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THE HUMBOLDT HUSTLE: For these entrepreneurs, a mobile bar running from a horse trailer was both a business and a path from solitude to community



Kara Bennett (left) and Hailee Nolte, co-owners of a tiny pink horse trailer and owners of the Pony Keg Mobile Bar. Photos: Evan Wish Photography.

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The Pony Keg Mobile Bar was a horse trailer from the 1970s. At least until the day co-owners and operators Kara Bennett and Hailee Nolte bought it from a Craigslist seller in Sacramento.

Today, it’s pink, repurposed, and filled with a collection of decorative keepsakes that make it quintessential Humboldt.

“It’s cozy!” Nolte said of their bar on wheels — which is technically a “dry bar.”

This does not mean that they only serve non-alcoholic drinks. This means that they provide everything necessary except alcohol. It’s an interesting way to circumvent California state liquor laws (ABC Rule #23399.1). Since they operate a mobile bar, obtaining a liquor license can be too bureaucratic.

They often partner with local businesses or book weddings and other parties. Most importantly, they partner with local nonprofits like Humboldt Made to uplift other local small businesses.


Depending on the logistics of an event, they roughly calculate the amount of alcohol they need and send the number to their customer, who then acquires the necessary drinks, which Pony Keg serves at the event.

As local bartenders, Bennett and Nolte first found each other as colleagues before finding themselves in the heart of the Humboldt hustle and bustle.

A 40-year-old resident of Eureka, Bennett moved to Humboldt in 2016 from the Bay Area. Trying to survive in the Bay Area as a dental assistant and then as a personal trainer, she realized she didn’t want to do these things forever.

“It made me unhappy. Every day I would tell people, ‘OK, we’re ready for you,’ and their reaction was always, ‘Aw fuck.’ those people who are so excited to see you.”

Bennett started serving as a bar next door until she and her partner got an award out of their house. Bennet often visited Humboldt to go camping and on her very last camping trip she said to her partner, “This is where I want to live. For the past seven years, the bartender was an easy choice for her.

Nolte considers herself gifted. After earning her master’s degree in environment and community at Humboldt State University, she couldn’t find work in her field because she was considered underqualified.

“During my studies and after, I always had two to three jobs just to maintain a certain standard of living…which consisted of paying rent and feeding myself.” Nolte laughed, “I had two waitress/bartender jobs and an outdoor education gig.”

The day Nolte moved to Humboldt, she began classes for her master’s degree and began her first shift as a bartender, while her family helped her and her partner’s things move into their new apartment. With very little money under her belt, she barely had time to enjoy herself.

“I still haven’t been to Richard’s Goat and finally saw a movie at the Minor this year.” Nolte said.


When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Bennett and Nolte felt the pressure of loneliness and uncertainty. So they looked for this together and came up with the idea of ​​the Pony Keg mobile bar.

Every Thanksgiving, Bennett would host a big get-together, but in 2020, his attendance dropped from the usual 30 people to three. This included her partner, herself and – recovering from food poisoning – Nolte.

Drinking into the night, they talked about how they had missed big bartending events and the reminiscence quickly turned into a conversation about building a concept for a bartending business.

“What do we want to do it in?” Nolte asked. “So we found this fucking pink trailer on Craigslist and started saving money to start this business together.”

After seeing the trailer, they held meetings about their vision and committed to it.

“We wanted two things from our trailer,” Bennett continued. “We want it to take on the roughest roads in Humboldt and not have to be hooked up to any power source.”

The first nine months since purchasing the horse trailer have been filled with marketing, concept development and obtaining their LLC license. Because their concept was so specific, the county wasn’t sure how to handle their paperwork at first.

“We were working for ourselves for free,” Nolte said. “We had to be patient and resilient before we could even start.”

They wanted to emphasize that they could serve local beer on tap, and the easiest way to do that was to install pony keg taps in the trailer. With that, they crafted the rest of the trailer with a local lens. Most of what you find in the trailer are repurposed materials or items made by other local manufacturers.

There’s a wall of stickers from local artists and businesses, a collection of cocktail recipe books that make up a small library, and most of their bottles used for mixing originally came from local distilleries. They have tables and chairs made from old barrels. Almost everything that accompanies the trailer was either donated or repurposed, and in some cases, both.

Their concept was put to the test in April for a wedding event in southern Oregon. In the pouring rain, the trailer was parked in the middle of a steep driveway. The ability to set up anywhere without electricity came in handy, but it was also a learning experience.

“We’ve updated our contracts so we can reserve the right to say no to certain things,” Nolte said. “If you want us in a place we don’t approve of, we’ll leave. You can’t put us on a cliff or a 90 degree driveway.

Bennett and Nolte continue to have day jobs four to five days a week, especially as their season draws to a close, with only one wedding remaining on the books. Next season, the Pony Keg mobile trailer has already booked 10 weddings. With their growing community and popularity, they look to the future with enthusiasm.

“We are building the second trailer,” Nolte said. “We purposely didn’t book anything over the festive period so we could take care of ourselves. But also if people call us for something last minute, we will definitely think about it.


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