"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com – brought to you by Hornitos, OR-G, Party Armor, Red Stag, Absolut, Fireball and Malibu – is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
Kayla Koeune is leading an interesting life.
She bartends at the Hi Hat Garage, 1701 N. Arlington Place, The Stone, 2422 S. Howell Ave., Shemmy N Lemmy's Irish Rec Room, 1023 N. Old World 3rd St., and, occasionally, at The Standard, 1754 N. Franklin Place. But when she's not pouring beers or shaking martinis, she's serving as a sergeant in the National Guard or painting in her Bay View studio.
OnMilwaukee.com recently stopped by during happy hour at the Garage (half-off drinks, people!) and chatted with Koeune about swimming with elephants, making beer tab bracelets and world travel.
OnMilwaukee.com: When did you start bartending?
Kayla Koeune: I started when I was 16, helping my mom who was a bartender at the Lake Of the Woods in Wautoma, Wis. Later, I worked at the tiki bar there. It was my first real bartending job. I wore a white bikini. There were a lot of dirty old men.
OMC: When did you move to Milwaukee and why?
KK: I came here in 2003 to go to UWM. I got a degree in art history.
OMC: You are also in the military, right?
KK: Yes, I'm a seargent in the National Guard.
OMC: Were you deployed?
KK: Yes, I was in Iraq – Baghdad – from 2009-2010. Security mission.
OMC: How was that? High points? Low points?
KK: Well, I took my leave to Thailand and swam with elephants. I tell people I went on vacation with elephants. It was the coolest thing in the world. We rode them down to the river and then jumped off them, into the river.
Overall, it was an easy deployment. Everyone came back safe. I just volunteered to go to Afghanistan.
OMC: Really? Aren't you afraid of not coming back safely?
KK: Nah. I'm hoping this works out. If I get deployed one more time my mortgage gets paid off. If I stay in for 20 years the lifetime benefits are amazing. And they have gorgeous mountains in Afghanistan.
OMC: So as a sergeant do you get to order around dudes twice your size?
KK: Yeah. It's awesome.
Actually, truthfully, I don't do that too often. I have a really great team.
OMC: You must be in really good shape. How often do you work out?
KK: About five times a week. I'm doing a Gladiator Competition in March.
OMC: So, when you're not bartending or in the National Guard, you're painting?
KK: Yep, I have a studio in Bay View. I started out doing a lot of nudes, but now I'll do almost anything. Lately, I've been painting landscapes, seascapes, motorcycles. I have a show coming up in March at Rogue's Gallery (134 E. Water St).
OMC: You certainly have a lot of diverse interests.
KK: People say to me, "Dude, do you do everything?" I really like experiencing everything.
OMC: So you mentioned you grew up in a bar. What was that like?
KK: My mom worked at a place called the Silver Dollar. I used to make a fort out of bar stools and sit inside it with crayons and draw the drunks. I made a lot of bracelets out of those pull tabs that were on beer cans. There was a sand pit outside, and we would play out there and decorate sand castles with cigarette butts.
OMC: So what's your favorite drink to make?
KK: Dirty martinis. I like shaking martinis. It feels like working out.
OMC: What bars do you like to hang out in when you're not working?
KK: I bought a house in Bay View, and Tonic is two blocks from my house so I like to go there a lot. I also like Blackbird. Before I bought my house I went to Frank's Power Plant a lot.
OMC: So what do you think of Bay View?
KK: I like it. It's laid back.
OMC: Do you have a partner? Kids?
KK: I'm single. And I have a pit bull named Sam.
OMC: What's on your "bucket list" – you know, the things you still want to accomplish in life?
KK: I want to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. I was going to do it last spring, but I ran out of time, but I still really want to do it. I also want to travel on the Trans-Siberian railway.
There are only two states I have not been to: Hawaii and Alaska, and I'm going to Hawaii in three months.
I have had fun all over the world. I studied in Florence, Italy, went to Ireland, and so many places with the military. Dubai has the coolest airport in the world, and Middle East Airlines has an all-you-can-drink policy on their planes. No one in their culture drinks, but two soldiers from the United States could barely get off the plane. The flight attendant didn't know what to think, but we were like, "We're from Wisconsin, don't worry about it."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.