A look at the Mad Hatter in Oxford

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Down the rabbit hole: Jessica Tomkinson runs the Mad Hatter
Down the rabbit hole: Jessica Tomkinson runs the Mad Hatter
You may think you’ve gone mad at this speakeasy-style pub and licensee Jessica Tomkinson may well agree, but let me tell you something, the best people usually have

The pub

Facts ’n’ stats

Name:​ The Mad Hatter Oxford

Address:​ Iffley Road, Oxford

Tenure:​ Leasehold

Licensee:​ Jessica Tomkinson

Staff:​ 3 full time and 5 part time

Turnover:​ £300,000

GP:​ 71%

The Mad Hatter, Oxford, is a speakeasy concept pub, based on the Alice in Wonderland​ books, written locally by Lewis Carol from a college right across from us.

The site – owned by Greene King – had previously struggled for a few years because of its remote location and there was little appetite for traditional pubs after the 2008 recession, and so it was empty for a few months before we were offered the opportunity to find a suitable project for it.

The concept, which opened in spring 2013, is by its very definition a destination venue. Guests join us for an experience and to mark special occasions. It has evolved and grown since its inception by adding new elements while consolidating existing products.

My pub_Mad hatter_Teapot and paper

We incorporate the theme wherever possible, from riddles upon entry and cocktails served from teapots, ordered from hidden menus within hard copies of the Wonderland books.

The venue is constantly developing its entertainment offer, from weekly jazz nights that play on the Prohibition element of the bar and ‘mad’ karaoke nights, with recently developed karaoke rooms for private group bookings.

The publican

The company that runs the Mad Hatter operates other sites but this pub is run by Jessica Tomkinson, an Oxford graduate who stumbled down the rabbit hole and has been in charge of operations for nearly almost four years now.

The trade

The site is located in Oxford’s bohemian district to the east of the city centre and has a strong mid to late 20s age group following. Our offer has been drinks-focused since 2013 and we use an external caterer for functions but we are in the process of delivering our own foodservice from this spring to cater for private functions.

The team

Speakeasy style The pub a Best Spirit Pub finalist in the Great The Mad Hatter_British Pub Awards in 2017 and 2018

With no back of house to speak of, and with a cosy capacity, our small team is trained on every element of service and swaps job roles on rotation throughout the week – which certainly helps the team understand the different pressures of each role. It allows us to work holistically as a team and to promote from within the company.

The drink

Our cocktail-led menu has more than 60 different tipples, incorporating a spectrum of spirits and catering to a variety of tastes.

There’s always something new for guests to try. We have over 500 premium spirits and incorporate a range of quirky serves (hats, bowls, giant teacups, disco balls, speakeasy coupe, conical chemical flasks), with elements designed to delight and surprise, such as dry ice and colour changing drinks.

My pub_Mad hatter_Book and cocktail

As ours is a celebratory venue used extensively for birthdays, anniversaries, hen celebrations and corporate functions, our sharers are very popular because they enhance the experience among the guests and add to the wow factor.

We were also a finalist in the Best Spirits Pub/Bar category of the Great British Pub Awards 2018 and 2017.

The food

We only use a fully certified catering company to provide canapés and buffets for our private events.

The events

The venue is a speakeasy cocktail bar with an emphasis on entertainment (jazz evenings, open mics, drag queen bingo, cabaret, Prohibition evenings, resident DJs, karaoke). It now has three karaoke rooms available for hire. We hold over 500 masterclasses and spirit workshops every year with classes catering for two guests right up to 30.

The future

We have big plans ahead. We are looking to submit plans to convert the roof into a greenhouse with an open-roof terrace bar for the summer months.

We are also going to expand our food offer and are in the process of designing new workshops for guests to learn about their favourite drinks, providing guests with a variety of classes to choose from each with a different focus.

We are also talking to the brewery to help us look at other opportunities in other sites that might be in a similar position to ours five years ago, to roll out our concept that we feel can do really well in cities such as Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge, Manchester and Edinburgh. 

What’s on the drinks menu?

Selected cocktails (many are also available as mocktails):

  • Cucumber Sandwich: Sesame washed Hendrick’s gin, cucumber syrup, lemon juice and egg white – £7.60
  • Mix and Matcha: Matcha tea, Oak Moss Syrup, herbal Fentimans tonic and lemon juice – served with home-grown edible flowers and an Oreo biscuit ‘soil’ – with Stolichnaya vodka and Midori – £6.95; with Seedlip Garden 108 – £6.50
  • Blooming Strawberry: Bloom Gin, sugar syrup, fresh lemon, strawberries and mint – £6.95
  • Tiger-Lilly: Monte Alban Mezcal, Suze herbal liqueur, Cynar liqueur, faux lime juice, foaming bitters, rose water and lavender – £6.95
  • Carrot Cake: Skipper rum, Briottet Crème de Pêche liqueur, apple juice, lime juice, carrot cake jam and walnut bitters – £7.60
  • The Branded Sword: Hennessy VS brandy, Disaronno liqueur, Maraschino liqueur, gingerbread syrup – £8.50
  • Queen of Hearts: Reyka vodka, Passoa passion fruit liqueur, raspberry syrup, pomegranate & lime juices with rhubarb bitters – £6.95
  • Curious Cosmo: Loveheart-infused Stolichnaya vodka, Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge, faux lime solution, lychee and grapefruit juices, Peychaud’s bitters – £7.60
  • Gryphon Martini: Copperhead Gibson Edition, Noilly Prat, home-made lime and maple syrup, miso and soy, pickled samphire – £12.50

Sharing cocktails:

  • The Tweedledum: Hendrick’s gin, St Germain, elderflower cordial, tonic water and lemon juice – £22.95
  • Humpty Dumpty: Pampero & Sailor Jerry rum, Falernum, orange & lime juice – £21.95
  • Hatter’s Disco Inferno: Stolichnaya vodka, Blue Curacao, peach liqueur, apple, orange and Prosecco. Serves 10-plus – £100
My pub_Mad hatter_Boxout

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