Upon first glance, Jackalope’s Saloon is just another hole-in-the-wall. A dive. A quaint trailer planted on a patch of dirt between Jerry’s Drive-In and a pet grooming salon.
But take a step inside. Have a seat, and order a glass of wine or a PBR. It won’t be long before you see why co-owners Leer and Windi Baker, as well as many of their regular patrons, don’t refer to Jackalope’s as a dive.
They have another word for it: home.
Inside, Jackalope’s is a monument to kitsch. Animals poke their heads through the walls, trophies of hunts that likely never occurred. Velvet Elvises curl their lips and bellow into silver microphones, glowing neon in the dim light. Shadows of antelopes and deer prance through trees and vines across the ceiling, emanating from painted light fixtures.
The design lies somewhere between Grandpa’s hunting lodge and a Vegas-in-the-70s mobile home. It’s cool because it’s ironic, or is it ironic that it’s cool? No one can be sure.
A small kitchen serves up Mexican staples cooked fresh. The bar provides beer in a can, wine in a glass, and a carefree attitude that will make even the weariest of downtown bar-hoppers feel at home.
“I think that everybody that comes in here, they see it as our little house,” says Leer.
And that’s no coincidence. The entirety of the bar’s décor, from the taxidermal oddities to the velvet Elvis paintings to the racks of votive candles above the bar, is taken directly from Leer and Windi’s first home.
“Literally, this is what our house looked like,” says Leer.
Even the walls, pink and orange but appearing red in the dim light, are colored to match the interior of the Bakers’ house.
But why model a bar and restaurant after an abode you left long ago?
“(That house) was our first step into adulthood. It’s where we brought our first child home.”
Jackalope’s represents a similar milestone for the Bakers. A carpenter by trade, Leer’s dream of opening a bar and restaurant was many times delayed by familial obligations.
“The opportunity for us to take those risks wasn’t there because of the kids,” says Leer. “We weren’t willing to risk failure.”
The economy would soon take the decision out of their hands. “When the recession hit, I started to feel it as a carpenter. I could not get work in Pensacola,” says Leer.
He packed up and moved to Austin, Texas, where a better job awaited. Perhaps a change in geography could help him escape the recession’s grip. It didn’t work.
“The same thing happened,” says Leer. “I got laid off and decided to move back (to Pensacola.)”
After working at the Elbow Room and saving his money, Leer made up his mind. It was now or never.
“I figured it was time to take the plunge,” says Leer. “I took my tax refund and just did it. I had to at least try.”
After 10 months in business, Leer has seen Jackalope’s grow from a place where family friends would stop by for a beer or a taco into a Cervantes hotspot.
“We’re getting a lot of college kids, and an older crowd for wine and dinner,” says Leer.
The bar’s growth is most evident on Wednesday nights. Dollar beers and dollar tacos bring in a varied, boisterous crowd. Twenty-something hipsters rub elbows with senior citizens. Regulars down PBRs at the bar while fresh faces munch on nachos, quesadillas and vegan hotdogs.
“It’s exciting,” says Leer. “Last week, people had to wait outside to get in.”
Despite the sluggish economy, Leer doesn’t foresee any stall in the growth of his business.
“We’re going to introduce lunch when it warms up a bit,” says Leer. “We’ll have Sunday brunch. And we’re adding a lounge.”
Leer’s optimism infects staff and customers alike. With his easy grin and can-do attitude, it’s tempting to believe Leer could persist in any economic climate. And it’s impossible to spend more than five minutes at the bar without wanting Jackalope’s to succeed.
But no matter what the future holds for Jackalope’s, one thing is certain: the Bakers’ little house of kitsch has forged an indelible mark on the Pensacola culture of cool.
2907 E. Cervantes St.
6 p.m.-12 a.m. Monday-Thursday
6 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-SaturdaY