The mermaid perched on top is hard to miss. A vintage Jantzen Diving Girl, she’s dressed in a bikini top and a light pink swim cap. Her finned mermaid tail — a sparkly blue and emerald green — shimmers in the right light and her arms are outstretched, as if preparing to take a deep dive off the 1962 Airstream trailer sitting below.
Meet Winenona, the official mascot for Wine on Wheels, a mobile bar that’s been popping up at weddings, parties and events all over the Tampa Bay area.
“For the most part, everyone wants her up there,” said owner Melody Maria, whose roaming cocktail business has blossomed during the pandemic.
An increased interest from cautious clients looking to entertain outdoors in socially distant settings has led to a boom in mobile bar businesses like Maria’s. From small, intimate gatherings to large, 100-plus people events, Maria says she’s fielded requests for everything from backyard barbecues to boozy brunches and lavish garden engagement parties.
The idea for a mobile bar came from a lifetime love of travel, Maria, 52, said. Originally from Minneapolis, she launched Wine on Wheels in late 2018 after relocating to St. Petersburg several years prior. Before the move, Maria worked in advertising, marketing, bartending and event planning.
A business model where she got to take her talents on the road felt like a natural progression that fused all her career paths into one, Maria said. So when she came upon a listing for a 1962 Airstream trailer for sale in Fort Myers, she knew she couldn’t pass it up.
Outfitted with mid-century modern decor inside, including a reclaimed bowling alley floor, the bar looks out through a 6-foot-wide window that’s decorated with lights, fresh flowers and drink garnishes. Since launching, the silver Airstream — and Winenona — have attracted their own kind of fanfare, Maria said. “Usually what I get from people is that they want to live in it,” she laughed.
Because Florida state law forbids mobile businesses like Maria’s from selling alcohol directly to consumers, she operates it as a “dry bar for hire” service — meaning she can’t sell individual gin and tonics to anyone who walks up to her rig, but if someone hires her team to sell mimosas to 100 people at a private event and pays for it ahead of time, that’s perfectly fine. Through partnering with local liquor companies, like St. Petersburg Distillery, Maria says she often works in tandem on promotional events at markets and events like St. Pete’s ArtWalk.
From a midday mimosa bar for a newly engaged couple to a 200-person wedding, each bar setup is uniquely tailored to what a client envisions for their personal event. A short interview and questionnaire form let Maria know the size, scale and general design desired, after which she comes up with a proposal. Pricing varies, but prospective clients can expect that a party for 150 people with wine, beer and a few cocktails might fall somewhere in the $1,500 range, while larger events at bigger venues can run upwards of $2,200.
What makes Wine on Wheels fitting for so many different occasions is that guests can tailor the theme and decor entirely to their own taste. Though Maria loves to be behind the bar, she says she happily hires outside bartending staff for clients who might be searching for a different look. Even Winenona, who has to be hoisted onto the trailer before each event, is an optional piece of flair. If she doesn’t jibe with the party’s aesthetic, she’ll stay behind. (Most people love having her along for the ride, though.)
Maria says her favorite part of the job is getting out into the community and meeting new people. The Airstream trailer is its own conversation piece, and people love to stop and chat.
“It’s an iconic piece of history,” she said. “Hearing the stories from people about growing up traveling in them — it brings back memories.”