Classic Afternoon Teas to Enjoy at Top Hotels

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- You don't have to be a British monarch or a Mad Hatter to enjoy a good tea party these days.

That's because more and more five-star U.S. hotels are adding British-style afternoon tea service to their offerings, providing patrons with an aristocratic snack between lunch and supper.
Posh American hotels offer delightful upscale versions of afternoon tea, including some -- like The Plaza's "Eloise," with its colorful shortbread pastries -- just for kids.

"Afternoon tea service is a nice amenity for hotel guests, but it's just as popular with locals looking for a leisurely but sophisticated setting for gathering with friends and business associates," says Bruce Wallin, who oversees travel coverage for the upscale-lifestyles magazine The Robb Report.

Long an English tradition, afternoon tea generally features finger sandwiches, pastries, scones, clotted cream and, of course, tea.

But many posh American hotels have begun offering upscale versions of the afternoon snack, with menus featuring salmon-and-caviar sandwiches, expensive champagne and rare teas from exotic locations.

Five-star hotels also typically hold their afternoon teas in well-appointed lobbies or outdoor verandas, with string quartets or other live music adding to the upper-crust feel.

"The three keys to afternoon tea are setting, service and selection," Wallin says. "The best examples evoke the Old World, with a classical atmosphere and a range of teas from around the world."

Here's a look at four hotels with great afternoon tea service, from New York's Plaza Hotel on the East Coast to Honolulu's Halekulani Waikiki Parc Hotel in the Pacific:

The Plaza Hotel, New York
Price: $48-$78 per person ($28-$58 for kids under 12)
The Plaza offers perhaps America's best-known afternoon tea, held every day in the hotel's recently renovated $6.5 million Palm Court restaurant.

A scene in F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby involves two characters enjoying afternoon tea at the Palm Court. The Eloise series of children's books -- about a fictional 6-year-old girl who supposedly lives at the Plaza -- also helped make the Palm Court's tea service famous.

These days, the restaurant offers four prix-fixe tea menus: "The Classic," "The New Yorker," "The Eloise Tea" and "The Chocolate Tea."  

The $48 Classic menu features pastries, warm scones and a selection of tea sandwiches ranging from truffled quail-egg salad to Maine lobster with sturgeon caviar.

The New Yorker, which also costs $48, puts a New York spin on afternoon tea. A prosciutto-and-mozarella sandwich replaces the caviar-and-lobster combo, while the pastry assortment features New York cheesecake, mini cannolis and black-and-white cookies.

The Eloise and Chocolate teas are aimed at kids -- or at least the young at heart.

The $58 Chocolate Tea comes with warm scones, a selection of pastries and a dessert fondue of pound cake, marshmallows and fruit that you dip into melted chocolate.

The $48 Eloise Tea ($28 for children under 12) boasts kid-friendly fare such as grilled-cheese sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly and Eloise shortbread cookies and pastries.

All menus come with your choice of more than a dozen teas, while grownups can add Veuve Clicquot or other top-shelf champagne or sherry for an extra $20 per person.

The Peninsula Chicago Hotel, Chicago
Price: $42 to $52 per person
This hotel offers traditional afternoon tea and "Royal-Tea" -- tea and snacks plus top-shelf champagne.

An extra $8 gets you a glass of Henriot Souverain Brut Champagne, or you can go all out and order Lucien Albrecht Rose Brut for $10 per serving.

Either way, your afternoon tea will include black-currant or maple-glazed scones, as well as your choice of a sweet menu or a savory one.

The savory menu comes with caviar, cheese-and-leek quiche, smoked salmon on gingerbread and other hearty fare.

The sweet option offers chestnut tea cake, a chocolate peppermint tart, an eggnog macaroon and more.

Patrons can also choose from nearly three-dozen kinds of tea, from Silver Jasmine to Marrakech Mint.

A cellist and violinist provide live music, while upscale retailers such as Ralph Lauren and YSL show their wares during the "Fashion Friday Afternoon Teas" that the Peninsula holds on select Fridays. 

The hotel also donates $4 every day to the Susan G. Komen For the Cure breast-cancer foundation for each prix-fixe afternoon tea that customers order.

The Polo Lounge, Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles
Price: $40 to $55 per person
Hollywood's movers and shakers have frequented the Polo Lounge since the 1940s, when Will Rogers, Spencer Tracy and other legends took to hitting the bar after playing polo nearby (hence the restaurant's name).

Today, the Polo Lounge augments its mealtime menus with daily afternoon tea.

"The Polo Lounge is a classic L.A. hangout and a great place for afternoon tea, which is served indoors or on the sunlit outdoor terrace," Wallin says.

The $40 prix-fixe menu includes scones with clotted cream and a variety of pastries and tea sandwiches, from egg salad and watercress to smoked salmon and caviar on pumpernickel.

You also get your choice of a dozen types of tea, from Vanilla Earl Grey to Lemon Mango Tango.

An extra $15 gets you the "Beverly Hills Tea" menu -- all of the above plus a glass of Piper-Heidsieck champagne.

Halekulani Waikiki Parc Hotel, Honolulu
Price: $28 per person
This five-star hotel on Honolulu's Waikiki Beach serves afternoon tea in the middle of paradise.

The Halekulani, whose name means "house befitting heaven," holds its tea service on a veranda overlooking a garden courtyard just steps from Hawaii's most famous oceanfront.

"The Halekulani does traditional tea ... in a resort-like setting," Wallin says.

The prix-fixe menu features pastries, tea sandwiches and freshly baked scones with Devonshire cream.

There are also a dozen types of tea with distinctly Hawaiian flavors -- from Maui Lavender Earl Grey to Queen Emma Rose, said to be 19th century Hawaiian Queen Emma Kalanikaumakaamano Kaleleonalani Na'ea Rooke's favorite.

If you want something a little stronger, the hotel also offers champagne cocktails, bellinis and other light alcoholic drinks for about $10 to $15 a glass.

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