City Bites

Rabbit Hole takes patrons on a mystical journey beneath Sparks Street

Party-going Gen-Xers will remember it as iconic nightclub The Cave in the 1990s. In 2019, and many iterations later, this cave is tempting a more sophisticated crowd, promising dazzling cocktails, fresh oysters, and fine pizza in the stone-lined cellar below Sparks Street.

Aaron Juneau has teamed up with a crew of likeminded partners — Pat Akeson, Scott Clement, Mitch Cole, and Chris Juneau — to launch Rabbit Hole, which opened in late 2018. The savvy restaurateur knows his stuff (he’s also a partner in Kanata’s Central Bierhaus and Crazy Horse Stonegrill Steakhouse and Saloon) and is confident he has a hit on his hands, attracting the business and political crowd for lunch and dinner, with a younger dance-and-cocktail demographic piling in for Thursday-Saturday DJ nights. “Our dream has been to revitalize the old Cave space — amp it up with a more party vibe on weekends,” he explains.

Upstairs, a comfy-yet-bustling main floor seats 40 and is anchored by a long bar.

The Space

The Rabbit Hole looks small from the outside, but encompasses a lot of space over two floors. A comfy-yet-bustling 1,500-square-foot main floor seats 40 and is anchored by a long bar, while the basement forms a separate underground world with seating for 150. Here, the new owners have retained the historic stone walls (dating back to 1896), warming the 7,000-square-foot space with pine wood on ceiling, warm lighting, comfy seating, and wood tables. “We started in April and redid the place from top to bottom for the next seven months,” says Juneau. “It’s warm and comfy — we want you to stay awhile.”

The basement forms a separate underground world with its own bar and a number of cozy nooks for intimate meals. The historic stone walls (dating back to 1896) are warmed with pine wood on the ceiling, comfy seating, and wood tables.

The Name

The partners spent six months brainstorming names while they renovated the new restaurant. The Rabbit Hole, which was suggested by the girlfriend of partner Pat Akeson, immediately felt like a fit. “You come in and you descend into this underground world. It’s a big space with nooks and crannies so it can seem almost as if you’re in a rabbit hole as you decide which section of the restaurant to head to,” explains Juneau.

A close-up shot of the upstairs bar. Rabbit Hole is making a name for itself with its inventive cocktails.

The Menu

Designed by Chris Juneau (who is also the chef at Central Bierhaus), the menu favours oysters and gourmet pizzas though such comfort foods as steak frites and a gourmet burger also make the cut. “Some people originally thought cocktails, oysters, pizza a bit weird,” admits Juneau. “But it totally works.” The pizza lineup features 12 iterations — six with a San Marzano tomato sauce base and six with a ricotta cream sauce. For pizza-crust fans, there is option of requesting a crust brushed with honey or an “everything bagel” topping.

Luxe colours and seating add to the lounge-like atmosphere in Rabbit Hole’s basement level.

The Menu (A Sampling)

>Fresh oysters (with mignonette, horseradish, lemon, or hot sauce)

>Crab claw cocktail with Bearnaise mayonnaise

>Red six pizza: San Marzano tomato sauce grilled chicken, Applewood bacon, roasted red peppers, black olives, pickled jalapenos

>White five pizza: Ricotta cream sauce, smoked sausage, roasted red peppers, onions, arugula, Grana Padano, pepperoncini peppers

>Steak and frites: Angus striploin, brown butter carrots, veal jus, port reduction, frites

>Fresh daily pasta: Wild mushrooms, green peas, arugula, lemon crème, Grana Padano, mint crumbs

Find It: 208 Sparks St. (at Bank), open Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.; Saturday 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Sunday 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.

The calm just ahead of lunchtime — the view looks out over Sparks at Bank Street.

Hot Tip: Do try the cocktails. Rabbit Hole is making a name for itself on the fancy-drink circuit. Next up on our to-try list: High Roller (caramelized pear infused Courvoisier, lavender citrus bitters, and pear nectar) and the Aztec Old Fashioned (Woodford Reserve, honey syrup, Aztec chocolate bitters, orange zest, vanilla cigar smoked glass).

Hot Tip #2: Save room for dessert. We hear that freelance pastry chef extraordinaire Adam Cenaiko is the making Rabbit Hole’s dessert cannelés.