The Crazy Bear
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 15th October 2006.
It isn't often that a hotel room makes my jaw drop in amazement, especially one just off the M40, but this is what happens at the Crazy Bear
It's not just the room (''Jet Black'', from £225). It's the incongruity. Stadhampton is a featureless residential satellite of Oxford, and my quarters are in a modern box of a house down the lane from the hotel, a much- extended old coaching inn. In the hall: a slick bar stocked with Champagne. In my room: a riot. The 1930s meet the Swinging Sixties and they all camp it up in Hollywood.
To be fair, I was partly forewarned. "I like quirky places," I'd told a friend, Katie. "Quirky? If you want quirky, then come to the Crazy Bear. It's mad." She often stays on business, and loves it. The reception is the first clue that she's not wrong: a double decker bus in the car park, in which the receptionist sits perkily behind her desk. I'm directed through the garden, full of palm trees, pastiche classical statues and a mannequin hanging in a tree. And on through the part glitzy, part pubby bar with Champagne on tap and a large stuffed brown bear dangling from the ceiling. Up some steps, the English restaurant (there's also a Thai one): padded pink walls, leopard-print carpet and wine bottles in rows lining the ceiling. Get the picture? And so to my room: camp, kitsch and dangerously close to being revolting. But also beautifully executed, not remotely tacky and great fun. Jet black fake fur on the walls, white padded satin on the ceiling, peacock feathers sprouting from a giant pink Champagne flute, velvet chaise longue and a bath. Or is it a bed? Actually it's both. The bath and bed are sandwiched by matching, flamboyantly carved bedhead and bed end, to look as if they are one. The bath looks alarmingly complicated. I gingerly press a button and water shoots from the ceiling. I consult the operating instructions: it's an ''infinity bath'' that fills to overflowing, and apparently there are lights, sprays and whirlpools, too. But I have a long history of bloody engagement with fancy hotel baths - which is not a problem, as there's a huge shower room as well. That also contains obstacles, however. I mistake the ultra-modern basin for a shelf and soak my make-up bag. Which doesn't matter because the lights are so dim that I can't see my face in the mirror.
Back in the garden, Katie and I consult enormous menus, one English, one Thai, and are told we can mix them up, so we do: oysters followed by Thai curries, which we eat in the animated bar. One might expect the staff at the Crazy Bear (the dreamchild of owner Jason Hunt) to be as outré as their hotel, but no: dressed soberly in black, they could be operating somewhere far more traditional. The guests are pretty normal too, and a refreshingly mixed bunch. Early next year they are opening a new branch in conventional Beaconsfield, also just off the M40, where I had a conventional upbringing. I wish there'd been a Crazy Bear there then.
Bear Lane, Stadhampton, Oxfordshire (01865 890714; www.crazybeargroup.co.uk). Doubles from £120 to £375 including breakfast.