Restaurants Head Down the Rabbit Hole
Ideally, a dining experience should transport guests to a place apart from the everyday world. Across the nation, that place is increasingly becoming the whimsical Wonderland visited by a little girl named Alice in Lewis Carroll’s classic 1865 tale.
Alice in Wonderland as a design theme is experiencing a resurgence as childhood nostalgia heartens everyone from Millennials to Baby Boomers, and updated movies and book reprints keep Carroll’s tale alive for new generations.
Two venues taking advantage of the renewed interest are Studio, a lounge located beneath the W New York–Union Square hotel in Manhattan, and The Scarlet Rabbit in Round Rock, Texas. Both begin with a journey down the rabbit hole (at Studio, down a flight of stairs under the hotel) and also create an immersive experience with graphic images of the tale’s surreal landscape and quirky inhabitants.
It was the 2010 Tim Burton film that inspired contemporary artist Domingo Zapata to incorporate scenes from Alice in Wonderland into Studio, the luxe lounge he designed in collaboration with the Gerber Group, a hospitality company with 18 venues in the U.S. and Chile. At Studio, a mural in vivid colors wraps around the entire interior, and tongue-in-cheek touches adorn the 8-foot-high ceilings and bar chairs.
The lounge, which seats 155 guests, opened in mid-September.
“A lot of people are intimidated by art galleries, so we wanted to make the art accessible to guests,” says Scott Gerber, Gerber Group principal and CEO.
While Studio’s interpretation of Alice is strictly visual, The Scarlet Rabbit takes it a few steps further with menu items such as smoked rabbit and andouille gumbo and the Hatter’s Burger. Themed drinks are served at the bar, dubbed The Mad Hatter’s Cocktail Party, and include An Old Fashioned Caterpillar (smoked bourbon, sugar, orange bitters, and smoke) and Mad Hatter’s Tea (absinthe with a sugar cube served in a teacup).
Designer Sonja Snow says her influences for the interior included not only the original 1865 book, but also the movies, ballets, and even the classic Jefferson Airplane 1960s rock anthem “White Rabbit.” The décor is playful with a mixture of real and illustrated objects, including silhouettes of Alice and the rabbit, a teacup chandelier, playing cards, doors, and clocks.
A separate dining area is done in darker tones to make it “a little more mysterious like the Queen of Hearts,” Snow says.
“Since we opened in July, we’ve had people drive for long distances to come here because they heard about our Alice-inspired restaurant,” says Rob Snow, co-executive chef and co-owner. “People love Alice.”