Benefit helps 'Tipsy Taxi' program

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— The 18th annual Tipsy Taxi Benefit will provide about 10 Alpine Taxi rides Wednesday night for those who've found they may have had an extra vodka tonic.

The benefit supports the $12,000 Steamboat Restaurant Association budget, while also preventing drunken drivers from heading out on the road. In past years, the benefit has made $10,000.

With a free city bus system and fairly inexpensive taxi rides around town, why do people need a free taxi?

"Joe Pete" Lorusso, former owner of Old Town Pub, said the service is designed to give patrons another opportunity when they least expect it.

The Steamboat Restaurant Association sponsors the Tipsy Taxi service, providing all restaurants and bars in Steamboat with 10 tickets a month for patrons to use for a free taxi ride home when they've had "too much fun."

When these tickets run out, establishments can still give patrons Tipsy Taxi tickets, but will be billed later. Lorusso said he doesn't want to discourage people from thinking their server will not give them a ticket if they've exceeded their limit of 10.

"Because of the large drunk driving situation, we've attempted to do something responsible," said Lorusso, who headed Tipsy Taxi for 14 years.

The service was created to accommodate those who don't have any money, can't drive home or don't want to get in a car with someone else.

"It wasn't created for the guy at the bar with $50 bills coming out of his pockets," said Lorusso, president of Steamboat Restaurant Association for six years.

Steamboat may be known as "Ski Town USA" or as the resort with the "champagne powder," but it also was the first city to establish Tipsy Taxi.

Lorusso said he's talked with mayors, chiefs of police and lawyers in other cities about the Tipsy Taxi service. Cities in Florida and Hawaii, and Breckenridge and Aspen have imitated Steamboat's idea, he said.

The state mandates that every server in Colorado go through a T.I.P.S. course, Training Intervention Procedures for Servers of alcohol, to be educated on how to get a patron to slow the drinking, how to spot someone who has had too many and how to deal with that person.

The Restaurant Association, along with the T.I.P.S. program, hopes to lower the numbers of DUIs and deaths, but still allow people to drink, Lorusso said.

While hundreds of DUIs are given out in a winter season each year, Lorusso said a server is supposed to know when a patron needs a free taxi, and it is at the server's discretion who gets them.

Before they limited Steamboat establishments to 10 tickets, Lorusso said bars would abuse the system and everyone would lose money.

"There's no free rides. Somebody's paying for it," Lorusso said. "If you allow the drunks to be in charge, they'll kill (the system)."

Matt and Lizzie Larock, owners of Old Town Pub, said the responsibility of Tipsy Taxi is strenuous, but know it's going for a good cause.

"It's a nice showcase for bands to play at different venues. Everybody's willing to help and do their part," they said.

Many major restaurants in town have volunteered their time to help organize and produce a successful Tipsy Taxi Benefit.

Because Blue Rooster, The Worried Men, The Shenanigans, Sleeping Giant and Blue Dali will only get to play a 30-minute set, Matt Larock said they'll be playing some of their best music.

While Tipsy Taxi should have been the perfect venue for a CD release party, timing wasn't quite on their side for Sleeping Giant, one of the five bands playing for the event.

"This is a great avenue for us to have our debut," said Mark Walker, on drums for Sleeping Giant. Sleeping Giant's first album, "Dance On This Earth," will debut in stores within the next month.

Because the band usually plays for weddings, parties and conventions around Steamboat, Tom Schwall, lead singer and acoustic guitar player, said this really is the one and only public performance of the year.

"We're like Pink Floyd to Steve Miller with a touch of the Tubes," Schwall said.

Sleeping Giant, formerly known as Loose Change, has played at Tipsy Taxi for the past three years, and is playing all new originals at this year's event. The contemporary alternative rock band said this is the biggest event of the year.

"It's a great service and an incredibly great (way) to keep drunks off the road," Walker said. "Locals are going to come out (for the event) and rage. It's a party, party party."

"It's fun because it's such a local event and you get to see all the bands," Lizzie said.

Prizes from local businesses will be raffled at the main benefit. There are over 200 prizes for this year's benefit ranging from a 20-day ski pass to rooms at the Sheraton.

"I think we're trying to save lives," Lorusso said. "We're trying to make the world safer for all of us, that's really it."

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