“Curiouser and curiouser!” I think as I walk around what used to be the blacked out door to the Cricketers Arms on Iffley Road. I am looking for a way into the new gin joint that has taken its place.
I wander along the pavement on Circus Street, the lights suddenly flicker on and No. 43 is visible. Like Alice down the rabbit hole I follow students into the cabaret.
“I have an appointment for tea.” I say to the doorman who lets us in. He wears a black velvet jacket and yellow cravat.
He smiles, “you didn’t answer the riddle.” He is Henry Jones, 26, one of the managers. “Welcome to the Mad Hatter!”
The Mad Hatter has the feel of a private club, with a mix of European cabaret, American speakeasy and Oxford eccentricity. Chandeliers light up the plush furnishings. A mix of 1940s jazz, house music, and Frank Sinatra croons on the sound system.
I choose a table with a phone and hesitantly answer when it rings. It is James Sutton, the tall, blond 20-year old general manager of the club. He recommends one of Alice’s “Smoking Hot” cocktails. It arrives in a laboratory flask and looks like something Dr. Jekyll mixed up.
I take the lid off, put the straw in, and breath in the smoke. The sensation is unreal. The tasty drink is a mixture of peach puree, apple juice and wild turkey. The apple wood smoke teases the nose. It is a large cocktail and worth the £8.95 price tag.
The cocktails are a creation of Zach Cohen, the bar genius poached from Barts late night speakeasy in London. He enjoys a bit of flair and playing with fire, which isn’t always as easy as he makes it looks. “Last week I was making a flaming Zombie cocktail, I managed to catch myself on it.” The Mad Hatter is open Friday and Saturday nights from 7:30 PM to 3AM. Or contact them on twitter @theMadHatterOx if you want to book another time for tea.
• The Majestic Wine in Witney summer tasting is Thursday, May 23rd at 6PM. Ten wines will be available to taste at this free event. One gem is the Pouilly-Fumè, Jean Vincent (£11.99). It is pale gold with lemon blossoms on the nose. The fumè has the bright acidity you expect from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, but a weightier mouth feel and long finish. Follow me @SauvignonBlonde.