WILMINGTON—Last year, bar owner Ashley Tipper came up with an idea to make the Blind Elephant’s cocktail program mobile. At her speakeasy, tucked in an alleyway on Front St., she kept hearing regulars say, “I wish I could get a drink like this at my house.”
So Tipper made it possible with the help of Blind Elephant’s manager, Cabell Bryan. The two are launching Vagabond Spirits this week.
The new project began last October when she found a 1970’s Shasta camper for sale in Pawleys Island, S.C., and committed to renovating it for her portable craft cocktail program. The mobile unit is booking public and private events, like weddings, bachelor or bachelorette parties, birthdays and showers.
“We were definitely hoping to have it ready by March 2020,” Tipper explained, “but have had a few setbacks.”
Covid-19 temporarily shuttered her 7-year-old brick-and-mortar on March 17. In September, when Governor Roy Cooper’s Phase 3 plans allowed bars to reopen at 30% capacity outdoors, Tipper decided to keep the Blind Elephant closed.
“We do not see a way to purchase tables and chairs for our alley, and serve a few customers craft cocktails in a plastic cup and still have the Blind Elephant experience,” she said.
The Blind Elephant once was welcoming upward of 600 people a week. 2020’s numbers have fallen sharply, equating a $60,000 loss in revenue.
“Not having any source of income for seven months has been debilitating and humbling, to say the least,” Tipper said.
Looking back on 2019, she confirmed the bar was in an upswing and had a surplus of funds. “I thought reinvesting in Blind Elephant and the reputation we’ve built was a safe bet,” she added.
As soon as she found the Shasta, she knew it had good bones, despite needing interior restoration. Though Tipper had experience in renovating her bar, doing so with a camper was beyond her skillset, so she hired Cape Fear Custom RV’s to remodel it.
Now that it’s ready to roll, Vagabond Spirits will head to a mimosa party, tailgating event, whiskey tasting and neighborhood block party in coming weeks. “Nothing fancy, just smaller, socially distanced, backyard gatherings,” Tipper said.
The menu has various price points and packages, depending on how many people will be served and for how long, not to mention location and level of service. Customers can choose wine and beer, craft cocktails and mocktails, or a combination of all.
“For private events, we will work with the client to provide a custom drink menu we can workshop at the Blind Elephant,” Tipper said. “For public events, we will most likely be bringing our signature ‘Mules on Tap.’”
Blind Elephant’s variety of mules include the traditional Moscow (vodka), Kentucky (whiskey) and Border (tequila). “The fresh-squeezed lime juice and grated ginger make them stand out,” Tipper said.
Basic Vagabond packages begin at $250, and include setup, breakdown, mixers, ice and cups. Tipper also includes homemade syrups, tinctures and bitters, and staffs each event with Blind Elephant mixologists.
“We will eventually start transitioning into mobile bars that are more pop-up, if the event cannot accommodate our camper,” Tipper noted. “We’re very adaptable, as you have to be during these times.”
Tipper also plans to switch up drink menus, depending on the event and according to the season. This time of year she usually showcases warmer flavors, like pears, anise and cinnamon.
“For one of our events, we are offering a fall sangria, with honey crisp, apples, lemon, pear cider and brandy,” Tipper explained. “We are just so excited to start working again.”