Leila Gardner and Her Cocktail Caravan

A look inside Martha’s Vineyard’s first mobile bar.

Lelia Gardener holding court in the caravan. —Photo by David Welch

There’s nothing worse than being out, ordering a drink you’re really excited to try, and getting served the equivalent of a watered-down, syruped-up, overpriced glass of mediocracy. 

We’ve all been there.

On a tiny, bustling Island that seems to outcarry its weight in excellent restaurants, raw bars, food trucks, and farmstands, it’s true that there’s one facet of the modern eat and drink industry that has yet to arrive — mobile bars. 

Leila Gardner and a 1970s vintage horse trailer are changing that.

Mobile bars are exactly what they sound like — bars on wheels that bring the spirits to you, wherever you are. And these rigs are often cute as can be, adding charm to any backyard barbeque, wedding reception, bridal shower, or rehearsal dinner — you name it. 

Born and raised in West Tisbury, Leila has worked in many realms of the catering industry on the Island, and noticed that reliably great cocktails weren’t as easy to come by. “There’s so much focus on the food,” Leila said. “Cocktails kind of get swept under the rug — they’re kind of an afterthought.”

Leila tends bar. —Photo by David Welch

In early 2019, she saw an Airstream bar in Boston that got the wheels turning. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” she said, eventually deciding to dive into a venture of her own. 

“The Airstream thing was a little too big, a little too extreme,” she said. That’s when she settled on the idea of finding and restoring a vintage horse trailer. She had a “very specific” vision, and after about six months of searching, Leila found exactly what she was looking for. She drove to northern Maine, bought the trailer of her dreams, and took it back home to Martha’s Vineyard, where the renovations began. “It was a really big DIY project,” Leila said. “When I started, I knew how to use a drill, and that was pretty much it.” 

Thanks to YouTube videos and advice and assistance from friends and family, Leila became well-versed in the world of power tools and carpentry. Over the course of the year-and-a-half-long restoration, she built shelves for glassware, finished the inside with reclaimed cedar and mahogany detail, added a sink and coolers, installed an awning, and built a live edge slab of marble for the bar piece. She spray painted the outside a cream-colored matte finish, and voila. The Cocktail Caravan was born. Or reborn. She describes it as “a sweet little 1976 horse trailer living out its retirement dream.”

Leila officially launched the business in June, and has a few events lined up for the late summer and fall. “I love to help people celebrate,” she said. “Events are so, so fun.” Her ideal gigs are weddings, brunches, barbeques, dinners, and showers: “Anything, really,” she said. 

When it comes to the caravan drink menu, Leila said it’s rolling, and that she’s always playing with new ideas. “I like to use a lot of fresh ingredients. I love herbs in cocktails, and I use these really amazing sprays and elixirs,” she said. “I have a menu, but I’m definitely open to making custom cocktails for certain events.”

She also loves making non-alcoholic beverages, whether it’s mocktails for a party, or kale and ginger shots for a brunch.

Leila said she prefers to start each gig with a consultation “to learn a little bit about your event, and figure out what kinds of drinks you may like to serve.”

In Massachusetts, mobile liquor licensing is not allowed, so while the Cocktail Caravan does not supply alcohol, Leila said she works with clients to determine how much liquor and ice will be needed, and will coordinate delivery with a local liquor supplier. 

Leila said she always knew she wanted to start something on her own, “but just wasn’t sure what.”

“When this idea came about, it was just perfect. It’s small, it’s manageable, and it’s all about fun.”

For more information or to book a consultation, visit cocktailcaravanmv.com, or visit the Instagram page @thecocktailcaravanmv.