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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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In Milwaukee Buzz

The party pontoon in full swing this summer.

In Milwaukee Buzz

The pontoon takes a rest from partying.

In Milwaukee Buzz

The pontoon at night.

In Milwaukee Buzz

An aerial view.

Have you seen Milwaukee's "party pontoon?"


Anyone who spends time on or near the Downtown waterways might have caught a glimpse of Milwaukee's "party pontoon." Or they might have heard it.

The lively boat is owned by friends Joe Kuntz, Mike Pias, Kevin Bergmann and Ryan Gibson, all in their late 20s or 30s.

Kuntz co-owns the Loaded Slate, 1137 N. Old World 3rd St., and became friends with the others who are regular customers. The guys decided to look into buying a boat, and found a weathered, '67 pontoon on Craigslist. They bought it for $2,000.

"We picked it up, put a sound system on it and made a little party barge to go from A to B," says Kuntz. "And that was our summer."

The pontoon is docked at Hanson Landing Condos, 541 E. Erie St., where two of the guys live. They take the boat out about two or three times a week to, primarily, The Harp, The Twisted Fisherman and Barnacle Bud's.

Along with the sound system, the guys decked out the pontoon with a La-Z-Boy chair, a leather couch, a desk chair and margarita tappers. They can have up to 15 people on board.

"It's pretty amazing. We roll around on this piece of crap all the time, just bumping down the river," says Kuntz. "Yachts pull up to us all the time and love it. They say, 'How did you put this together?' But you really don't need a yacht in Milwaukee. Just something to float you down the river."

The pontoon also goes by the names The Dorm, Pon-tang and Stubble Steez (according to the Urban Dictionary, "steez" denotes "style with ease").

The guys have been stopped by the Coast Guard, but have never been issued a ticket. One time, there were a number of attractive females dancing on the boat, and the police followed the barge from The Horny Goat to The Harp.

Then they pulled them over.

"We're in check with all the codes. We're not breaking any laws. So the police were like, 'Thanks for the show!' And that was it," says Kuntz.

The pontoon must have enough life jackets for all of its passengers, a working fire extinguisher and a sober, licensed driver at all times.

This winter, the boat owners all plan to chip in some money and build a new deck, railing and built-in coolers.

"We're gonna make it a real party deck," says Kuntz.

Has anyone ever fallen in the river?

"No, but Bentley (Kuntz's white boxer) jumped in after a duck," he says.

Bentley also often wears sunglasses while on the pontoon.

"He's my son. I've had him since he was three months old," says Kuntz. "We are going to start training in the next couple of months so he can go to hospitals and visit kids with cancer."

So have they ever seen anything strange, gross or suspicious floating down the river?

"Well, I've never seen a body," says Kuntz. "But I'm always looking. It's always in the back of your mind."

Kat Froehlich's family has a boat they dock a couple of slips away from the party pontoon and she has enjoyed watching the watercraft evolve this summer.

"Every boat in this docking area is super expensive, and then there's this little beast," says Froehlich, a radio personality on 88Nine. "My mom and I have been encouraging them to add a writing desk, a big old-school '90s computer and an exercise bike – the type with the fan in the front wheel."

Froehlich says when the boat first appeared, condo residents weren't happy about it, but they came around.

"I would hear the complaints on how they really need to turn that music down and how it wasn't that kind of neighborhood," says Froehlich. "But now everyone's into it and the laughs keep coming."

Last week, Froehlich observed the pontoon having engine troubles.

"Of course, they fixed it themselves and had it back up and running in no time," she says. "While the dog with glasses waited patiently on the dock."

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