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Waterfront Festival

We Chat to 400 Rabbits Manager Julien Latil About the Venue’s History, Kiefer Sutherland, and the Social Media Story That Went Viral

27 May 22 words: Marta Tavares
photos: Curtis Powell

400 Rabbits - the bar where Aztec mythology, tequila and mezcal come together to provide a unique experience for visitors. We chat to general manager Julien Latil to find out more about the history of this iconic venue, the team’s lengthy campaign to offer Kiefer Sutherland a drink, and the social media story that won over people from around the world…

What was the inspiration behind 400 Rabbits?
It mainly came about because James Aspall, the owner, was always a tequila fan. He decided to bring to life the concept of a mezcaleria. The bar opened seven years ago now, and slowly started building this community of agave drinkers. It’s worked really well and we’re trying to present a range of different products, agaves and mezcal that you don’t find anywhere else in Nottingham. Now we’re quite well known and people come in and ask more about the drinks and mezcal and try something that’s outside of their normal drinking habits.

What’s the story behind the name?
400 Rabbits is related to Aztec mythology. They used to believe in different gods and one of the gods was called Mayahuel, who was the god of fertility and alcohol - an odd combo. She had 400 children, her 400 rabbits, that were meant to run around the country and fertilise the agave plants to make them able to produce alcohol.

They were the guards of the alcohol, were meant to supervise it, but instead they drank it all and partied all night. So, in Mexico, if you see someone very drunk, you say they’re drunk like 400 conejos - which means 400 rabbits.

What makes the bar stand out from others in Nottingham?
The atmosphere. When you walk in, it’s different. Different colours, different music - everything feels different. That includes our selection of tequila and mezcal, and the fact that our menus and cocktails are more focused on agave. It gives people something different.

We ended up everywhere: The Sun, CNN, BBC, Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show

How would you describe the experience of visiting 400 Rabbits?
It depends on what time people come down. At the weekend, there is more of a party vibe and everyone is more ‘400 rabbits’. Whereas on weekdays, we have more of a focus on the cocktails and customer service, and we get time for a chat with people.

Do you channel Aztec mythology into the bar itself? 
Upstairs there is a full mirror with Aztec designs which have been drawn by one of our bartenders - he’s done an amazing job of it! The story of Mayahuel and her 400 rabbits is written on one of the walls. We don’t have a massive mythological collection on the bar but we have little references and notes, names of cocktails, and pictures and designs around the building. 

During the second lockdown, The Church of the 400 Rabbits was forged. How did it happen? 
James and his wife, Jen, decided to make a joke of applying to become a church to still be open during lockdown. He posted an Instagram picture of the application, and thought, ‘Why not give it a try?’

Safe to say it blew up out of proportion! We ended up everywhere: The Sun, CNN, BBC, Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. We waited and waited for an application, it took a really long time but we still kept the name of The Church of the 400 Rabbits. It’s been amazing, really.

How did people react to a church where you could drink mezcal?
We’re not allowed to actually be a church, but we have plenty of people who are not from Nottingham come here because they know about us and have heard about The Church of the 400 Rabbits. They know we’re a cocktail bar, and that we’re here for giggles and fun.

What is the Agave Bible?
I think it was Jennifer who wrote it. It’s something we always said, that we should have a book with all the agave we have served, even if we don’t have it in stock at the moment. One big menu with all of our tequilas, mezcal, all our different agave spirits, describing every section and type. We have given it kind of a holy vibe.

Kiefer Sutherland said that nothing was transferred to him, so we were obviously a bit disappointed. Then we decided to change his picture for Ed Sheeran instead.

“Para todo mal Mezcal. Para todo bien, también!” What does that mean?
That is a Mexican saying that’s on the first page of our Agave Bible. It means that if everything is wrong, have some mezcal, but if everything is good have some mezcal as well. Tequila is a cure for everything, it’s a happy spirit. Everyone who drinks tequila is always smiley and in a good mood.

What is the Mezcal Bunny and its adventures?
Jen decided during lockdown - I think she was a bit bored - to make something to have fun and add some content to our social media. She created animated videos of a mini 400 Rabbit bar and our little mezcal bunny going around it on its adventures. You can find them on our social media or website. It’s just a laugh. 

How did the campaign to get Kiefer Sutherland to go to the bar come about?
We always had a poster of him behind the bar. When we knew that he was playing at Rock City, a month in advance we decided to try a campaign to get him to come here to the bar. We got a life-size cardboard cut-out of him and started taking pictures of fake Kiefer Sutherland everywhere in the building - behind the bar, having some drinks and partying with us. Everyone had a good joke, posting about it and sharing it around. When he did come to Nottingham he ended up going to a different bar, some of us were at that bar and realised that he was there and we asked him if he realised we tried to get him to go to our bar. He said no, that nothing was transferred to him, so we were obviously a bit disappointed. Then we decided to change his picture for Ed Sheeran instead.

What drink would you have served him?
I would have given him a Tommy’s Margarita, which is our favourite. It’s a classic margarita but you replace the triple sec for a bit of agave. And it’s a bit more on the sweet side.

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