High Tea at The Four Seasons Hotel, Chicago

High Tea at The Lounge in The Four Seasons, Chicago - image ©Four Seasons Hotels

High Tea at The Lounge in The Four Seasons, Chicago - image ©Four Seasons Hotels

An unusually warm December afternoon found me in Chicago at one of the city’s premier luxury hotels, The Four Seasons, just off the Magnificent Mile. The hotel is in a high rise building above an upscale retail mall called The 900 Shops.  

The hotel’s entire lobby is richly decorated in fine-plush furnishings but, The Lounge – where tea is served – certainly stands out in its striking beauty and decor.  Unlike several hotel venues that serve afternoon tea in a large airy room, this space is small and intimate.  Ironically, the room was full but it was also very private and quiet. The acoustic engineers must have worked overtime on this space. The Lounge’s dark wood, plush carpeting, and fine tapestries all speak of the luxury you are about to experience taking afternoon tea at The Four Seasons Chicago. Continue reading

High Tea at Fortnum and Mason, London

St. James's Restaurant at Fortnum and Mason ©Fortnum and Mason

St. James's Restaurant at Fortnum and Mason ©Fortnum and Mason

When I arrived at Fortnum and Mason, it was after sundown and the right time for High Tea. High Tea is served later in the day and is a more substantial meal than the lighter fare that is commonly associated with afternoon tea.  After entering through F&M’s oak doors on Piccadilly, I took the lift up to the 4th Floor St. James’s, a full service restaurant that serves meals and teas of all kinds. The restaurant is light, airy, has a quiet ambiance, tables set a good distance apart, live piano music, and for a lucky few, tables next to the windows overlooking Piccadilly below.  Even though I requested one, they were all reserved for a function later that evening.

After opening on this spot in 1707 as a small grocery shop, Fortnum and Mason have been doing business at 181 Piccadilly for over 300 years.  They have a long history of dealing in exotic imported foods and other fine goods, including full leaf teas of all kinds, and have earned numerous Royal Warrants. From the beginning, Fortnum and Mason have sold tea to anyone who asked, a novel idea in the 1700’s when tea drinking was limited mostly to the aristocracy. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at Brown’s Hotel, London

Brown's Hotel English Tea Room © Rocco Forte Collection

Brown's Hotel English Tea Room © Rocco Forte Collection

Although it was dark and overcast on this late November day in London, the air was unusually warm at 57F / 14C.  Walking up Albemarle Street in the heart of Mayfair, I came to the unmistakable entrance to Brown’s Hotel.  Built in 1837 by James Brown and his wife, Sarah, who were formerly butler and maid to Lord and Lady Byron, it was the first hotel in London that catered to “genteel” folk.

As of 2003, Brown’s is owned by The Rocco Forte Collection which invested 24 million GBP in refurbishments after acquiring this luxury hotel. 

On a historical note, Alexander Graham Bell stayed here in 1876 to demonstrate his new invention, the telephone.  The English Tea Room is where Rudyard Kipling wrote much of his famous novel, The Jungle Book.  It is also believed that Agatha Christie wrote her novel (At Bertram’s Hotel) while at Brown’s Hotel and modeled the story after the hotel. United States Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt both selected Brown’s Hotel for their honeymoons. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at The Ritz Carlton, Chicago

Lobby of The Ritz Carlton, Chicago (image courtesy of The Ritz Carlton)

Lobby of The Ritz Carlton, Chicago (image courtesy of The Ritz Carlton)

Afternoon Tea at The Ritz Carlton, Chicago reminds me of spending a relaxing afternoon in someone’s luxurious parlor or living room. The mood is unhurried, the atmosphere is elegant, and the overstuffed sofas and chairs just make you want to stay and never leave.  In some ways, it reminds me of The Gallery at The George V in Paris, one of my all time favorite places for afternoon tea.

Tea is served in The Ritz Carlton Hotel’s lobby located on the 12th floor of Water Tower Place in Chicago, a high rise building on The Magnificent Mile that includes retail stores on the lower floors, the Ritz Carlton Hotel on the mid floors and luxury condominiums with views of Lake Michigan on the upper floors. You’re close to the high energy of the city yet, at the same time, twelve floors above it in a soundproof oasis. (This is also where U.S. television personality Oprah Winfrey lives in Chicago.) Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at The Waldorf Astoria, New York City

Afternoon Tea on The Cocktail Terrace at The Waldorf Astoria (image courtesy of The Waldorf Astoria)

Afternoon Tea on The Cocktail Terrace at The Waldorf Astoria (image courtesy of The Waldorf Astoria)

If there ever was a luxury hotel that embodies New York,  it’s the Waldorf Astoria. Of course it’s a landmark luxury hotel, but it’s steeped in so much history that it’s difficult to talk about New York without mentioning the Waldorf.  From Guy Lombardo’s annual New Year’s celebrations broadcast from the Grand Ballroom to guests including heads of state and Hollywood royalty too numerous to mention, the hotel has a long and storied past.

Historically, The Waldorf is responsible for transforming the role of major urban hotels into establishments that do more than just provide temporary accommodations to travelers. These grand urban hotels were to become social centers in cities and prestigious destinations for visitors.  The Waldorf was also at the forefront of advancing the status of women by being one of the earliest to admit women singly, without escorts. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at The Pierre, New York City

Afternoon Tea is served in The Pierre's 2E Lounge

Afternoon Tea is served in The Pierre's 2E Lounge

Ah, The Pierre, a luxury hotel in New York City and one time home to actress Elizabeth Taylor, Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed, and the French designer Yves Saint-Laurent.  Charles Pierre, an immigrant from Corsica, began in the restaurant business in New York and over the years established social ties with some of Wall Street’s largest financiers. In 1930, they joined together to form a venture to build The Pierre, a 42 story hotel on Fifth Avenue and 61st Street, in Manhattan. The Great Depression doomed the prospects for this and many other hotels, and it was forced into bankruptcy in 1932.  J Paul Getty then purchased the building in 1938 and converted some of the hotel’s rooms into cooperative apartments. As of 2005, The Pierre is a Taj Hotel, a global chain of fine luxury hotels and resorts.  Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at The Plaza Hotel, New York City

The Plaza Hotel Entrance (image courtesy of The Plaza Hotel)

The Plaza Hotel Entrance (image courtesy of The Plaza Hotel)

The Plaza Hotel in New York City is a landmark and a Beaux-arts masterpiece, built in 1907 and occupying a prime piece of New York City real estate near the fabled corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park South. While it normally offers a superb and elegant afternoon tea in its dramatic Palm Court with stained glass ceiling, that room is temporarily closed for refurbishment. Afternoon Tea is now being offered in The Champagne Bar, but it is not the “featured” event that one would expect to find in the Palm Court.

That being said, I still couldn’t resist visiting this grande dame of all New York hotels to sample their afternoon tea service . On the Champagne Room’s menu are caviar, oysters, cocktails, light food, afternoon tea and, of course, champagne. It is an elegant two-story space that is carved out of the Hotel’s main lobby area and has Fifth Avenue views overlooking the Pulitzer Fountain.  Seating options are varied and include free standing tables and chairs, sofas, and high-backed upholstered chairs arranged two by two near the windows. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at St. Regis Hotel, New York City

Afternoon Tea at Astor Court (image courtesy of St. Regis Hotels)

Afternoon Tea at Astor Court (image courtesy of St. Regis Hotels)

It was a beautiful, sunny day in New York City so I decided to walk to the St. Regis Hotel’s afternoon tea from Grand Central Station.  As I made my way up Madison Avenue to 55th Street, I couldn’t help thinking about a television series that’s popular in the U.S. right now.  In case you’re unfamiliar, Madison Avenue is the iconic street that is home to New York’s storied advertising agencies, and it’s also the inspiration for the critically acclaimed television series, Mad Men, broadcast in the United States on the AMC Network.

By way of background, the St. Regis Hotel in New York City was built by John Jacob Astor in 1904, the same Astor who was to later give up his seat  on an RMS Titanic lifeboat to his young wife and die tragically in the 1912 sinking. Afternoon Tea today is served in the Astor Court of the hotel. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse Interior (image courtesy of The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse)

Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse Interior (image courtesy of The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse)

One would not normally expect to find a Teahouse from Tajikstan in Colorado, USA, near the world famous ski areas of Aspen and Vail. Yet you will, if you travel to the city of Boulder, about an hour’s drive from Denver International Airport. To celebrate the establishment of sister city ties, the mayor of Dushanbe, Tajikstan (Maksud Ikramov), announced in 1987 that his city would be presenting a Teahouse to Boulder.

Over the next few years, Tajik artisans and master craftsmen produced the decorative elements that adorn the magnificent Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. These include the hand carved and hand painted ceiling, twelve intricately carved Siberian-cedar columns, and eight exterior ceramic panels, all completed using 2,000 year old techniques and traditions. Lado Shanidze traveled to Boulder to act as chief archtect during the construction. In the center of the teahouse is another gift of seven hammered-copper sculptures displayed in a fountain that commemorates a 12th century poem entitled, “The Seven Beauties.” Continue reading

Afternoon Tea With My Daughter at The Ritz London

Palm Court Afternoon Tea (image courtesy of The Ritz London)

Palm Court Afternoon Tea (image courtesy of The Ritz London)

My daughter and I had just landed at Heathrow Airport after an overnight flight from the United States. We were in London to do a little sightseeing, take in a play in the West End, perhaps some shopping in Knightsbridge, and finally take afternoon tea at The Ritz London.

Since it can be difficult getting a reservation for afternoon tea at The Ritz, I reserved a few months in advance.  There are many wonderful things to do in London, but there is only one Ritz and taking afternoon tea here is “the” quintessential British experience.

We did quite a bit of walking on this trip, and even though I pointed out many of the major London landmarks, my daughter wanted to take pictures of the flower boxes hanging from the windows of buildings we passed. After a busy couple of days, the time for our “tea party” at The Ritz had arrived. Continue reading