The A-Team van comes to a halt in front of the Pittsburgh Winery.
As the door slides open, loud music and the jibber-jabber of a 10-member bachelorette party breaks the afternoon calm. The women — all sporting big hair, acid-washed jeans, Day-Glo bangles and Spandex — are on a mission to hit five different drinking establishments before nightfall.
The only thing missing from their ‘80s-inspired bar tour is Mr. T himself.
“The ride down was awesome,” says Denise Jablonski, who organized the trip for her bride-to-be sister, Allison. “It was more fun and entertaining than your average limo.”
Since 2016, Vantastic Limo has been offering Boogie Van Brews Cruises to people who want to explore the city in retro-style. Owner Tommy Stax of Beechview restored the company’s two vehicles — a 1989 Chevy G20 Van and the “Jive Turkey” a 1976 Dodge Street Van.
He’s been a “van guy” all of his life.
“For me, it takes me back to simpler times,” says the 41-year-old. “I love the freedom of being on the road.”
The business started out as just a fun way to travel from Point A to Point B. Stax would pile a bunch of his buddies in the back and head off to a concert. Some nights, the “shaggin’ wagon” got more fanfare than the musical act on stage.
Since then, Stax has chauffeured numerous bachelor parties, weddings, sightseeing tours and other events that require mobile, old-school chic — and safe transport for a partying group of friends. The “Jive Turkey” boasts original shag carpeting and Naugahyde benches, while the Chevy looks like it drove straight off of the set of “The A-Team,” the action-adventure series that ran on NBC from 1983 to 1987.
People interested in the service simply plan a three-to-seven-hour agenda a few weeks prior to their night out and Vantastic Limo provides a printed itinerary of the day upon pickup. Parties typically spend 30 to 45 minutes at each stop, where they often receive behind-the-scenes tours, discounts and free samples thanks to the partnerships Stax has forged with local microbreweries, wineries, distilleries and restaurants.
He also snaps photos and provides water to riders, who are permitted to bring their own music and — because the shuttles operate under authority from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission as a “Party Van” company — their own alcohol. Wine and other beverages that can stain the vans’ interiors are a no-no though.
Stax takes great pride in his vans, and regularly shows them off at the Van Nationals, an annual event that has attracted thousands of enthusiasts from around the country since 1973. This year, vanners will be hangin’ loose from July 25-29 at the Jasper County Fairgrounds in Rensselaer, Ind.
While he’s there, Stax will keep a lookout for potential additions to his Vantastic fleet. In his eyes, they are more than just automobiles; they’re symbols of his childhood.
He recalls a cross-country trip in his parents’ 1978 Ford Econoline.
“I must’ve been three or four years old and I remember seeing the coolest van I’d ever seen sitting on a used car lot in White Oak, Pa.,” he says. “My dad’s buddy, Steve, hit the Big 4 Lotto and he bought the van and it was in our driveway the next day.”
He still remembers every detail: “It was a dark red 1976 Chevy G10 shorty with a devil and a pitchfork mural on the side that said ‘Hotter than Hell.’ I’ve got childhood pics of me hanging out in that van and pics of me helping wash it.”
At one point in the early ’80s, Steve was done with the van. “Before he scrapped it,” Stax says, “we pulled out the interior cabinetry of the van and used it to furnish the inside of my sister’s and my clubhouse — sink and all.”