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Where diners joked that the entertainment doubled as dinner

First Published      Last Updated Jun 17 2016 09:46 am

Short-lived restaurant was popular for its fantasy atmosphere, generous portions.

Editor's note • In this regular series, The Salt Lake Tribune explores the once-favorite places of Utahns, from restaurants to recreation to retail. If you have a spot you'd like us to explore, email whateverhappenedto@sltrib.com with your ideas.

Menus included tales from the saga of Chortle Nabob, Hare Extraordinaire, said to have founded Hare Hollow after "the frightful Wars of the Winds."

Diners watched through large windows as Nabob's floppy-ear descendants foraged on the grounds at 6121 Highland Drive — and baked rabbit was the signature dish, too.

Patrons would point first at the menu then outside.

"I'll have THAT one."

"They would laugh it up like they were the first one to make that joke," said Kyle Engman, a shy Skyline High student of 15 when he helped open Hare Hollow in 1975.

In truth, the pet rabbits were safe from the oven at what may have been the Salt Lake Valley's first restaurant to double as a licensed roadside zoo — popular for wedding breakfasts, proms and other occasions on which diners sought an abundance of food and whimsy.

The scene was imagined by Mike Weilenmann, the eldest child of longtime restaurateur and onetime Utah Democratic Party Chairman Milton Weilenmann.

Weilenmann wanted to open a restaurant of his own after working for his father at Bratten's Seafood Grotto, so he teamed with an attorney to buy the Panorama Inn.

The L-shaped building looked out on a formal garden area that would become home to deer, turkeys, rabbits, guinea hens, pheasants and the restaurant's namesake — creating not only a unique dining experience but a unique set of challenges for a late-20s man who knew restaurants but not zookeeping.

Rabbits often mated, oblivious to both population-control efforts and their guests' sense of decency.

Grass and plants were in constant peril, so the ground had to be covered with straw or pine needles. Newly planted trees were whittled to toothpicks by a fallow deer buck.

A customer once entered the enclosure via an emergency exit and found himself pinned to the wall between the buck's antlers.

Another time, after a dog dug underneath the 20-foot fence, the panicked buck charged through one of the restaurant's plate-glass windows — unharmed but not rid of the dog.

A turkey perched atop a table for a better view of the ensuing standoff.

The buck's wasn't the only break-in. Weilenmann covered the front of the building with wood — "The idea was that you wouldn't know what to expect," he said — impressing burglars with the notion that they could score undetected.

Weilenmann had a silent alarm system, but "it finally got to the point where I would leave the office doors open, because they'd go in and break down the door."

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