The idea of afternoon tea started in England with the seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Russell, who was one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting. As the story goes, the duchess began to get hungry and tired between meals, and started to combine her tea with petite sandwiches. Soon this habit became social and expanded to include sweet treats. Queen Victoria was inspired by the idea and gave us the Victoria Sponge Cake as her signature contribution. Needless to say, the beloved tradition of afternoon tea took off and is enjoyed around the world. If you find yourself seeking elegance and afternoon tea in New York City, these are the swankiest and most iconic places to find it.
The Palm Court
The Plaza Hotel was among the first to serve proper English tea service to New York’s polite society. Today you can delight in afternoon tea at the Plaza’s Palm Court, and it’s best to dress up for the occasion. The Palm Court is a grand space that has been renovated by renowned architect Thierry Despont. The interior includes nature motifs, inspired by Central Park, which helps guests feel relaxed. Make sure to look up because the room’s room’s signature feature is a soaring stained-glass dome.
The Palm Court offers a classic or revolving theme menu, and if you go in December you can treat yourself to The Holiday Signature Tea. The menu includes the usual cucumber sandwiches, with special items like a foie gras macaron topped with caviar. In fact, if you are fond of champagne and caviar, The Palm Court is more than happy to oblige. For children, there is the popular Eloise Tea. The decadent menus might be extravagant, but afternoon tea at The Plaza is a one-of-a-kind experience. Undoubtedly there is no place in the city that can help you feel more like a royal.
The Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel, 768 5th Ave (betw 58th/59th St), Midtown
Photo via Instagram
Tea and Sympathy
For a more laid-back experience and quintessential English afternoon tea service, head to Tea and Sympathy. The British restaurant, located in the historic West Village, has been serving comfort food to New Yorkers since 1990. The interior is as cozy as an English country cottage, but for more a little more elbow room you can opt for outdoor dining.
The menu is quite extensive with many tea options. The multi-tier stand includes all the basics, with our favorite being the Victoria sponge cake. For a livelier option, add prosecco. Besides afternoon tea, Tea and Sympathy’s menu offers British dishes, like Lamb Shepherd’s Pie, which makes it our go-to spot on cold winter days in the city.
The experience at Tea and Sympathy does not stop at the restaurant. If you enjoyed your tea, you are welcome to purchase it next door in their shop. They import all the candy, chocolates, china and even tea cozies you could ever need. The owner, Nikky Perry, is a well-known neighborhood personality. Make sure to check out her glamorous portrait hanging on the shop wall.
Tea & Sympathy, 108 Greenwich Ave (betw Jane/Horatio St), West Village
The most perfect New York day includes shopping at Bergdorfs, however the iconic store has so much more to offer than fashion. Enter the store’s 7th-floor cafe, BG. The afternoon tea experience here includes sweeping views of Central Park and interiors designed by Kelly Wearstler. The posh interiors make for a beautiful backdrop for afternoon tea.
The menu includes everything to satisfy your taste buds and sophisticated palette. This includes homemade scones and caviar. Opt for either the BG Tea Service or Tea Service Royale, which includes champagne. To take your experience over the top, try their famous Gotham Salad. While BG is no secret, it certainly feels that way. We would go as far as to say that this afternoon tea is for people in-the-know who prefer a more elevated experience. They even have a bar for which you do not need a reservation.
BG at Bergdorf Goodman, 754 5th Ave (betw 5th/6th Ave), Midtown
Blue Box Cafe
Diamonds, tiaras, Audrey Hepburn, and the little blue box! Fans of Breakfast at Tiffanys will be happy to know that you can have breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea at Tiffany’s Blue Box Cafe. The popular cafe and restaurant can be found on the 6th Floor of the Tiffany & Co. Fifth Avenue posh landmark store.
If you covet the idea of having afternoon tea at Tiffany’s you’d better reserve in advance. Reservations are hard to come by, but you can take your chance with a walk-in. The dining experience here is curated by Michelin-starred Chef Daniel Boulud and Blue Box Café Executive Chef Raphaelle Bergeon. The newly refurbished interiors were designed by Peter Marino, and includes a cafe, bar, and a private dining room. At the center of it all you will be wowed by the Tiffany blue box art installation hanging from the ceiling. While the afternoon tea menu is not as extensive as some other places, you won’t regret seeing Tiffany’s in all its glory!
Blue Box Cafe at Tiffany’s, 727 5th Ave (betw 56 & 57th St), Midtown
Lady Mendel’s Tea Salon
Lady Mendel’s Tea Salon is one of those “I can’t believe this exists in New York” places. The whimsical tea salon, housed within a Georgian brownstone, is beloved by Anglophiles and anyone who enjoys dressing up for afternoon tea. Lady Mendel’s serves traditional tea, in the afternoons only, and you can be sure it will be decked out for the holidays. The vintage-inspired Victorian style interiors play a major part in your experience, allowing for a break from the rest of the world.
The menu offers a tea pairing option, and visitors rave about the coconut tea. The place was named after an eccentric actress turned interior designer, Lady Mendl, known by her full name Elise de Wolfe. Choose this option for their opulent five-course tea, artsy interiors and a chance to dress in your best vintage or vintage-inspired fashions.
Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon, 56 Irving Place (betw 17th/18th St), Gramercy
Lounge on Pearl
For those sticking to a strictly downtown environ, The Wall Street Hotel presents Festive Pearl Tea with a less traditional afternoon tea in mind. So if you find yourself downtown shopping at the South Street Seaport and need a break, head to Lounge on Pearl which offers a selection of teas—or tea-infused cocktails—along with tea sandwiches, freshly baked scones, and Winter holiday-themed pastries. Festive Tea is available through December.
Lounge on Pearl at The Wall Street Hotel, 88 Wall St (betw Water/Pearl St), Financial District
500 Hidden Secrets of New York: Afternoon Tea Recos
Here are a few more suggestions for out-of-the-way places that offer a more intimate take on afternoon tea. These come from Hobnob’s founder, Ellen Swandiak, and are included in her book, 500 Hidden Secrets of New York. Check out the book for more suggestions on experiencing NYC’s jewels from restaurants and bars to fun getaways close to the city.
Prince Tea House Opulent French style with Asian sensibility. This afternoon tea comes accompanied by assorted mini pastries, scones, and five different finger sandwiches. Tea is kept lovingly warm with accompanying tea light. Six other locations in NYC.
Prince Tea House, 204 East 10th St (betw 1st/2nd Ave), East Village
Pembroke Room A British-inspired salon. Expect the highest standards while enjoying warm scones, tea sandwiches, and sweets. Add a glass of sherry, wine or champagne and caviar to make it that much more special. Make sure to reserve, Wednesday to Sunday from 2 to 6 pm.
Pembroke Room at The Lowell Hotel, 28 East 63rd St (betw Madison/Park Ave), Upper East Side
The Whitby Bar You would expect a British brand of hotels to get afternoon tea right—and they do: a selection of ten teas served on whimsical Wedgwood china with creative finger sandwiches, house-made scones with clotted cream and a myriad of desserts. The light-filled Orangery Room is as charming as it gets.
The Whitby Bar at The Whitby Hotel, 18 West 56th St (betw 5th/6th Ave), Midtown West
The Gallery Feel like a sultan with decor inspired by the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Afternoon tea features a slightly different twist with an assortment of their house-made pâtés, along with the expected. Limited space, so book ahead.
The Gallery at The Carlyle, 35 East 76th St (corner Madison Ave), Upper East Side