimes get stuck," said Sean Spicer, co-owner of the Pour House.

"The first thing we do is call a cab for them. But I think this is great. It'll be really helpful for people. It'll give them options."

Matt Flaim, 40, a Giants fan and a regular in the Nyack bar circuit, said he would "definitely" become a frequent user of the app.

"It might be a little problem when you're drunk, trying to put in your location, but it's a great idea," Flaim laughed while tapping on his iPhone. "It's actually brilliant."

But the cost, some say, may be too high for the younger crowd or those on a budget.

"People are pretty cheap these days, so I don't know if they'd be willing to shell out that cash for the service," said Chris Brown, 21, a bartender at Harbor Hill for the past seven months.

While Harbor Hill isn't offering open bar specials, they will serve up $3 Coors Light drafts and $20 buckets of Coronas during the game.

"Open bar is usually trouble," Brown chuckled. "We'll have a free buffet at halftime to sober people up a bit. We want to make sure everyone goes home OK."

Although no DUI checkpoints are scheduled in Rockland County for Super Bowl Sunday, the sheriff's office will have extra patrols out just the same, Sheriff Louis Falco said.

Nevertheless, bartenders and patrons alike have seen their fair share of intoxicated people getting in the driver's seat.

"Once, the cops had the street blocked off for a DUI checkpoint and a woman drove right through the yellow tape and tried to reverse," Brown said. "They arrested her right on the spot."

"I've seen people who may have had too many drinks and they say they're fine to drive and they do," Flaim said.

AUTO ISSUES

Leaving cars in the area, subjecting them to parking tickets and towing, can have tipsy patrons weary about heading home without them, said Katelyn Spicer, 19, a server at the Pour House.

In Nyack, the parking meters shut off from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m. to attract the dinner crowd to the district's restaurants. But after 11 p.m., the meters turn back on -- and those who leave cars overnight are ticketed.

Brown said the town should do more to prevent drunken driving.

"They shouldn't ticket people who leave their car here overnight because they drank too much," said Brown, who said the tickets could be anywhere from $15 to $50 a pop. "They should have a designated lot for that."

Barry Kochman is the assistant manager at O'Donoghue's Tavern, where they're preselling tickets for $25 for all-you-can-drink draft beers, along with food.

He said the taxi services available in the area won't pick up customers after a certain hour.

"I could see this catching on in the next few years," Kochman said of StearClear. "I think it's needed everywhere -- people in their houses in bars. That's one of the barriers that keep people in, because they worry about their car and if they can get it home safely."

Kochman also sees StearClear as a way of reducing tension between bartenders and customers who get cut off from the bar.

"It's tough to put a customer in a cab," Kochman said. "They can easily get out of the cab down the street and hop in their car. This way, you know they're taken care of."

Ellis, the co-owner of the area's StearClear that has seen about 3,000 customers so far, hopes to see an interest spread throughout Rockland County and gain investors.

"It saves the cost of the DWI," said David Scharf, 53, who was enjoying a cold one at O'Donoghue's on Saturday afternoon while catching a soccer game. "Would you rather pay thousands of dollars for that, after lawyer's fees, losing your license? After thinking about that, the service is worth it."

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