A lot of the revitalization in New Buffalo has been based on summoning a romanticized past, from brilliant lights on the old grain mills to concerts in the historic Canalside area.
But sometimes nostalgia is overrated and sometimes it’s best to just move on. Moving on is mainly the mentality behind the new Jack Rabbit bar and restaurant on Elmwood Avenue in the Elmwood Village.
The large brick building used to be home to J.P. Bullfeathers, a long-standing bar-restaurant that holds a special place in the hearts of many Elmwood Village denizens past and present. For Josh Mullin, co-owner of Jack Rabbit, Bullfeathers was something he and his business partners didn’t want to resurrect. At all.
“I actually hated Bullfeathers,” he laughed in a recent phone call with us. “I got kicked out of there for life in 2005. Following Bullfeathers wasn’t a big thing for me. It was iconic, it was cool, and it had its day, but by the time I was old enough to hang out there, it really wasn’t doing anything that great.
“We definitely wanted to do right by the neighborhood: Bring back a nice place where you can go have a meal and a drink. It was more about bringing back something to the neighborhood than bringing back that particular business.”
While it’s still early days, Mullin and company are doing something great with their concept. Instead of dining, hard drinking and jukebox jams, the focus of Jack Rabbit is on live and lively music. A small stage in the windowed, muraled front room will feature the type of “established” local bands you would expect to see at Sportsmens Tavern or The Tralf, Mullin said. Upstairs, a baby grand piano and loungy décor are perfect for chill, singer-songwriter vibes.
Jack Rabbit also has a few other rock-and-roll inspired spaces. The darkened semi-basement has a retro-noir vibe, different private seating areas, a dart board and pool table. The back room has more of a soft neoclassical feel that serves as a smart counterpoint to the energy of the other rooms.
In another departure from the previous tenant, Jack Rabbit mostly dispenses with the pub-based food and shot-and-a-beer drink menu in favor of more modern offerings. The food menu includes rotisserie chicken and pizzas baked on cast iron, while the drink menu has house-developed cocktails and some of the best locally brewed beer.
The original plans included a fast-casual food service concept, like the ones you used to see at local breweries pre-COVID: Order from a server at your table, the bar or a food service window; get a text when your food is ready; and pick up your food. However, the pandemic forced a change to plans.
“COVID obviously changed that tremendously because everybody needed to be chained to their table,” Mullin said. “That meant we couldn’t use an order window and have people wandering freely. So, we had to build a whole new service model, with full-on table service.”
He added that service and other plans are subject to change as COVID guidelines continue.
As a longtime veteran of the local service industry, Mullin said the Jack Rabbit concept has been in his brain “pretty much forever” and the availability of the old Bullfeathers space allowed that ownership daydream to become reality. It’s a break from the past for both the man and the building.
“I’ve always wanted to run a music venue that’s lively and fun at night, then during the day, you could go in, put a laptop up to do work, have a nice meal and a coffee,” he said. “We’re just doing things that we like, in a way that we like them, in what we feel is a pretty interesting space to hang out in.”
Opening Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. – 12 a.m. (midnight), Monday & Tuesday CLOSED
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