Walking into Alice and Rose, a cafe and restaurant that opened on The Hill in mid-September, you immediately notice its artistic and elegant take on Alice in Wonderland.
Beyond the entrance’s oversized see-through keyhole, top hats painted with clocks cover hanging lights. A sculpture of an acrobat dangles from the ceiling, supporting a tilted chandelier. In the center of the communal table, a lopsided metal tree stands, with lightbulbs on the end of every branch, reminiscent of Alice sitting under a tree at the start and end of the animated movie.
“I’ve always been a little bit of a sucker for a theme,” said Alice and Rose’s owner, Holley Ellis. Over the past year, Ellis collaborated with interior designer Kari Whitman, who is based in Boulder and Los Angeles, to decorate the restaurant at 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Ellis moved to Boulder right before the pandemic. After living in London for two years, she found herself missing the ritual of afternoon tea. She longed for one of her usual spots, the Mad Hatter pub and hotel in London, known for its distinctive black, white and brass Alice in Wonderland decor.
A former small business owner, Ellis wanted to create a high tea destination like the Mad Hatter but on The Hill, where she lives. Her idea grew into a themed restaurant that also offers a diverse and upscale brunch and dinner menu.
“Fine dining doesn’t have to be intimidating,” Ellis said. “I think we’re a really nice mix between fanciful and fine, delicious dining. It’s really rare to get both in one.”
Alice and Rose serves daily high tea from noon to 5 p.m., featuring earl grey, mint, chai and green ginger teas, and accompanied by a tower of bite-sized sandwiches and sweets. The tea is served in china that Ellis bought from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London after its 2021 exhibit on Alice in Wonderland.
“Tea can be really meditative if it’s done well,” Ellis said. “It brings you to the present. You’re stirring, you’re looking at the little details and you’ve completely forgotten any past regret or future fear, you’re in your body.”
Ellis developed brunch and dinner menus after meeting Chef Kyle Nottingham last year at the Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa, where he was director of culinary experiences. She invited Nottingham to Boulder to discuss her vision for Alice and Rose. Shortly after, he moved to town and became her partner in the restaurant.
“We’re definitely now more of a restaurant with high tea, much more than we are a tea house with food,” Ellis said.
Alice and Rose’s coffee counter opens at 8 a.m. and serves a variety of drinks and pastries. The lavender latte and a cinnamon sugar bun, which tastes like a funnel cake, are customer favorites, Ellis said. Brunch, served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., consists of house-made french toast with berries, whipped cream and cinnamon maple syrup, as well as the poached egg stack on tomato and toast with herb mousse and hollandaise sauce.
During happy hour, cocktails are $2 off. The Tipsy Tea features peach and orange vodka, pomegranate tea and muddled blackberries. There’s also Alice in Wonderland-themed cocktails like Hatter’s Gone Bananas, made with banana whiskey, lemon and simple syrup, and Through the Lychee Glass, a sparkling vodka-based drink with lychee liqueur, lime and grapefruit.
From 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., the dinner menu features a citrus salad with burrata, flatbread and lobster cacio e pepe. All meals range from $12 to $24 and come in “fairly dramatic portions,” Ellis said.
“We wanted the students to be able to come and afford it,” she said, “so that was really important when we did our pricing.”
“It’s Alice in Wonderland-y, but for adults,” Whitman, the designer, explained. Both she and Ellis chose not to create a colorful Disney-themed cafe. Instead, they designed a modern dining area in black and gold incorporating CU Boulder’s colors.
All of this is located in an historic Boulder spot that Ellis knew has local significance for both students and long-term residents.
In 1908, McConnell and Crane’s drugstore opened at 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, the first building in the University Hill Commercial District. It quickly became a popular gathering spot for students. Over the years, the building underwent several transformations, serving as a folk music venue and later a bicycle shop. When Innisfree Poetry Bookstore and Cafe closed its doors there in September 2020, Ellis saw an opportunity to make her move.
“I think it’s the most beautiful building on The Hill,” said Ellis. “It deserved to stay a fixture in the community.”
Alice and Rose is open at 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.