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


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

Today, it is pink, repurposed and filled with a collection of decorative mementos that make it quintessential Humboldt.

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

That doesn’t mean that they only serve alcohol-free drinks. It means that they provide everything necessary except the alcohol. It’s an interesting way to circumvent the State of California’s alcohol laws (ABC Regulation # 23399.1). Since they are running a mobile bar, getting a liquor license can be overly bureaucratic.

They often partner with local businesses, or they book weddings, and other soirees. More importantly, they partner with local non-profits like Humboldt Made to uplift other local small businesses.

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

As local bartenders, Bennett and Nolte originally found each other as coworkers before finding themselves in the thick of the Humboldt Hustle.

A 40-year-old Eureka resident, 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 that she did not want to do those things indefinitely.

“It made me miserable. Every day I’d tell people, ‘OK we’re ready for you,’ and their reaction was always, ‘Aw fuck’.” Bennett continued. “When you bartend you have all these people that are so excited to see you.”

Bennett began bartending on the side until she and her partner were getting priced out of their home. Often Bennet would visit Humboldt to go camping and on her very last camping trip she told her partner, “This is where I wanna live.” For the last seven years, bartending was the easy choice for her.

Nolte considers herself an overachiever. After earning her master’s degree in Environment and Community at Humboldt State University, she could not find work in her field because she was considered underqualified.

“While in school and after, I always had two to three jobs just to maintain a certain standard of lifestyle … which was paying rent and feeding myself.“ Nolte laughed, “I had two waitressing/bartending jobs and a gig in outdoor education.”

The day Nolte moved to Humboldt, she started class for her master’s degree and began her first shift bartending, all while her family helped move her and her partner’s belongings into their new apartment. With hardly any money to her name, she hardly has had time to have fun.

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

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, both Bennett and Nolte felt the pressure of loneliness and uncertainty. So they sought that out with each other and thought up the idea for the Pony Keg Mobile Bar.

Every Thanksgiving, Bennett would have a large get-together, but in 2020 her head count went from the usual 30 people down to three. That included her partner, herself and — recovering from food poisoning — Nolte.

Drinking into the night, they talked about how they missed bartending large events and 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 pink fucking trailer on Craigslist and started saving money to start this business together.”

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

“We wanted two things out of our trailer,” Bennett continued. “We want it to go on the most rugged roads of Humboldt and not have to connect it to any power.”

The first nine months since purchasing the horse trailer were filled with marketing, building out the concept and dealing with getting their LLC license. Because their concept was so specific, the county was not sure how to handle their paperwork at first.

“We were working for ourselves for free,” said Nolte. “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 taps for pony kegs in the trailer. With that, they designed the rest of the trailer with a local lens. Most of what you find in the trailer are repurposed materials or things made by other local makers.

There is a wall of stickers from local artists and businesses, a collection of cocktail recipe books that make up a tiny library, and most of their bottles used for mixes originally came from local distilleries. They have tables and chairs made out of old kegs. Nearly everything that comes with 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 set up in the middle of a steep driveway. The ability to set up anywhere without power came in handy, but it was also a learning experience.

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

Both Bennett and Nolte continue to have day jobs four to five days a week especially as their season is coming to a close, with only one wedding left on the books. Next season, the Pony Keg Mobile Trailer already has 10 weddings booked. With their community and popularity growing, they’re looking toward the future with excitement.

“We’re building the second trailer,” said Nolte. “We purposefully didn’t book anything during the holiday season so we can take care of ourselves. But also if people call us for something last-minute, we’ll definitely consider it.”