When Nick Medina and Corey Potts were in the telecommunications business, they traveled around the world, hitting speakeasies in their free time.
Two years ago, the pair opened the Prohibition-inspired bar The White Rabbit in Downtown Gilbert.
“About two years ago we went out to dinner and came down to Gilbert,” Potts says. “We were waiting in line to go someplace and Nick pulled out his phone, and we’ve had this building forever, and he said, ‘What do you think about carving 2,000 square feet and creating a speakeasy?’ I said, ‘Yep, let’s do it.’ We literally came up with the idea pretty much that night. It’s just a passion project.”
Speakeasies came into prominence during the Prohibition era. They were hidden and accessible only through a secret password. That appealed to Potts and Medina.
“We just really like the atmosphere and the ambience of a speakeasy just because it’s so different from anything here,” Medina says. “It’s not a country bar or a dive bar. It’s just a different feeling and ambience with a different energy when you walk into the speakeasy versus another type of bar, and that’s what attracted us to that type of bar.”
After offering a password, The White Rabbit guests are taken down a staircase and through a secret door. The door is covered in artifacts with an illuminated rabbit as the door handle. Potts says they refuse to dust the entrance, because real cobwebs add to the ambience.
“We don’t have crazy passwords,” Potts says.
“Most of our passwords are slogans or sayings from the 1920s,” Medina adds. “For example, the last one I believe is ‘whisper sister,’ which is basically the definition of a female proprietor of a speakeasy.”
Another previous password harked back to “Gone with the Wind”: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The owners thought it was appropriate for the environment.
In the 1920s to 1940s, speakeasies were named after animals to get around the Prohibition laws.
“What really appealed to us with a white rabbit is coming down the rabbit hole,” says Medina. “That whole experience of not necessarily ‘Alice in Wonderland’ but maybe Jefferson Airplane.”
The White Rabbit has a room dedicated to photographs of people from the 1920s to ’40s that were given to them by social media followers. Potts and Medina contributed photos of their grandparents to The White Rabbit.
Potts says a man in his late 60s came to The White Rabbit’s soft opening and quickly recognized a picture of a woman in a wedding dress.
“He goes, ‘I love this place. It is cool, because you see that picture there, I sent it to you. That’s my mom.’ It gives me goosebumps thinking about it,” Potts says. The gentleman pointed to another photo of the entire wedding party and told Potts his mother “would have loved this place.”
The owners say The White Rabbit wouldn’t have found success without its staff. They give bartenders and servers the space and environment to thrive.
“Our No. 1 cocktail we sell is bartender special,” Medina says. “Behind the bar they will ask you what you want your base to be and how do you want your drink. Do you want it fruity? Floral? Or vegetal? Then they go back and create everybody their own signature cocktail.
“It’s really about creating something special not only for our staff but the community.”
The White Rabbit will soon finish The Parlor Room and The Rabbit Hole, two new rooms in the establishment.
“The Parlor Room is for when we get a lot of requests to do buyouts here. Especially on Fridays and Saturdays, it is very difficult to do,” Potts says. “We have the additional square footage, so we’re actually building that out for people to do buyouts or overflow. It’s still going to have the same look, feel and experience of The Rabbit, but it’s dedicated for that purpose.”
The Parlor Room will include seating for up to 100 people but will only be open for 50% capacity along with the rest of The White Rabbit once it passes a health inspection and obtains a certificate of occupancy.
“We’re also building what’s called The Rabbit Hole, which is going to be our speakeasy within a speakeasy,” Potts says. “We’re still working with that one.”
The Rabbit Hole is a space for a private party with up to 18 people and with its own mixologist that will be open by reservation only Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
“We are going to schedule out the bartenders two to three weeks out in advance,” Potts says. “They are going to create their own menu, and everyone is going to know the experience that they are coming in for.”
The White Rabbit is open at half capacity, while following CDC guidelines such as social distancing, temperature checks and masks.
After shutting down twice during the pandemic, Potts and Medina are hopeful they are in the clear.
“It was difficult because we shut down and then we reopened and then we were told to shut down again,” Medina says. “It was difficult for us and for our employees to do that.
“Hopefully we won’t get shut down again—we’ll see. Fingers crossed. Everything has been going well so far.”
The White Rabbit marked its second anniversary in October. However, due to the pandemic occupancy restrictions, Potts and Medina did not celebrate.
“I wish we really could do something, but with COVID right now, it’s pretty difficult to do anything other than the 50% occupancy. Even the live music is kind of on hold right now,” Medina says. “We are hoping to—if we can’t do anything this year—once for sure COVID is over, we plan on doing quite a few different events.”
The White Rabbit, 207 N. Gilbert Road, Gilbert, 480.750.0099, twr.bar, thewhiterabbitbar on Facebook.