Mom, son operation brings the bar to the party

What began as a mobile petting zoo is now The Barrel Horse, a family run traveling event bar catering to functions of all types
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIE
Ozaukee Press staff

In the season of summer gatherings, graduation parties and family reunions, The Barrel Horse mobile event bar is in demand.

The Barrel Horse is a portable bar operated by Town of Saukville residents Erin Stewart and her son Taylor.

They kicked off the business last year when they provided the bar for Re/Max United’s annual party for its staff and customers.

They’ve also been the bar for several small parties, a craft fair, a bar mitzvah, baby shower and graduation parties.

As the list of events may indicate, this bar isn’t always used for adult beverages. The bar can be used for everything from custom cocktails and mocktails to craft beers to ice cream sundaes and s’mores and even cold coffees.

“It worked, but it sounded better on paper,” Erin Stewart said of the cold coffee option, which was offered during a baby shower.

“We’re versatile. We try to make it function for anything.  We can turn it into a sundae bar or s-mores bar for a kids party. We can have a variety of craft beers for the beer drinker.”

While in the past people have put together makeshift bars for their parties, Stewart said that the pandemic has changed things a bit.

Today, people are more detail-oriented and want to make the events they host more personal, an experience for themselves and their guests, she said.

That’s where the Barrel Horse comes in.

“It’s like a focal point,” she said.

People have two options with the Barrel Horse. They can rent just the trailer, operating the bar themselves for the duration of  their event, for $300 for locations within 20 miles.

Or they can opt for a full-service bar, including the bar, one or two bartenders, a custom menu of drinks and related services for a cost starting at $500.

In either case, the customer purchases the alcohol or other beverages to be served, Stewart said.

“I can’t get a license for every community we go to,” Stewart said.

This also allows the customer to keep any leftover beverages and helps bring down the cost, she said.

“You’re not paying $5 a drink like you would in a bar,” she said.

The full-service option is the most popular, Stewart said, noting they will decorate the bar and customize the drinks to match the party theme.

For example, she said, they recently did a party for a Marquette High School graduate following a Hilltopper theme. For weddings, they can create custom cocktails that reflect the colors used for the ceremony and reception.

Stewart said she talks to the customer to find out what types of drinks they want, then will create a custom beverage or two and put out a drink menu for adults and children.

The typical event, she said, features two to three cocktails as well as beer and wine.

At a recent bar mitzvah, they made a drink using blue fruit punch, Gatorade and Sprite, added some edible glitter, rimmed the glasses with sugar and then floated a Swedish fish in the glass.

“All the kids were going nuts over it,” Stewart said. “The drinks we make are eye-catching.”

Because the bar is a converted horse trailer, it’s easy to hose out and clean up, she said.

“That’s the beauty of a horse trailer,” she said. “The mess is outside; it’s not in your house.”

The path to a mobile bar was a circuitous one.

It started with Stewart’s desire for a couple of goats. She wanted them for the family’s hobby farm, and talked her husband Bryan into buying them by convincing him they could use the animals — along with others they had at the farm — to create a mobile zoo for such events as children’s birthday parties.

But after their first couple events, she said, she realized this was not the right option for her.

The goats became fixtures on their hobby farm, but Stewart was puzzled by what to do with the horse trailer they had bought for the mobile zoo.

It took some brainstorming, but she hit on the idea of the mobile event bar. Not only was it something fun, she said, it’s something she and her son can do together.

But before they could run the business, they had to convert the 1980s fiberglass trailer into a bar — a task that took more time and effort than they anticipated.

“We thought it would take one month. It took us six,” Stewart said. “It was one step forward, 10 steps back. After you overcame one obstacle, two more would spring up.”

Because it was a horse trailer, it was rounded, making it difficult to get things to fit. And simple things, like removing the wall that divided the two stalls, got more difficult because the wall held up the roof.

Finding a commercial Kegerator that would fit was a challenge, and installing it took an entire weekend, she noted.

Fortunately, Stewart said, her husband is a talented fabricator.

“He’s very industrially creative, making things so they’re functional and pretty,” she said. “This trailer was so ugly. You had to see the diamond in the rough that it was. He turned it into the diamond.”

Stewart said a friend who runs a party balloon business helped her with the business.

“She gave me the courage to start it,” she said. “She told me, ‘Here’s what you have to do.’”

Stewart does the scheduling and ordering for the business, as well as bartending, while her son is the face of the business, bringing the trailer to its destination and working it.

They’ve also hired a part-time employee for the summer to help bartend when needed.

Through word of mouth, the Barrel Horse has taken off.

“For a little start up, I’m happy with it,” Stewart said. “We’re looking forward to seeing where this goes.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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