A visit from the very finest

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Siesta Key tourists, residents line Midnight Pass Road as the Budweiser Clydesdales go on parade alongside Captain Curt’s

By Ned Steele

Forget the USA’s No.1 beach. Forget the tiki bars. When the Budweiser Clydesdale horses come to Siesta Key, they’re the town’s top attraction for a few crazy hours.

That’s what happened back in February, when the famed show horses paid their first visit of the decade here (they last came in 2017). An estimated crowd of 4,000 turned out for a glimpse of them outside Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar, overwhelming all attempts at crowd control and spilling out in all directions until control was barely possible.

“It was really cool.” Brett Stewart, co-owner of Captain Curt’s said later.

It was more than cool, he added on further reflection:

“It was really exciting. It was chaotic. I didn’t expect a crowd this big. It took me by surprise.”

This would be what happens when eight beautiful show horses, the celebrity stars of past Super Bowl commercials, appear on the main drag of a beach town in high season.

Above all, it was fun.

How Anheuser-Busch selects promotional venues for its Clydesdales is somewhat of a mystery. “They just contacted us pretty much out of nowhere,” Stewart said, about a month before the appearance. “We were happy to do it.”

The rationale, though, was quickly explained to him: Captain Curt’s was being honored by the beer company for having poured one million cases of Anheuser-Busch products throughout the 30 years Stewart’s family has owned the restaurant and adjoining tiki bar.

“I said we were honored and we would do it,” Stewart recalled. “We are loyal to the distributors. They’re local here in Sarasota, while everyone else is from Tampa.”

What the eatery didn’t fully appreciate initially was exactly what doing it would entail. “We had a little spot blocked off at first,” Stewart explained.

Actually, a big spot, covering the entire area around the Captain Curt’s complex, was what was needed, and all the bar’s managers were quickly pressed into action as crowd control and traffic agents. Even some customers helped out.

The eight horses and their hitch, complete with dalmatian accompanying the drivers, made its way gracefully down Midnight Pass Road for a few hundred yards as everyone in the crowd ooh-ed, aah-ed, and snapped photos. In not much more than a half hour, it was all over.

And amazingly, there was no mess left behind. A typical Clydesdale consumes 50 to 60 pounds of hay a day, plus 20 to 25 quarts of grain. That leads to the inevitable.

But experts they are, the Anheuser-Busch folks included a cleanup golf cart in the entourage, and it did its job. Midnight Pass Road, the parking lots and adjacent areas were left clean and pristine as the Clydesdales departed.

“Very professional,” Stewart said.

The Budweiser Clydesdales date back to 1933, when the company first trotted them out to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition. They have since become an institution, their distinctive white and brown (or “bay”) marking and four furry “stocking” feet delighting generations of young and old. Super Bowl commercials started in 1986, and have become a regular.

There are three traveling teams of the horses, always accompanied by the red, white and gold beer wagon. Each team, and its equipment is transported in three 50-foot tractor-trailers (whose size made the squeeze onto Midnight Pass Road and its environs an interesting sight in itself.) The hitch of eight horses plus wagon weighs in at 12 tons.

The horses themselves are all at least 6 feet tall at the shoulder, weighing between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds, and must have the signature coloring patterns of a Clydesdale. They are all geldings at least 4 years old.

They drink 30 gallons of water a day. No beer.

Ned Steele
Author: Ned Steele

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