Review by Scott Cherry Photos by Ian Maule
Jonathan Robinson had worked his way up from bartender to part owner of The Yeti, a popular bar and music venue near Cain’s Ballroom. He said he and another co-owner, Jeff Hague, were in the process of buying out the other partners when they were blind-sided by some bad news.
“We were just waiting to get the lease extension when we were told the lease wasn’t going to be extended,” Robinson said recently. “It came out of the blue, and all of a sudden, we had to figure out what to do.
“Jeff and I started looking around for a bar, and we ran across this place. I didn’t want food initially, but this place had a full kitchen, and we loved the space, so it made sense to add food.”
So it was that Robinson and Hague opened Rabbit Hole Bar & Grill, a restaurant, bar and music venue, last November.
The space in the Blue Dome District originally housed Back Alley Blues & BBQ, which opened in 2011. It morphed into White Flag in 2013 and had a bumpy ride under a couple of ownerships until it closed in September 2017.
“We saw it soon after the ‘For Lease’ sign went up, and it turned out the listing agent had been a regular at The Yeti,” Robinson said.
“It looked like someone had tried to do something with the space. It was all purple, green and gold, like a Mardi Gras throw-up.”
Jason Kendrick Vaughan, better known in cooking circles as Chef J.V., was asked to develop the menu and sign on as executive chef.
Vaughan was a longtime personal chef and caterer and among his clients were traveling bands when they came through Tulsa.
“I was a regular at The Yeti,” Vaughan said. “I was looking to do something else, and the owners said they had something coming up soon I might be interested in. I’m glad they did. It’s the first place I have felt really at home in a long time.”
Vaughan said he wanted to offer an approachable menu with personal touches that lifted the food above typical pub fare.
We went by recently for a late dinner, and that is pretty spot-on based on our visit.
I had been told the chicken-fried chicken ($12) has been the biggest seller, so I went with that. It featured an 8-ounce chicken breast, which is sizable, that had been cut in half, breaded and fried to a golden finish. I ended up taking one piece home for lunch the next day.
The chicken was served with garlic mashed potatoes and “psychedelic” carrots. The potatoes were covered in house-made brown gravy and sprinkled with chopped green onion. The multicolored roasted, glazed carrots were one of the tastiest sides we have had in a while.
Shrimp and chips ($12) included 10 medium-size shrimp that had been lightly battered and fried. We substituted a side salad ($2) for the fries, and that was a good choice. The fresh salad had spinach, lettuces, two cheeses, purple cabbage and tomato, and came with a pleasing, house-made ranch dressing.
Another popular entrée has been the cheesesteak sandwich ($12). The price reflects the generous mound of sliced prime rib to go with sautéed onions, peppers and mushrooms, topped with house-made cheese sauce and served on a toasted roll. It was delicious.
Cheese lovers should like the shells and cheese ($9.50). Rabbit Hole’s version of mac and cheese features a boat-sized serving of pasta shells mixed with a blend of cheddar, Monterey Jack and Muenster cheeses, topped with bacon bits.
Rabbit Hole has a variety of bar-style, mostly fried appetizers, a couple of salads and a few burgers, including a black bean burger and one called Angry Rabbit that includes cream cheese and jalapenos.
Lunch is served only on weekdays for now. A weekend brunch will be added soon, and a sidewalk window for late-night customers is expected to be added in the spring.
Robinson was doing double duty as bartender and server when we were there, and he was as smooth as a jazz clarinet player. He made a killer cocktail for my wife, and he suggested I try a porter from Stonecloud Brewing out of Oklahoma City. The brew was perfect for the food and the night.
Rabbit Hole has the same footprint as its predecessors. It has a back patio and back alley entrance. One has to walk a long, narrow hallway to the dining room from the Elgin Avenue entrance, hence the Rabbit Hole name.
A white strobe light reflected off posters of famous musicians when they played Tulsa — The Rolling Stones in ’72, Bob Dylan in 2009, Widespread Panic in 2000 and Frank Zappa, no date but he was playing at the “Old Lady on Brady.”
A relic from The Yeti, a marquee showing the names of the night’s performers topped by a red arrow, hangs on one wall.
“We will have music almost every night and full bands on the weekends,” Robinson said. “It is all types of music, very eclectic. You can check our Facebook to see who is performing.”