Ashley Tipper, owner of The Blind Elephant, shares the secret to her speakeasy’s success.

For the past decade, The Blind Elephant has stood on Front Street in Downtown Wilmington as the hypnotizing home of spirits and secrets.

This is not your typical, tired late-night bar smelling of must, stale beer and cigarettes. The swanky 1920s speakeasy–inspired bar serves a masterful menu of craft cocktails and bourbons, featuring more than 200 whiskeys.

“Our craft cocktail program was something we implemented right out of the gate,” says owner Ashley Tipper. “It’s one of those where each bartender gets a spirit, and they have two to three months to build a cocktail around that spirit.”

Blind Elephant Cocktail

The staff then meets to try out the drink that each bartender has put together to see if it needs any kind of feedback or changes. Once it goes up on the menu, the bartender gets to name the cocktail.

“So it keeps the staff on their toes because with this industry, it’s ever evolving,” Tipper continues. “We’re always doing new research, figuring out new ways to present or create a cocktail that’s going to be amazing.”

Tipper, originally from the Muscle Shoals area of Alabama, has a deep background in bartending for many years as well as experience working as a new restaurant developer and advisor. She endearingly named The Blind Elephant as a nod to the use of “blind” in speakeasies back in the day and “elephant,” representing her love of the Alabama Crimson Tide and their mascot.

Besides the showpiece craft cocktails, the popular speakeasy also serves up an intoxicating ambiance that includes live music five days a week: piano on the baby grand on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and jazz on Thursdays.

The Blind Elephant Wilmington NC

“It’s very romantic here, it’s quiet, with low lighting,” Tipper says.

Upstairs, there is The Volstead Room, which can be rented for private special events, complete with your own bartender, but it is open to the public on Saturday nights if it hasn’t been booked. Tipper says that, over the years, celebrities have used the private space, such as Jim Gaffigan, Jessica Chastain and the cast and crew from “Swamp Thing,”

For those who prefer a cocktail without the alcohol, The Blind Elephant also caters to this audience with a menu of mocktails.
“We really led the charge in the area when it came to crafting mocktails,” Tipper says. “We’ve been featuring those for five years, and we really put just as much love into them as we do our cocktails.”

For instance, right now, she says the mocktail menu features an immune boost tea called “Oh, Bother,” a cranberry coconut cocktail and one that is infused with THC. Tipper says that she and her team of mixologists are also leaning hard into low-ABV cocktails, such as their latest creation called “White Noise,” which is a blend of Cocchi Americano, a vermouth with a bit of elderflower flavor and topped off with some champagne.

Blind Elephant Martini

“The cocktail industry is ever evolving, and we try to meet the charge when it comes to new techniques and trends that are happening,” Tipper says. “People have been demanding low-ABVs a little bit more. It’s been very fun to have an alternative for everyone.”

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, The Blind Elephant recently hosted its annual Great Gatsby party.

Other special events planned for the spring include an Oscar Party, complete with a drag queen host, a projector screen playing black-and-white films, Oscar prizes and popcorn, and a Kentucky Derby party, with guests wearing their best hats and treated to Woodford Reserve prizes.

When Tipper is not running a business, crafting cocktails and throwing parties, she competes in the Cape Fear Roller Derby league.

Wilmington NC Blind Elephant Ashely Tipper

“Yeah, I just started back,” she says. “I’ve been doing it for 10 years, and now I’m 41, so I don’t know if this is something I need to keep doing.” She laughs and adds, “Because I just went back to practice on Monday and I’m walking so funny right now. I’m just so sore and sad!”

What Tipper is happy about, however, is the success she has had with The Blind Elephant as it reaches its 10-year milestone.

“We have such a great crew, and it’s so important that the staff cares about this bar in order for it to move forward,” she says. “I’ve been so lucky over the past 10 years to encounter such amazing people who have helped to turn it into what it is today.”

Want to go?
The Blind Elephant
21 N. Front Street, Wilmington
(910) 833-7175
The Blind Elephant is open Tuesday through Thursday 5 pm to midnight; Friday 5 pm to 2 am; Saturday 4 pm to 2 am; and Sunday, 4 to 10 pm.

Photography by Matt McGraw

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