Down the Design Rabbit Hole: How One Distillery Became a Cocktail Destination

Images: Rabbit Hole Distillery

Kaveh Zamanian, like so many in this industry, was working in an entirely different field before entering the bar restaurant business. Before he pursued his passion for crafting premium American whiskeys and launched Rabbit Hole, he was a psychologist.

Zamanian is also clearly passionate about design. He didn’t just design a shrine to history and tradition when he built Rabbit Hole Distillery. Sure, he moved to Kentucky to open a distillery and craft award-winning bourbon, rye and gin. But one look at Zamanian's distillery shows that he’s dedicated to taking a modern approach to the craft. This appreciation for striking modern design is exemplified in OverLook, the cocktail bar inside Rabbit Hole Distillery.

Just as impressive as the bar's design is the fact that it exists. It's one thing to change careers to become a distiller. It's one thing to become a distiller and challenge how people think about a spirit deeply entrenched in the history and tradition of an entire country. And it's one thing to build a modern facility with decidedly modern design to craft spirits and not disrespect their history. But it's another thing entirely for a distiller to throw their hat into the bar operation ring.

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Zamanian didn't just build a distillery, he built a campus. That should have given him and his team more than enough to deal with in the difficulties department. Operating a world-class cocktail bar on top of everything else means taking on a slew of additional challenges. It also speaks to how bars are being used and where they're being opened today. Along with the increase in urban distilleries and wineries, OverLook represents a shift in how consumers want to discover and enjoy new spirits, wines and beers.

The former psychologist, if anyone in that profession ever truly leaves it behind, has circumvented expectation with OverLook. Everyone expects a tasting room at a distillery but not many expect a fully realized cocktail bar destination. Just as Zamanian had gathered a team of experts to help craft his bold spirits, he partnered with top-tier operators to build Rabbit Hole’s bar.

Read this: Do More with Your Front Door: The Portal to the Guest Experience

On the recommendation of CMO Michael Motamedi, Zamanian tapped 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show keynote moderator David Kaplan and his partner Alex Day of Proprietors LLC. The minds behind Death & Co. helped design the functional parts of OverLook, along with the Rabbit Hole tasting room. They also trained the beverage team.

Rabbit Hole Distillery is a study in modern design that services tradition. OverLook respects guest expectations yet delivers an unexpected, unique experience. A visit to the campus will certainly benefit operators seeking inspiration for a renovation or fresh build.

In fact, Rabbit Hole has partnered with Esquire for their 2019 Derby Party, “a Bourbon odyssey at Rabbit Hole Distillery.” Not only will those who attend have the opportunity to take in the immersive Rabbit Hole design experience, they’ll enjoy cocktails exclusive to the event created by the team from Death & Co. Nobody ever needs an excuse to visit Kentucky, enjoy bourbon and experience the Kentucky Derby, but this party is an excellent justification. Learn more here.

Cheers!

Many distilleries have tasting rooms or tasting areas but not full cocktail bars. What motivated Rabbit Hole to design and construct a fully realized bar concept on the distiller campus?

With the ever-growing cocktail culture, [the] decision to incorporate a full cocktail bar was a natural extension of our distillery and the vision to showcase the depth and versatility of American Whiskey in all forms: neat, on the rocks and of course, in expertly crafted cocktails.

How was the design to OverLook, Rabbit Hole Distillery’s cocktail bar, approached? Did the brand consult with and/or commission a designer or firm experienced with bars and restaurants?

The vision and design for OverLook was, from the beginning, to be a complement to the distillery in order to create a complete experience from grain to glass. OverLook was designed in concert with the rest of the distillery to ensure it is a fully immersive experience. We worked with both POD A+D on the architectural elements and AAmp Studio for the interior design elements.

Did the buildout closely match the design vision? How involved were you in the design and construction?

I was involved in every aspect of the design and decision-making process. From the onset, the distillery was to be a fully immersive experience, where manufacturing and hospitality come together. OverLook quite literally juts into the manufacturing space to bring together two spaces that have very different functions.

Read this: The Perfect Concept: 5 Key Design Steps

In the manufacturing atrium, guests are given a complete sensory experience of the process of making whiskey with an elevated staircase that guests ascend, which was inspired by the design from a home I built in Chicago, while OverLook is an aesthetically pleasing space that is comfortable and luxurious, yet in perfect complement with the manufacturing atrium. The challenge was to create spaces that are fully functional and efficient. As such, the building engineers, Luckett & Farley, had to ensure that each micro-climate is designed to serve its purpose.

Copper Vendome still inside Rabbit Hole Distillery

How does OverLook’s design fit with the overall Rabbit Hole campus and brand aesthetic?

The design of OverLook was [an] integral part of the overall campus as a whole. Philosophically, Rabbit Hole sits on the cusp of modern and tradition. While building on the long tradition of whiskey-making in Kentucky, Rabbit Hole is a brand that looks to the future, embracing the ever-evolving art and science of making fine spirits. During the design process we were mindful of creating a space in OverLook that reflected Rabbit Hole’s modern ethos while making Kentucky and Kentuckians proud of their new House of Bourbon.

Are there any design and/or construction challenges OverLook presented that you can share with our readers who may be preparing for a buildout or renovation?

Rabbit Hole is likely the most unique distillery currently operating in the U.S. From the beginning, we were committed to building a distillery that was designed around the process of making whiskey, a monumental architectural and engineering challenge. The most significant construction challenge was engineering spaces with vastly different functions that are ultimately connected as one space. Bringing distillery process and hospitality together was an extreme challenge.

Bartender making drinks with Rabbit Hole whiskey at OverLook cocktail bar inside Rabbit Hole Distillery

Operating a bar requires a different skillset than distilling spirits. Did Rabbit Hole hire an experienced operator?

Our CMO, Michael Motamedi, came to Rabbit Hole with a good deal of experience in operating bars and restaurants. On Michael’s recommendation, we connected with David Kaplan and Alex Day from Proprietors who were incredibly helpful in looking at operating elements within OverLook. We reached out to Dave and Alex because they are industry veterans with a wealth of experience, and also trusted friends who understood our products and brand proposition.

Was Proprietors included in the OverLook design process?

Proprietors LLC was involved with the functional elements of bar design for both OverLook and our tasting bar on the first-floor retail space in the distillery.

Rabbit Hole whiskey tasting flight at OverLook cocktail bar at Rabbit Hole Distillery

What motivated Rabbit Hole to partner with Proprietors for the cocktail menu of OverLook? What are the most popular cocktails on the menu?

The team at Death & Co. is one of the most talented groups in the cocktail scene, so it was completely natural to work with them on development of our seasonal cocktail menus. The most popular cocktails are Cheeky Tiki, Splitting Hares and Niles Crane, an Old Fashioned riff that plays on the dark fruit and leathery notes present in our PX Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon while referencing the TV show Frasier and my 20-year psychology career, pre-Rabbit Hole.

Read this: Are You an Obsessed Operator? You'd Better Be!

Did Proprietors LLC help to train bar staff at OverLook?

Proprietors LLC trained our beverage team with the launch and release of the cocktail menu. Their expertise and methods combined with our own staff’s skills were in key in our cocktail curation and execution.

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