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Down The Rabbit Hole

TABC raid on Clinton eatery and bar results in citation

A small sign on the door announced that The Rabbit Hole bar on Market Street has closed for now, after a raid last week by the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission. (photo:G Chambers Williams )
State liquor authorities last week raided The Rabbit Hole, a new bar and eatery that opened on Market Street Sept. 2, and cited its owner with “unlawful sale of alcoholic beverages.”

Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents from Knoxville entered the business at 364 Market Street Monday, Oct. 18, with a search warrant in hand, according to information provided to The Courier News under an Open Records Act request.

Sheri Lynn Younkin, who owns the bar and E. Claire’s Coffee House next door in the same building, was also charged by state ABC agents with “storage of liquor for sale, untaxed,” and was cited into Anderson County General Sessions Court at 9 a.m. today (Wednesday, Oct. 27) in Oak Ridge.

The citation alleged that “on 10-18-21, the TNABC conducted a search warrant on The Rabbit Hole Bar & Bistro at 364 Market Street, Clinton, TN 37716, Anderson County. During the search, Alcoholic Beverages were found on the premises. The Rabbit Hole Bar & Bistro is owned/operated by the above-named subject [Sheri Lynn Younkin]. This establishment does not have a license with the TN Alcoholic Beverage Commission.”

Younkin opened the coffee house in March 2019, and she said just after The Rabbit Hole opened that she wanted it to bring a new “gathering place” to downtown Clinton.

“We’re calling it ‘a swanky bar and bistro,’” she said.

Younkin previously operated an event venue in the same space, called Elizabeth Claire’s Event Center, for about 12 years.

In its response to the newspaper’s open-records request, the TNABC said, “We cannot provide any information related to investigative reports because the investigation into this matter is still ongoing.”

But the email did note that an application for a liquor sales license had been filed, and a copy of that application was included in the agency’s response to the open-records request.

The application, which has yet to be acted upon, was submitted Sept. 27, 2021, nearly a month after the bar opened, and names Younkin and Carol Hanna as managers of the bar. The business name was given as “Hanna’s Inc, doing business as “The Rabbit Hole.”

Neither Younkin nor Hanna could be reached by The Courier News to comment on the TNABC raid and citation.

But there is a handwritten sign on the front door of the business that says, “We hope to be back open soon! Please bear with us.”

Younkin posted on The Rabbit Hole’s Facebook page on Saturday (Oct. 23) that there would be no karaoke at the bar that night because her husband was “still in the ICU.”

The Rabbit Hole did obtain a beer permit from the city of Clinton in the name of Carol Hanna on July 26, during a meeting of the City Council sitting as the Beer Board.

Clinton City Manager Roger Houck said Friday that The Rabbit Hole’s beer permit is still in effect, and was not affected by the TNABC action. That means The Rabbit Hole could open for business selling beer for on-premises consumption, but not liquor or wine, he said.

Younkin said in early September that The Rabbit Hole would operate mostly separate from the coffee house, and would offer a range of activities besides the full bar.

There are two side-by-side rooms used for The Rabbit Hole, both just to the west side of E. Claire’s, with a connecting door to the coffee house.

But The Rabbit Hole has its own outside entrance, and separate operating hours.

“Besides having live music most nights, we’re looking at doing several other things that downtown Clinton hasn’t seen, such as a dinner theater, murder-mystery dinner nights, karaoke and trivia nights, and even open-mike nights,” Younkin said in September.