Let’s start with the name, which sounds at once familiar and mysterious. A jackalope is a mythical American creature, believed to look like a large rabbit with antlers and to roam the plains of the Wild West. Legend has it that these fearsome critters would sing to cowboys at night – but only before a thunderstorm.
Its connection to the recently opened Jackalope Hotel, on the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne, is both oblique but also quite literal: a seven-metre-tall sculpture of a jackalope by artist Emily Floyd crouches in the forecourt. Its presence is a sign of the magical experience to come, a 21st-century fusion of art, design, food and wine, all in the spectacular setting of a 140-year-old homestead.
Jackalope is the vision of entrepreneur Louis Li, whose family runs luxury hotels in China. His goal, he once said in an interview, was “to create a surreal hotel in a rural landscape, a real destination”. Li wanted something “fearless” that could fuse his passion for travel, film and art to create a true experience that entices guests from around the world.
It’s also an experience that could only happen on the Mornington Peninsula, as the hotel was designed to reference its surroundings in multiple ways. An awe-inspiring 10,000-lightbulb installation was inspired by the region’s winemaking heritage and the bubbles that form during the fermentation process. Local artists have created other pieces that stud the property, and the two restaurants on site source as much as possible from producers and growers nearby.
Li has ambitious expansion goals, and has already nabbed the site of the next Jackalope, in Melbourne’s beautiful Flinders Lane, which is due to open in 2020. This will be followed by Shanghai and Los Angeles within five years.
For now, though, the original hotel has scooped a swag of years in its first year of business, including Gourmet Traveller’s coveted Hotel of the Year for 2017. Unlike its namesake, this Jackalope is not a myth but it may well go down as the stuff of legend.
Written by Michelle Bateman