Close your eyes, (uh…actually, that might be a bit of a problem. Okay, let’s keep reading and imagine that you have your eyes closed) now picture the tall pines, up on the rim, a cool evening, the sky full of stars and a camp fire crackling away. The warmth of the fire, the smell of smoke in the air – err, wait a minute, where are we going with this? I’ll explain in a bit, hold that thought.
Gilbert is not the only one celebrating a birthday this year. On January 17, 1920, the Volstead Act made it illegal to manufacture, import, sell, and transport alcohol throughout the United States. While it was not illegal to consume the alcohol, obtaining it became a problem. Until its repeal in December of 1933, the only way to obtain alcohol legally was to have a prescription from your family doctor as alcohol was still being used for therapeutic purposes. Sounds familiar?
Pretty soon, your local apothecary was the only commerce legally allowed to purchase and distribute alcohol. In New York, the number of registrations to become pharmacist nearly tripled during this period. Needless to say, in many of these establishments not everyone needed to present a prescription. Of course, you had to know someone who knew someone and, even then, you had to “speak easy” as to not attract attention while discussing the location or “speak softly”, once inside, in order not alert the police or the neighbors.
Some pharmacies became elaborate front for small discrete venues accessed through back doors, secret doors, down a flight of stairs or up on another floor. Secrecy and security were paramount, lookout at the door would alert the barkeeper using light signals or buzzer if Bureau of Prohibition agents were about. The same sense of secrecy is well captured at the White Rabbit
Starting a new venture always carries risks. “It took courage and vision to open the Rabbit back in October of 2018,” mentions Fernando Zelaya, the lead bartender and social media director of the White Rabbit. “Gilbert is not known for its cocktail culture.”
This Saturday, the Rabbit is following all state and federal regulations. This is the second weekend since they re-opened. The place is cool, dark, and well ventilated. Following current guidelines, patrons are at least 4-6 feet apart and the entire staff are wearing masks. Even under quarantine, the place is busy. There are two bartenders at the bar, each assisted by a barback.
Good bartenders can mix the classics or your favorite drink and make it look easy. A better bartender can do so, make recommendations and help you discover new amazing drinks. The best will not only help guide you along but will introduce you to their own creations.
Remember the tall pines and the campfire under a stary night? This is where we pick our story back up.
After settling down at the bar and getting acquainted with Fernando, my bartender for the evening, I decide to try one of the signature cocktails - “The Brat in Stilettos”. Cool after the Arizona heat, the citrussy accents from the Nectarine Infused Pisco and the Giffard Pamplemousses take me by surprise. Nice lingering taste from the Rhum JM, Dolin Vermouth and bitters. A bit sweet but definitely refreshing. Good start! Let’s see how well they handle something not on the menu
The Sazerac is one of the first cocktail recipe published in print form. An improvement over the more simple “Old Fashioned”, its origin date back to the 1800s but became trademarked around the turn of the century. A simple recipe, sugar (cube if you are a purist, syrup works fine), a few dashes of Peychaud bitters, your favorite Rye Whiskey and a lemon peel for the zest and presentation. Prepared in one glass, it is server in chilled rocks glass rinsed with Absinthe. A classic and one of my favorites…
While Fernando prepares my order, Megan – his barback and bartender in training – is busy re-stocking, checking in with the patrons and following Fernando’s every movement.
Not knowing what to order next, I let Fernando surprise me. They pull all the stops. The final drink is Fernando’s award-winning creation – The Shadow Train. Served in a rocks glass covered with a table napkin, the top of the glass is filled with smoke. As I remove the napkin, the smell of wood fire surrounds me. The deep sherry flavor and bitters are amazing.
Psst…rumor has it that the Rabbit family is growing. But you did not hear it from me.
The White Rabbit – Happy Hours 5-6PM – twr.com