It’s a Thursday afternoon, just past mid-week, and I’m back from Afternoon Tea at The Drake Hotel, one of Chicago’s historic establishments. I have to tell you, it feels rather decadent. Well, Afternoon Tea usually does, but even more so on a weekday. There you are sipping tea while others are busy at their desks.
Fountains, Cherubs, Harp…
The décor at The Drake Hotel is old world glamour. This is the third time I’ve come for tea, and I’ve been an overnight guest at the hotel as well. On our anniversary, my husband and I usually stay in the city.
When you walk into the hotel’s lobby, you’ll see the entrance to the Palm Court, where Afternoon Tea is held. A wide stair with brass banisters covered in blue velvet lead you up to the entrance. The threshold is marked by a set of dramatic curtains that look akin to a stage setting; inside over-sized palms, cherubs, and a tinkling marble fountain continue the subdued glitz. A harpist strums in the background.
I think The Drake has done a bit of upkeep.
It seemed fresher. The last time I was there, I recall seeing faded flowers and a bit of tiredness. Today everything was spit-spot and looking pretty. Although, it was a 73-degree Spring day, and it’s hard not to look good on a day like today. But still, I was happy to see the Drake looking well.
Start with Champagne, I mean Sparkling Wine
We were seated next to the fountain, which is always nice. We started with a glass of sparkling wine (another name for champagne that’s not made in the Champagne region of France) and then I poured a cup of the 7 Citrus Oolong I selected from an extensive list. It was good, but I have to admit, I prefer ‘regular’ Oolong.
This is a personal thing, but I almost never like heavily scented tea with extra flavors as much as I do those without. The exception might be Earl Grey, with its distinctive Bergamot scent and taste. That’s not being critical of the Drake’s tea, it’s just me preferring something else over what I ordered. I like to try different things, but I almost always go back to the classics.
Two is a lonely number
Even though it was a work day, the Palm Court was pleasantly populated. On the weekends they’re usually crowded.
My husband, who accompanied me, looked about with trepidation when we arrived at about quarter to one.
“Are we going to be the only one’s here?” he whispered.
I assured him we wouldn’t, this was the Drake, and unlike some of the other places in the city that serve Afternoon Tea, it’s quite well known.
This may sound minor, but it’s actually not.
Afternoon Tea is not an inexpensive proposition, at least in hotels. I mean, you can find Afternoon tea at some pastry shops, but they’re usually not nearly as pricey – and they also don’t serve alcohol which can up your bill.
So the reason I mention this, is because if you’re paying, say, almost $150.00 for two people, for something that is probably in terms of actual food cost, about $35.00, you want it to feel a little ‘special.’
It’s all about atmosphere
You know what doesn’t feel special?
When you’re the only ones in a big room, or when Afternoon Tea is served in the same space as the regular bar area. About two weeks ago we had this experience at another downtown hotel.
It wasn’t ideal.
The actual space was quite nice, but it was in the ‘normal’ lobby bar area and there were only two other tables occupied. One by a guy eating a hamburger and talking on his phone to a broker, and the other by a woman tapping away on her laptop. The waiter was also the bartender (but very nice and helpful).
I’m not complaining about them. Not at all, they were enjoying the lobby of the hotel, as it was intended.
I’m just making a statement that Afternoon Tea is more enjoyable when there are others around you sharing the same experience. It’s like going to a blockbuster movie – it’s more fun if you’re not the only one in the theatre.
Scones, Sandwiches, Pastry
When it comes to the food at The Drake Palm Court, I would give it 7 stars in terms of taste, and 6 stars in terms of presentation. Where they fell down was in the scone/sweet bread plate.
There were four small offerings, 2 plain scones and 2 poppy seed muffins, just sort of sitting there on the plate, looking forlorn. You know it’s nothing that affected the taste, but half the fun of Afternoon Tea is the atmosphere. And elegant food presentation is part of that.
That said, the service was very good, and we were offered additional sandwiches, which was great, because that’s my favorite part. My husband really enjoyed the Chicken Salad tartlet. The pasty selection was well done, and the Blueberry Buttermilk Panna Cotta was my favorite. I often get a bit of sugar overkill with this course, and this was no different; but the blueberry, served in individual mini parfait glasses, was wonderfully light and airy.
Overall, Afternoon Tea at The Drake Hotel is an enjoyable experience and the kind of place that is ideal to celebrate a special occasion or to meet a friend(s) for an out of the ordinary gathering.
Afternoon Tea at the Drake is served Thursday – Sunday, 1:00-4:30pm