Conjuring a 1920s speakeasy vibe, owner Ashley Tipper opened The Blind Elephant cocktail lounge in an alley off North Front Street in downtown Wilmington. Paying attention to the authenticity of the prohibition-inspired theme, The Blind Elephant lists over 200 bourbons alongside an impressive lineup of signature cocktails.
By Rebecca Clothier Photography By: Matt Ray
Tell us a bit about your background.
I’m originally from Greenhill, a tiny town in the Northwest corner of Alabama. I left home when I was 19 and spent the next several years abroad. When I returned, I decided to move southeast and settle in Wilmington. I became a waitress at the Little Dipper, a wonderful little local fondue restaurant right up the street.
How and why did The Blind Elephant come about?
I had had bartending and restaurant development experience for about 20 years. So when I came into some money, and a bar (formerly Sharkey’s, Oliver Twist, and Station 21) came onto the market, I decided to buy it. Station 21 was failing for many reasons, but one was poor visibility. We are located down an alley, so when developing a new concept for the space, I decided to play that aspect in our favor by making it speakeasy-themed. That way, it’s a place that you “just have to know about.”
Why the name Blind Elephant?
I went with Blind Elephant because it was used for speakeasies back in the 1920s. They were often called “blind tiger” or blind pig,” but I went with elephants because who doesn’t love elephants? Also, I’m a huge Alabama fan and the elephant as their mascot.
How would you describe the venue to our readers?
We are a chill lounge and bar with fantastic craft cocktail menu and a selection of 200+ whiskeys and bourbons. We make all our syrups in-house and only use fresh juices and ingredients in all of our cocktails. We really appeal to young professionals as well as a more mature clientele. Upstairs we have a private, VIP space called the Volstead Room, named after the father of prohibition, and available by password only.
How do you go about compiling your cocktail menu?
Every two months, before the cocktail menu comes out, I assign each bartender a liquor (vodka, rum, tequila, whiskey/bourbon, gin). The bartender has two months to build a cocktail around that base liquor and develop a name for the drink. We meet two months later, and everyone tries the new beverages. We offer our feedback and see if it needs to be tweaked in any way. Then everyone is assigned new liquors, and we do it all again.
Tell us about your team of mixologists.
Cabell, co-manager of the Blind Elephant and co-owner of Vagabond Spirits. She has worked for the Blind Elephant since day 1 and never created a cocktail that wasn’t fantastic. She works hard, has a great laugh, is president of the Cape Fear Roller Girls, and is just an all-around badass. Breanne is co-manager, and she puts flavors together that you’d never think would work, but she finds a way. She cares about her craft and this bar and it shows in every single shift. Matt is our hustler. He knows how to make you the perfect drink that you didn’t even know existed. He’s loved by the customers and downtown community and always finds a way to make sure everyone has a good time. Meredith is our most colorful bartender. Just ask her hair. She’s sweet and caring but don’t be fooled by her welcoming smile because she can make a mean beverage. She
came to the Blind Elephant with little experience and we’ve enjoyed watching her
evolve into a connoisseur of the craft cocktail. Lukas is our newest bartender. With a contagious laugh and wild hair you would think that it's a mad scientist back there. And, in a sense, Lukas is exactly that. They started out working at our door before we realized what a talented group of mixologist they were. We threw them behind the bar and without hesitation they rocked it.
What are The Blind Elephant’s signature cocktails?
Serendipity, Guatavita, and our tap Moscow Mule are our top sellers.
The Serendipity Cocktail consists of Four Roses Bourbon, Averna Amaro, Fernet Branca, fig syrup, lemon juice, and ginger bitters. Its flavor profile is an earthly spirit-forward concoction with a bit of sweetness to round it out. The Guantavita Cocktail has Diplimatico and Bacardi Rum, Golden coconut milk, Ancho Reyes Chile liqueur, and honey. This is a rich, spicy cocktail perfect for the cold weather. Our Moscow Mule is on tap, along with a tequila and whiskey mule. All are made with our homemade ginger beer, lemon and lime, demerara sugar, and Domaine de Canton.
Is there support for local North Carolina distilleries?
We carry a wide variety of spirits so that we can accommodate all flavor profiles and we
lean towards supporting NC distillers to achieve that. We have an Oak City Amaretto out
Winston-Salem, and Cardinal Gin out of Kings Mountain, NC to name a few.
What is your new venture Vagabond Spirits?
Vagabond Spirits is our Mobile Cocktail Bar. It was an idea that came to me in October 2019 after I kept hearing our customers at the bar say “I wish I could have a cocktail like this at my house." So I thought “why not?” I acquired an adorable 70s Shasta camper and began renovating it into a mobile bar. The process took a little longer than expected but I partnered with my manager Cabell and we launched Vagabond Spirits together in October of 2020. We can pull up and serve Blind Elephant caliber cocktails to guests at just about any event and so far, we’ve been very well received.
Any new projects & events we should know about?
We have our annual Great Gatsby party coming up January 28th. This is the Blind Elephant’s 8th year and we love to celebrate this anniversary with our members and guests (especially since we didn’t get to do it last year). We will have a red carpet, live music, a photographer and drink specials. And everyone dresses to the nines in their fanciest 1920s attire.