Legend has it, that back east during the early years of the Prohibition Era, a Dr. O’Hare concocted a plan to open an apothecary, with various tonics, potions and the like to treat what ailed folks at that time. The true purpose of Dr. O’Hare’s shop wasn’t to sell those elixirs, however, but to hawk illicit alcohol. A secret passage and doorway would lead people into a hidden room, called a speakeasy, where guests could enjoy a drink and revel in the feeling of being with fellow lawbreakers.
It is that legend that Nick Medina and his business partner Corey Potts are trying to recreate with their new speakeasy-style bar in downtown Gilbert called The White Rabbit.
“My business partner and I, we’ve traveled the world and have been to London, to New York City, Chicago and we have found that there are just a lot of cool concepts out there that just weren’t as prevalent in Arizona, so we wanted to bring elements of our favorite bars all over the world to this location in Gilbert,” said Medina. “I think the downtown Gilbert area and the East Valley, in general, has been starving for a concept like this.”
The wait for The White Rabbit to appear ended with its opening on Sunday, Sept. 30. During the week leading up to the official opening, The White Rabbit invited those who signed up for their e-mail list to come in for soft opening nights. Over 4 days, the staff served drinks and food to close to 1,000 people.
“We have close to 3,000 on our e-mail list that have registered with us,” Medina said. “We had close to 1,000 spots that were open and they got filled up pretty quickly once we sent that news out.
“The soft openings were all about practicing and consistency. We are getting the bartenders comfortable with the drinks and the kitchen comfortable with the food and just getting ready so when we open our doors we want to make sure that the quality of the food and the drinks is what everyone is expecting.”
To enter The White Rabbit, one needs to first know where the entrance is. To find the stairs that lead down to the bar, go to the Heritage Court Building on the corner of Gilbert Road and Cullumber Ave. Walk along the south side of the building facing Cullumber and you’ll find a staircase with a red light illuminated and a sentry posted at the top of the steps. To be allowed down the stairs, you must first know the password.
“We’re encouraging people who really want to get their foot in the door to sign up on our website at twr.bar,” Medina said. “From there, we’ll be sending out passwords and hints for things going on.”
Once you are down the stairs, you’ll enter a narrow hallway lined with items sold by an apothecary. There are no clear markings of where the door is, but feel around, pull carefully on the right item and you’ll enter a modern take on the classic speakeasy.
The White Rabbit has an elegant look to it, with chandeliers overhead, leather and velvet furniture, and artwork that fits the period the place is trying to emulate. In one of the seating areas, the walls are lined with framed photos of people that may look familiar to some when they visit. Medina asked patrons to send in old family photos to use to fill the walls and the people responded in kind with more than 100 photos depicting life in the first half of the 1900s.
“We wanted to make it a place to go and relax, to go and have a cocktail or two, either on a date or with a group of friends,” Medina said. “A lot of the New York-type city bars, you see the elegance, the opulence of the 1920s with some of the original paintings and wallpaper and things like that. It just creates an ambiance that’s different.”
While the look is eye-catching, Medina knows that it’s the drinks that need to stand out in a booming nightlife scene in Gilbert. The downtown area has seen a boom of bars and restaurants in the last five years, with large-scale places like Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, Postino East, OHSO Brewery and the Brass Tap drawing big crowds to the once-sleepy downtown. Medina’s hope for The White Rabbit is to be a spot removed from the large crowds that offers patrons a chance to enjoy a fine drink in a setting that is unique.
“We’re the place to go before or after dinner, or perhaps in lieu of dinner since we have a pretty well put-together small bites menu,” Medina said. “It’s just a different atmosphere than you get at other bar locations.”
The White Rabbit’s normal business hours will be 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.