Tag Archives: Wicked Rabbit

Local Speak-Easies Harken to Olden Days

March 4, 2018 by
Photography by Doug Meigs and Provided

As hard as it is to believe now, a small group of extremists once managed to take over the United States government. Their goal was simple: make everyone stop drinking liquor. Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933, and during that time, no American who really wanted a drink went without one. For example, Benson resident Katherine Warner was arrested in 1922 while storing large amounts of homemade gin and whiskey for local consumption, as well as counterfeit labels. In many cases, people just paid a little more—and made a lot of criminals wealthy. One of the more memorable ways to have a night out was to go to a technically illegal nightclub known as a speak-easy. Omaha had a few “speaks,” most notably the third floor of King Fong’s, but the romanticized ideal was barely necessary. Ask any Omaha bellboy or cabbie where to get booze, and they would set you right in short order. Today, speak-easies make for a nice theme. But the legal context is vastly different. (Joslyn Castle even has a sold-out speak-easy series running from January through April on the third Thursday of every month.) Here are a few bars and clubs fitting a loose contemporary definition of “speak-easies.”

Wicked Rabbit
1508 Harney St.
Facebook: @thewickedrabbit

Frequently referred to as one of Omaha’s hidden gems, Wicked Rabbit is the archetypical, modern speak-easy and was dubbed “Omaha’s intimate speak-easy” by the Omaha Visitors Center. They serve creative, delicious Prohibition-era cocktails with a speak-easy feel and a semi-secret entrance. Just go through the Looking Glass Cigars & Spirits, tell the clerk the secret passphrase, and you’re in. Check out their Facebook page for details because they have no website.

Osteria Segreto
3910 Farnam St., Suite B

Osteria Segreto means “secret tavern” and that’s a great description for a bar “hidden” beneath Blackstone Social where one can ask for directions to the basement entrance. Be sure to also ask what the secret knock is. The Osteria Segreto website is notably lacking information. Good luck making a reservation as no telephone number is listed. It’s romantically lit, as discreetly located as any Blackstone District business can be, and it positively oozes quality.

The Mineshaft
1715 Leavenworth St.
Facebook: @omahaminingcompany

If you don’t know the Mineshaft, you are not alone. The Mineshaft is located in the basement of The Omaha Mining Co. behind a locked door. It is the bar’s sanctum sanctorum and not for everyday use. The Mineshaft is a special events/party room today, but in the past, when alcohol was not the only thing served on the down-low, places like this allowed gay men a room of their own and a quick escape out the back when raided. The Mineshaft has an air of mystique. It resembles nothing so much as a ’60s-era rumpus room decorated with homoerotic art perfect for gear night, club meetings, socials, or just hanging with the fellas.

6109 Maple St.
Facebook: @kaiteibenson

There is charm in discovering something off the beaten path. Located in the basement of Ika Ramen in Benson is an izakaya called Kaitei. An izakaya is a small, casual, signage-averse, Japanese-style pub. It is entirely possible to eat at Ika and never realize there is a bar in the basement behind a nondescript door in the dining room. Kaitei is always in flux and embraces the risqué, according to owner Alex Diimig. Diimig says he is not fond of the term “speak-easy,” but he does like the semi-secrecy and sense of adventure Kaitei evokes. It’s not off limits, just not advertised. It is far enough off the road most taken to add a sense of mystery to your evening. Weird people welcome.

Down Under Lounge
3530 Leavenworth St.

Down Under Lounge recently moved from its location near 38th and Leavenworth streets. Its basement speak-easy is equipped with a grand piano and a door to nowhere. It also brings a bit of history in the form of half the bar from the old location. Yes, it was cut in half from the old Down Under Lounge, and now resides in its new underground home. This speak-softly lounge is currently open for special occasions, shows, and their DU fondue parties.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Bold and Bonded

January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Don’t call them a power couple, but Ethan and Susan Bondelid definitely fit the mold.

Through their development company, Maven Social, the Bondelids have built an impressive brand by starting up some truly creative businesses that run the gamut from hair salons to speak-easies. Their most recent startup is Monarch Prime & Bar, an upscale restaurant located inside
Hotel Deco.

“I’ve been opening businesses as long as I can remember,” Ethan says. “I’ve only been in the bar and restaurant business for seven years now.”

Despite being a newbie, Ethan and company (along with Susan, he’s had several partners) have made a big noise in Omaha’s fast-moving and thriving hospitality industry.

House of Loom was one early success, followed by The Berry & Rye. Maven Social then began the salon Victor Victoria, before opening speak-easy Wicked Rabbit, pizza parlor Via Farina, Laka Lono Rum Club, and now Monarch.

“Ethan has been an entrepreneur since the day I met him when we were only 20 years old,” Susan says. “His ambition and proactive nature have been inspirations for me since day one.”

A fierce attention to detail has been another key to success. Maven properties are uniquely designed and incredibly decorated down to finest minutiae, such as the rabbit coat hooks at Wicked Rabbit.

“We are about creating unique experiences,” Susan says. “Life is hard. We want places for people to go to take a breather and relax, maybe get inspired, and then take on their next day with new energy.”

Vital to creating those experiences is finding the right employees to help pull it off. “I think the No. 1 challenge facing new business today is talent. And taxes,” Susan says.

Why is Omaha such a good investment for new business?

“For us, Omaha has always been incredibly supportive of people trying to do something, both in the arts and in business,” Ethan says. “Omaha also makes it easier to get started. Resources needed can be more accessible, and the level to entry is lower than in some markets.”

It doesn’t hurt, Susan adds, that Omaha’s her hometown. “We love the people and the spirit,” she says. “We’re in the midst of a major growth and it’s super exciting. We’re right at the beginning of our potential, and everyone here has the opportunity to shape the city.”

Operating a thriving business and being a couple does have advantages, but it takes commitment. “You have to know when—and always remind each other—to turn it off and switch gears for family time,” Ethan says. The Bondelids have two children, Cai and Ava. “We need to also be conscious of how it can be difficult for other team members to navigate a husband-and-wife management.”

Susan says it helps that they share a basic foundation of support. “And we have each other’s backs,” she says.

What advice would the Bondelids give to first-time business owners?

“It depends on the business type of course, but ultimately it will always come down to the teams you surround yourself with,” Ethan says.

Susan urges new business owners to seek out other business owners and ask questions. “There’s a great support network in Omaha to utilize, and we’re all hoping for the best for each other,” she says. “The more unique, successful businesses, the more we look attractive to the nation as a whole and the more we’ll grow. Also, get your important people in place, such as lawyers, accountants, insurance agents. They’ll help your business in more ways than one.”

Ethan refuses to pick his favorite startup. “That would be like picking a favorite band,” he says. “They all have their share of victories and heartaches.”

“House of Loom is and will always be my favorite,” Susan says. “It was my first business baby and we all poured our hearts into it, from the Victorian furniture to the menu to the unique music/cultural programming. Ethan and I learned the service industry firsthand from paperwork to barbacking to bartending. We learned the difference of using fresh ingredients in cocktails and really strived to make all peoples heard and known. We had an amazing family there. Also, it was a…ton of fun.”

Visit mavensocialgroup.com for more information.

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Ben Rowe

June 10, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Benjamin Rowe creates cocktails that, quite frankly, say, “drink me.”  They are magical, but they won’t make you smaller. The magic comes from the fact that they are crafted with a lot of thought and care.

“I couldn’t quite decide what I wanted to do for a living,” Rowe says of starting as a career bartender. “Bartending was something I had always done on the side.”

Rowe has worked in the bar industry for more than 10 years, and through that time he’s seen several changes.

“It’s only been in the past few years that you have been able to see bartending as  a career. It’s not just about slinging drinks anymore. It’s about being professional. I think it’s good for the industry to have someone in it for 20 years and impart that knowledge on to others.”


He’s worked in several places, but came to the forefront of the bartending profession with an opportunity to work at the Dell in 2006, which, he says, had the best bartenders in the city then.

“It was a great opportunity to learn from who were at the time the masters of bartending,” Rowe says.

After learning from the best in Omaha, Rowe eventually wound his way to a bar that became synonymous with craft bartending and themed parties—the House of Loom.  The new wave of craft bartending reinvigorated Rowe for the profession.

“For me it really was the culture of The Loom that did it,” Rowe says. “From the beginning the motto at the Loom was ‘we care.’ We care about the customer experience, we care about the music that’s playing, we care about the cocktails that go across the bar.”

That care began to show in the passion he gained for the profession. He began wanting to know more about the spirits, about the ingredients. The House of Loom focused on a seasonal menu that encouraged people to try new drinks every quarter.

“For us it was more important to have you try a new drink. We put a lot of time and effort, and money, to develop these cocktails,” Rowe said. “They are still making great interesting seasonal cocktails.”

These days, Rowe can be found behind the bar at the Wicked Rabbit, a speakeasy near Hotel Deco serving a wide selection of pre-prohibition style drinks.

“Wicked Rabbit is a different animal,” Rowe says. “We find it is very much about the cocktails. It’s very much about the quality of the cocktails, right down to the glassware we choose to serve it in.”

While customers can, and are encouraged to, try a new cocktail, they can also serve the standards.

“A lot of this bar is about suspension of disbelief,” Rowe said. “You don’t go and watch Schindler’s List and then read it and expect the same thing out of it. Just to get into the bar you have to walk into a store, and then you have to walk through the shelf. That sets the tone for the bar. The rest of the experience should take you down that path. That being said, we don’t want to tell someone who has been drinking whisky and Cokes for 20 years that we can’t serve it.”

That attitude of serving what guests want was especially helpful when they first opened.

“We are technically a hotel bar,” Rowe said. “We get a very eclectic mix here. I appreciate that. The first week we were open there was a convention here that had something to do with farming. So they came in and looked around, and at first they thought they were a little out of place. But you put a whisky in front of them, and you chat with them, and soon they had a great time.”

But it’s the specialty cocktails that keep patrons coming back, and Rowe continues to create new specialty cocktails.

“As I progress, I want to push the boundaries of what is a great cocktail…At the end of the day, it’s liquid in a cup. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of some of those bars that give out the best liquids in some of the best cups in the city.”

Whether someone wants to drink their standard cocktail or to try something new, Rowe’s commitment to caring about cocktails means he wants every patron to enjoy themselves.

“We want anyone who wants to experience this journey to come here and have a great time. I don’t care what walk of life you’re from. Anyone who wants to come here should be able to come here and have a great time.”