1. Bars & Breweries

Bar review: No booze, but kratom, kava, kombucha at Mad Hatters

A cup of kava with a kratom chaser at the bar of Mad Hatters.
A cup of kava with a kratom chaser at the bar of Mad Hatters.
Published Aug. 4, 2016

In more than six years of writing this column, I've been to nearly every kind of bar one can imagine. Biker bars, cocktail lounges, dives, sports bars, breweries, distilleries, hotel bars, major chains, hidden secrets, hip restaurants, not-hip restaurants, comedy clubs and everything in between.

Mad Hatters doesn't fit into any of these categories. It doesn't even serve alcohol.

Mad Hatters Ethnobotanical Tea Bar started out as a cocktail bar, though. Previously a rough-and-tumble biker joint called Mac Daddys, new owners Judah and Levi Love transformed it into the Broken Tusk, a colorful neighborhood lounge in a somewhat drab part of town that served full liquor in a friendly environment.

After some initial success with the Broken Tusk, the Loves made the surprising decision to abandon their liquor license and completely change the format to that of a kava bar, an emerging genre specializing in a root from the South Pacific that has been consumed by islanders for hundreds of years due to its mild sedating and anxiety-alleviating effects.

While many kava bars follow the default island/tiki theme, Mad Hatters has gone a different route, themed throughout in an Alice's Adventures in Wonderland motif (hence the name). The Hatter, if you recall, made an appearance in the chapter A Mad Tea-Party.

A "mad tea party" is one way to describe the scene at Mad Hatters. From the borderline-psychedelic murals to groups sharing hookahs on the bamboo- and palm-lined patio, Mad Hatters has a vibe entirely distinct from any booze-based watering hole I've visited. It's closer to a slightly strange coffee shop than the beer-and-booze spot it was just a couple of years ago.

There are four primary products served at Mad Hatters. The first, of course, is tea. There is a wide variety of loose-leaf teas from which to choose, as well as several "special" teas, including teas made from herbs with purported aphrodisiac qualities, as well as caffeine-rich yerba mate.

Then there is a selection of kombucha varieties on tap from St. Petersburg's Mother Kombucha — the Lavender Mojito is my favorite. Kombucha is a semi-tart, fermented tea that contains only tiny amounts of alcohol — low enough to be considered effectively non-alcoholic.

The two most popular items at Mad Hatters are unquestionably kava and kratom.

Kava is a member of the pepper family, and it's traditionally consumed in a wholly unappetizing concoction that looks and tastes remarkably like rain water from a mud puddle. Its pepper qualities are evident upon drinking, as a mild numbing effect takes place on the tongue and in the throat. Many people claim to like the stuff, but I'm not a fan. At Mad Hatters, you can order kava in a wide variety of flavor-masking drinks, from lemonades to lattes, with varying degrees of success. I tried the Dirty Lemonade and found it to be as pleasant as I could have hoped for, with the kava mostly evident as a result of its numbing effect.

Kratom is a tea that has long been used in Southeast Asia for its pain-relieving qualities. In Thailand, where it is now illegal, it was used to treat opiate withdrawal. In low doses, it acts as a mild stimulant, while in higher doses, it has a more relaxing effect. Kratom is served at Mad Hatters with a variety of flavoring syrups, which help to offset the profoundly bitter flavor of the kratom. The kratom cocktails I sampled were all quite tasty, but it helps if you already like bitter teas.

Although kratom may be legal (largely due to a lack of current regulation), it has also proven to be habit-forming, so treat it as you would any other addictive substance. Just because it's readily available doesn't mean you shouldn't approach it responsibly.

Though the effects of kava and kratom could be considered mildly inebriating, it's not the same kind of effect — or of the same magnitude — that you'd experience from drinking a few pints. So the vibe at Mad Hatters is quieter and more laid-back than what you'd find in a bar serving alcohol. Despite consumption of products that are ostensibly popular for offering legal highs, the crowd at Mad Hatters seems happy, relaxed and, well, pretty normal.

Kava and kratom will certainly not be everyone's cup of tea, but for those interested in such things, Mad Hatters offers an environment and product range that seems hard to top. It's even open 24 hours, if you can believe it. It's certainly an interesting change of pace, and quite unlike any other place I've visited in my bar-hopping travels. Adventurous drinkers and nondrinkers alike should give it a try.

—; @WordsWithJG


  1. The cans feature pups who are up for adoption at Shelter Manatee. [Motorworks Brewing]
    The beer, available for purchase in packs of four and cases of 24, will be available until they sell out, the brewery says.
  2. Beverage manager for the Tampa Yacht and Country Club, Kasia Nowakowska prepares a Milk Punch cocktail, the club's signature drink for Gasparilla. Milk Punch contains brandy, simple syrup, heavy cream, milk and is garnished with nutmeg. Nowakowska says the club will make more than 120 gallons of Milk Punch for the annual Gasparilla Parade of Pirates on Jan. 25 -- and most of it will be consumed by noon prior to the invasion. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
    There’s a lot of history pouring into the glasses along the parade route for the brunch (and even breakfast) cocktails.
  3. Jan. 16• Bars & Breweries
    The Dark is BarrieHaus’ Munich dunkel lager. [Photo courtesy of Geneva Johnson]
    In Ybor City, cross over to The Dark side with this dunkel lager. | Local craft beer of the week
  4. Hop Skull #6 Double IPA, Coppertail Brewing Company [Justin Grant  |  tbt*]
    Another cut-above IPA from Tampa’s hop masters. | Local craft beer of the week
  5. Dec. 19, 2019• Arts & Entertainment
    A pint of Malt 45 Lager. [Photo courtesy of Geneva Johnson]
    Collaboration with St. Petersburg brewery results in an old-school beer based on malt liquor. | Local craft beer of the week
  6. Dec. 12, 2019• Arts & Entertainment
    Year 3 Barrel-Aged Barleywine, Mastry’s Brewing Co. [Justin Grant  |  tbt*]
    This hefty brew packs a bourbon barrel-aged punch.
  7. Dec. 11, 2019• Arts & Entertainment
    70 Degrees Florida Winter Weizen, 3 Daughters Brewing [Photo courtesy of Geneva Johnson]
    St. Pete brewery’s seasonal offering is the perfect sip for for a Florida fall.
  8. Dec. 11, 2019• Arts & Entertainment
    AJ’s on the River in Gibsonton. [Justin Grant]
    Justin Grant’s final column is from a laid-back AJ’s on the River. | Bar review
  9. South Howard Avenue's booming bar scene, and the crowds like this one at MacDinton's Irish Pub and Restaurant, have Tampa officials looking for ways to make the street less congested and safer.
    The night before Thanksgiving has become a traditional time to imbibe before the true holiday commences.
  10. Nov. 21, 2019• Arts & Entertainment
    The Barrel-Aged Ramble Tamble spends time resting in bourbon barrels from St. Petersburg’s Horse Soldier Bourbon. [Photo courtesy of Geneva Johnson]
    The Tampa brewery’s American wheatwine spends some time in bourbon barrels.