Oxford’s Mad Hatter cocktail bar is one of the cities best kept secrets
Down the rabbit hole
Looking for somewhere a little different to spend your evening? Look no further than Oxford’s quirky yet mysterious bar: The Mad Hatter.
A short walk down Iffley road will take you there. And as we soon found out, you’ll be greeted by a trippy looking door-within-a-door, surrounded by walls lined with fuzzy astro-turf.
It didn’t entirely look like it was open at first, and we hadn’t exactly checked its opening hours, so we proceeded with caution through the first open door.
We were faced with two buttons to press, after which a voice welcomed us with a riddle. Nothing too difficult though, and bartender Joe assures us that it’s only a bit of fun: ”we’ll give you clues until you get it, so don’t be put off by the riddle.”
Ours went like this: “What starts with T, ends with T, and has tea in it?” Sounds simple enough, but after already having had a drink or two, all I could think about was tea and ended up in a state of confusion.
Meanwhile, my slightly more sober friends shook their heads at me and answered with what in hindsight was the most obvious thing ever: a teapot.
Once into the dimly lit, ambient locale that is the Mad Hatter’s hang out, we were able to relax. We were in! What awaited us was a wide selection of tipples. And really, there’s a cocktail to please everybody, even people who don’t really drink cocktails.
One of the best things about them all is their presentation, coming in a varied and utterly bonkers selection of jam jars, teacups and all kinds of strange looking snifters that had us wondering whether we were on the right side of the looking glass.
You can even get sharer cocktails in teapots and feel all kinds of fancy while sipping on alcoholic beverages with your mates.
If you’re coming with a larger group of friends, Joe recommends making a reservation: ”It’s recommended, especially if you want to come with a group of people and you want to sit down and get the full experience, try a couple of things. But otherwise you can always walk in and come to the bar anyway. There’s always room for walk-ins.”
Heck, seven of us made it in and got seats just fine, along with some excellent drink recommendations. ”I always say to people: the best drinks depend on what you like. My favourite drink is probably not going to be your favourite drink” says Joe.
”My personal favourite drink on the menu is Gin Fix”. Made with Bold Genever Gin and Lemon and Raspberry syrup, it’s served short and sharp on crushed ice, sure to pack a punch. We even managed to find a cocktail that, after passing it around we all agreed tasted like the heaven-sent essence of Nutella, jar and all. The Duchess’s Cat sure to got us grinning like kitties.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
We found drinks menus scattered around the venue bound in old hardback copies of the original Alice in Wonderland, with the story still in-tact if you you’ve time for a quick read.
With the dim lighting, electro-jazz music and books to boot, I started to feel like I was in a speak-easy. Though the books aren’t the only oddities you’ll find in there, there’s little details all over the place that kept our eyes wandering while we decided on our drinks, and I’m sure I spotted a retro corded phone in there somewhere to order drinks from…
It’s not as new as we thought, but it definitely needs more love and attention than it gets, as it makes for a really unique night out, or in our case, the beginning of a great night out. Plus it’s definitely more exciting ordering cocktails from here than from Spoons.
“Because of the way it looks, and because of the riddle some people get a pre-emptive nervousness about it. Also, we’re not far out, but it’s just that little bit across from Cowley that people don’t think to come to. Try it out though, is what I would say, it’s good fun.”