For Lance Davis and Graham McKissock of Hive, taking the party on the road is all in day’s work.
Professional event planners engage in their own kind of arms race. When creating a wedding or a fundraising gala, clients will eventually want – or outright demand – something for the party that no host has ever done before. There is a perpetual hunt for the next cool cuisine, entertainer, event space or decor idea. Along with the rise in popularity of craft cocktails, it seems the most highbrow of events now must have a signature drink or at least a bar staff that knows a Sazerac cocktail and a list of Manhattan variations.
But what about the bar itself? When it comes to impressing guests with a unique cocktail delivery system, the gentlemen behind Hive of Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, have a corner on the market. Hive boasts two completely refurbished vintage Airstream trailers designed and tricked out to make the experience of getting your cocktail from the bartender as memorable as what’s in the glass. Lance Davis and Graham McKissock conceived of Hive right at the cusp of the current rage of food trucks being firmly planted on the culinary radar – each bringing some of their professional background into the mix of the business development.
Davis, a Jackson, New Hampshire native with an art background and a self-described “design brain,” developed a passion for the service industry early in his life eventually ending up in Boston where he worked in all aspects of the wine distribution business from retail to restaurants. McKissock is a woodworker, general contractor and a serious foodie with roots in Westwood, Massachusetts. With their common passion for food and drink, the two began to toss around the idea of a mobile cocktail catering business.
“It had never been done. In the early days we had to deal with a lot of government regulations as there had never been a cocktail or beer truck. But we knew this would take it to the next level,” says Davis.
They both have an affinity for the Airstream’s classic Americana and began to look for one they renovate, finding a 1983, 32’ model in the back woods of Maine in 2012. Davis came to the project with some experience with the process. He and his wife had the opportunity to acquire one – a 25’ 1973 model that was being renovated by a friends father. They gutted that Airstream a few years earlier and turned it into a personal boutique hotel room on wheels for them to enjoy on their vacations.
The two began a process that of refurbishing that took a bit longer than a year while facing a number of challenges in taking a modern icon of American industrial design and transforming it into “the coolest urban bar you’ve ever stepped into.” Not only did the design need to be on point, but the layout needed to be able to accommodate serving drinks to up to 500 people. One particular element that set the path for the final design are the spaced wood slats that run along the walls and ceiling.
“Those are old cedar clapboards off a house – probably from Maine, ” said McKissock. “We did our best to handcraft everything inside. We didn’t want to go out and just buy stuff.”
Some of the final design elements are the result of trial and error, Davis describes months spent building something only to rip it out because it didn’t quite work. Others were more nerve-wracking – like cutting a bar service window right into the side of the trailer.
What they have achieved is a real stand out. The genius of their final product is that they managed to build upon and complement the industrial design that makes the Airstream such a beloved icon of modernists. The inside of the trailers feature a strong design concept that is incredibly of-the-moment, mixing an Instagram-ready palette of cedar wood, blackboards and other handmade wood touches. In contrast to the shiny ‘silver bullet’ exterior– a perfect backdrop for a million party selfies– the interior’s rich woods highlight the trailer’s curves. Opposite the bar, walls are lined with comfortable couches.
For Hive success has come quickly, boosted by word-of-mouth and some early media attention after their first event, McKissock’s wedding (which required a rush finishing job on the original Airstream). Since then, Davis’s own personal trailer has been pressed into service adding a second trailer to their inventory as their event planning business grew to include numerous weddings, corporate events and – most recently – the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. While they mostly work on events located in New England, their mobility (the ability to just hitch it up and drive) means they can work just about anywhere they can drive to.
As Hive has organically grown over the last five years, it has become more than just a shiny rolling bar but a full event planning service that includes the option of renting fifteen ‘glamping’ tents (beds included) to extend your evening of merriment until the next morning or over a whole weekend. Their team of exceptionally skilled bartenders draws on some of the greatest talent behind bars in the region and develops the inventive, evolving cocktail program they offer to clients. Through their Boston-area restaurant ties they work with numerous local distillers including GrandTen, Bully Boy, Privateer Rum and Berkshire Mountain Distillers and regional craft brewers like Trillium, Notch, Night Shift Brewing & Cambridge Brewery Co.
“We try to stay as local as possible with our spirit and beer choices,” says Davis. “We want to support local businesses that have a great product.”
“We rarely serve a beer that isn’t made within 100 miles of Boston,” adds McKissock.
When asked about what makes his a true New England company, Davis added, “We’re really proud of Hive and developing it. Often you hear the coolest new thing is coming out of California–never Boston. When we developed Hive we were one of the first–and we’re from New England. There are copycats now but we established the ground rules and we’re really proud.”
Betting that Wally Byam, builder of the first Airstream, would be too.