Reviews US & Canada

The Heights of Elegance: Afternoon Tea in the Windy City

1000 travel tipsAfternoon tea, with its delicate teapots, cucumber sandwiches, buttery scones and clotted cream, is the height of elegance. The light meal began in 1840 as a means for the Seventh Duchess of Bedford to stave off hunger during the long hours between breakfast and dinner. Conveniently, it was around this time that the Earl of Sandwich created his eponymous hand­held meal. The “afternoon tea” quickly caught on, and now it’s synonymous with refined leisure and sophisticated nibbling. In Chicago, it’s an indulgence wrapped in the luxury of some of our most beautiful hotels and dining rooms.

If you’re looking for a place to experience afternoon tea in the Windy City, you can’t go wrong with these elegant options:

The Langham, Chicago

In 1865 the afternoon tea debuted at The Langham, London. The Langham, Chicago’s version replicates that service as closely as possible, down to the Wedgwood china. They are serious enough about their tea that they have their own proprietary varieties. These are served with both sweet and savory bites on traditional displays and accompanied by live music. Seatings are available at 3:00 p.m., 3:30 p.m., and 4:00 p.m., and reservations may be m​ade online.​

The Langham Chicago,​330 North Wabash Ave, 1 (312) 923-7710

Palmer House Hilton

The lobby of this hotel, with its muraled ceilings, statuary, and marble staircases, is one of the most romantic lobbies in the world. The hotel itself was built as a wedding present, and the sentiment can be felt in every detail. Afternoon tea at the Palmer House includes an assortment of Harney & Son’s Teas, gourmet sandwiches, scones and sweets. It’s served between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and reservations are required 24 hours in advance.

Palmer House Hilton,​17 East Monroe St, 1 (312) 917-3404

Courtesy of Palmer House, A Hilton Hotel

The Drake

The Palm Court at The Drake is often the first place that comes to mind when someone mentions afternoon tea in Chicago. Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, and the Empress of Japan are previous luminaries that have enjoyed this graceful affair, helping to make it the tradition it is today. The Drake offers 17 selections of Parisian tea along with finger sandwiches, petit fours, and additional traditional options. Adding to the sense of time gone by, a live harpist accompanies the experience Wednesdays through Sundays. Reservations can be m​ade online or by calling the number below.

The Drake,​ 140 East Walton Pl, 1 (312) 932-4616

The Peninsula Hotel

The Peninsula is a collection of five star hotels across the globe. The originals in Hong Kong and Shanghai set the standards of grace and elegance that are found in subsequent locations. Each individual hotel is designed to reflect the individual city and culture where it’s located. This care of detail is found especially in its afternoon tea. Like The Langham, another international import, The Peninsula has its own proprietary blend of teas. These are served alongside a gourmet selection of light sandwiches, tarts, and desserts. Afternoon tea at The Peninsula is offered Monday through Friday at 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The Peninsula Hotel,​108 East Superior St., 1 (312) 337-2888

Russian Tea Time

For a more relaxed, and affordable, afternoon tea, visit this classic restaurant a block away from the Art Institute of Chicago. Your tea service begins with raisin scones with homemade whipping cream and marmalade. This is followed by savory sandwiches, and finished with sweets. While the experience itself offers the elegance you’d expect from afternoon tea, what makes Russian Tea Time more relaxed is the comfortable service ­ and the accessibility of vodka shots. It is a Russian restaurant, after all. Afternoon tea is available daily from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Russian Tea Time, ​77 East Adams St., 1 (312) 360­-0000

The Local Tourist’s goal is to help locals experience the fascination of a tourist, and for tourists to feel the comfort of the local. The website is a regional resource that showcases the best places to go and things to do. Based in Chicago, “TLT” has expanded to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and San Diego, California, and will be expanding to tourist destinations everywhere.

All photos courtesy of Palmer House, A Hilton Hotel.

Theresa Carter, The Local Tourist | March 1, 2016

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