Blue Dome’s newest den
Rabbit Hole Bar and Grill offers local music and tasty food
Rabbit Hole Bar and Grill, 116 S. Elgin Ave.
In his eulogy for the beloved, defunct bar and music venue The Yeti, TTV contributor Damion Shade called it the kind of place “where drunk hippies, ex-emo kids, gauge-laden hipsters, and potheads created a music scene together.”
Ask other local music lovers around town, and you’ll hear a similar story. The Yeti provided Tulsa with a one-of-a-kind space for creativity, experimentation, and more than a little light-hearted debauchery. It was the sort of place where everyone felt at home. When the bar closed its doors in July of 2018, it seemed like a crucial piece of Tulsa’s contemporary musical identity—and a larger piece of its winning DIY spirit—was gone forever.
But Jonathan Robinson and Jeff Hague, two of the four partners behind The Yeti, couldn’t let that be the end of it. Last month, the ambitious music lovers opened a brand new concept, The Rabbit Hole Bar and Grill, to help fill the void that opened with the closing of that local institution.
Instead of bemoaning what was lost, they’re launching a new venue with an eye toward serving Tulsa’s local music community with the same welcoming spirit that made The Yeti a defining feature of the local scene.
And this one has food.
Rabbit Hole Bar and Grill (116 S. Elgin Ave.), nestled between The Max Retropub and Reds Bar in the Blue Dome District, opened in November and has already had several local shows. Now, in conjunction with Tulsa’s punk rock online merch store and booking company Boulevard Trash—another former venue—Rabbit Hole is bringing in Killer Hearts, a Houston-based punk band. Killer Hearts will join locals The Stiffies and Søaker on Saturday, Dec. 8.
Brandon Barger, lead guitarist for Killer Hearts, said this is the band’s fifth time to return to Tulsa. They played at the Fuck You We Rule OK! festival at the Vanguard and at Fur Shop in 2016 while they were on tour, which is where they met Tony Cozzaglio, who with his wife Michelle, founded FYWROK and Boulevard Trash, as well as Tulsa Punk Rock Flea Market and the Oddities & Curiosities Expo.
Barger said he and the band are glad to return to Tulsa. “We try to come through twice a year,” he said. “Tulsa’s really fun, and the scene is good. We’ve made a lot of friends and fans out there.”
Cozzaglio said he was excited for the chance to bring Killer Hearts to town in a place with familiar faces. “We always liked working with Jonathan, and it’s fun to continue with the same people we knew in a new place,” Cozzaglio said.
For Robinson, the new place is key to building something different than what they had at Yeti. Some of the staff is the same, and a lot of the patrons are too, but Robinson and Hague are looking to evolve. “We loved what we did at the Yeti, but we do want to grow and branch out. Hit some new audiences and make a more approachable space,” he said.
Mondays are piano nights at Rabbit Hole, featuring Chris Foster of The Grits. Wednesdays are for karaoke. Tuesdays are the nights to see a wide variety of local artists play. “[Comedian] Evan Hughes is booking for us—so he’s doing three different artists for a Tuesday night showcase,” Robinson said.
Rabbit Hole’s food also plays a pivotal role in the approachability of the new venue. “Jeff (Hague) has experience with food in a couple of his other locations [which include Marley’s Chicago Style Pizzeria and Crawpappy’s], and we found the White Flag space and fell in love with it,” Robinson said. “It already had a kitchen built out, so we figured why not.”
Hague and Robinson worked with chef Jacob Vaughan—known as Chef JV—to create the menu. “We just want approachable bar food that’s well done with quality ingredients,” Robinson said. Popular dishes so far include chicken fried chicken ($12), shells and cheese ($9.50), and the Tulsa cheese steak ($12).
That’s what I had for dinner Monday night: A concoction of sliced prime rib, sautéed onions and peppers, and their cheese sauce (made in house). The bun was soft and contrasted with the chewy prime rib. The sautéed vegetables were fresh and balanced the meat perfectly.
The flavors lingered in my mouth until I washed it down with a beer Robinson recommended for me: Rahr & Sons Paleta de Mango ($6). The beer was something he carried on tap at Yeti and continues to now at Rabbit Hole. The french fries are your fairly typical pub fries, but they were cooked to perfection.
I ordered the chicken fried chicken for my wife. She said the potatoes stood out with flavor from green onions and a texture that was delightful. The chicken is also served with “psychedelic carrots” which are different colors (it’s natural).
Be on the lookout for their cocktail menu, which they’re stirring up now. “One (cocktail) is called the Killer Bunny. It’s a carrot-based cocktail with vodka and carrot juice and a few other things in it,” Robinson said. “We’re making our own simple syrups in house.”
So far, things have been going well. Robinson said they already have a group of regulars that come in, and they’ve been at capacity every Friday night they’ve been open. They’ve been seeing some new faces—a crowd different than the Yeti’s. People that work in the restaurants and bars surrounding Rabbit Hole will drop by after their shift.
Robinson said he has a feeling their weekend crowds might be too big for food service inside the restaurant after 9 p.m. For that, he’s planning on putting in a walk-up window.
Above all, Robinson said he wants to keep the local music acts front and center. “I just really want to keep our focus on live music and live instrumentation. We’re going to do a couple of dance parties here and there … but most everything we have is going to be live instrumentation and local music.”
As for the space formerly occupied by The Yeti, rumors swirled that the location would itself turn into a restaurant shortly after the bar and venue closed. So far, that space between Cain’s Ballroom and Soundpony has remained empty.
Can The Rabbit Hole fill the void left behind in the wake of The Yeti’s closing? Most people will tell you that lightning doesn’t strike twice. But in a city with a hunger for local music—and chicken-fried chicken—it’s clear that this new venue, bar, and restaurant has the wind at its back and a healthy music scene at its disposal.
Killer Hearts w/ The Stiffies and Søaker
Sat., Dec. 8, 9 p.m.
The Rabbit Hole