Pronounced global cooling around the Eocene-Oligocene transition (EOT) was a pivotal event in Earth’s climate history, controversially associated with the opening of the Drake Passage. Using a physical laboratory model we revisit the fluid dynamics of this marked reorganization of ocean circulation. Here we show, seemingly contradicting paleoclimate records, that in our experiments opening the pathway yields higher values of mean water surface temperature than the "closed'" configuration. This mismatch points to the importance of the role ice albedo feedback plays in the investigated EOT-like transition, a component that is not captured in the laboratory model. Our conclusion is supported by numerical simulations performed in a global climate model (GCM) of intermediate complexity, where both "closed" and "open" configurations were explored, with and without active sea-ice dynamics. The GCM results indicate that sea surface temperatures would change in the opposite direction following an opening event in the two ice dynamics settings, and the results are therefore consistent both with the laboratory experiment (slight warming after opening) and the paleoclimatic data (pronounced cooling after opening). It follows that in the hypothetical case of an initially ice-free Antarctica the continent could have become even warmer after the opening, a scenario not indicated by paleotemperature reconstruction. These results provide circumstantial evidence supporting a particular EOT scenario in which Antarctica has already been -- at least partially -- covered with ice when the Drake Passage fully opened.