Mixing Things Up

T he CT Cocktail Car is like a magnet. Everyone who passes by on a recent afternoon feels compelled to ask owner Dave Blomberg a question. Did you build it yourself? Can you drive this thing? What model year is it?

The object of intrigue is a converted 1974 VW Transporter bus with the top propped up to display a chalkboard menu and a glossy wooden bar flipped open for service. Back in 2016, when Blomberg and his wife, Kyle, a nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital, were getting married, they envisioned something like this for a casual farm wedding. A search yielded nothing. They ended up with a beach wedding in St. Martin, but the idea of a cocktail car stuck, and Blomberg launched into a three-year project to learn about running a small business and retrofitting an old van for a new venture.

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The vision of a bar in a bus isn’t new. Blomberg had seen pictures from Thailand, where bus bars are a common sight in the Bangkok street scene. But figuring out how to make it look elegant and cool for a wedding or a corporate event was trickier than it seemed. He bought the best rust-free body he could find—a bus from Tennessee—and brought it north, then found a shop in Stratford to cut and weld the frame, creating the swing-up roof and swing-down bar top. Another body shop reinforced the side panels for strength once the cuts had been made, then Blomberg stripped and repainted it a color called “Orient blue.”

The bus also needed a new engine. The son and grandson of race car drivers, Blomberg installed a Porsche two-liter. Then there were special touches to make it work as a bar. Storage shelves were repurposed from an old sailboat, the rails that hold up the roof from “a tent that blew away.” Decorative strips of pine were pillaged from Blomberg’s home kitchen, and a friend built a beautiful serving surface of mixed hardwoods and pine.

Building the cocktails was the easy part for Blomberg, who had years of experience bartending in New York City and, more recently, at Ordinary in New Haven. He’s also worked as a consultant to bars looking to revamp their drink menus. For the Cocktail Car, he created several party packages, offering classics like whiskey sours, margaritas, daiquiris and vodka Collinses and newer concoctions like a lavender bubbly as well as wine and beer. But he’ll create whatever clients want, such as cocktails inspired by “the favorite foods of the bride’s father,” he says. For a couple who spent time in Vietnam, he brought in drinks with an Asian influence.

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Mixing unique drinks gives guests “one more thing to bond over on that special day,” he says. As if to prove the point, when he raises the bus roof for our interview, the blackboard on its underside reveals the recipe for the “Daily Nutmeg”—a sweet and playful take on an old-fashioned made with rye whiskey, crème de cacao, bitters and honey chai whipped cream with a bruléed grapefruit garnish and, of course, freshly grated nutmeg on top.

Stocked with two mini coolers, a mini bar sink, a glass washer, bar tools, glassware, compostable straws and other key ingredients (including, of course, the alcohol), the Cocktail Car did its first gig last October for a friend, Blomberg says. It wasn’t yet in running order and had to be towed in for the party, but this season the bus has been on the road, catering a dozen events—“pretty good for an inaugural year.” More are already on the books for next year. The cost is $50 per guest with a $1,500 minimum and discounts as groups get larger; Blomberg adds that he doesn’t like to say no, and he’ll “work with budgets to a certain extent.” There’s a nominal fee to travel outside New Haven County. Appetizers and snacks from local chef John Brennan’s catering business Shaken and Stirred are also available for an additional fee. Part of what you’re paying for is the conversation piece and one or two bartenders who, Blomberg says, are good at both mixing drinks and chatting with guests.

As for the most popular question he’s been asked—whether he can actually drive the Cocktail Car—the answer is yes. Like any caterer, he stows his ingredients and glassware and supplies. Then he folds up the sides and the roof and hits the road. The Porsche engine means the van can actually hit the speed limit on the highway. “It probably drives better than it would when it was new,” he says—although, like every old VW bus, it has its quirks. When I ask Blomberg to roll down the driver’s side window for a picture, he reaches for a Vise-Grip and locks it on the mechanism where the old handle broke off.

Everybody has a story about one of these iconic buses if they were born before a certain date, Blomberg says, recalling “this big, weird pill with wheels in the driveway” of his grandfather’s house. The Cocktail Car aims to become that story for a new generation of partygoers, or maybe just to jog the memory of an old story for those of us who were there in 1974.

CT Cocktail Car
(910) 229-8505 | dave@ctcocktailcar.com
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Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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