Although I'm only just finished season 2, Downton Abbey is one of my favorite shows ever. I usually don't enjoy period pieces whether they be television shows, films or books. But there is something about this series that transports me into the early 1900s in way that makes me wish I were part of it - and even convinces me I am at certain times! I just adore the British accents, formal dinner dress code, and somewhat subliminal humor and punchlines.
The closest most of us will ever get to life at this country estate in Yorkshire is afternoon or high tea. And to most people's surprise, New York City has a few wonderful tea salons. Google "high tea nyc" and over a dozen little shops will pop up. It would be a sin to visit the city, and not stop in for a spot of tea at one of these places. So, what's a girl to do when one of her best friends is leaving the city to embark on a wonderful adventure in Chicago? Afternoon tea, tarts and a bit of harmless gossip, of course! Lucky was I to procure the company of the lovely Jac of City Girl Finding Her Place In The World for a real life 'blate' at Lady Mendl's Tea Salon in Gramercy.
That luxurious floor length fur? Oo, kill 'em!
Elsie de Wolfe, better known as Lady Mendl, was famously known for her innovative eye for decor in the early 20th century, and affectionately referred to as "the first lady of interior design". She redesigned the homes of her impressive clientele, which included the Vanderbilts and Henry Clay Frick, bringing their spaces from the darkness of prior years into the light of the new century. Her design aesthetic was feminine and delicate, and focused on light, fresh colors. Lady Mendl was also a prominent socialite in both New York and Paris, having been considered the "best dressed woman in the world" by some. She sounds like fantastic company, don't you think?!
Lady Mendl's Tea Salon sits on the ground floor of the Inn at Irving Place, an adorable hidden walk-up on a quiet block in Gramercy. It is decorated in a style that seems reminiscent of her classic tastes, and feels cozy and delicate, as though the perfect space to chat and laugh with my girlfriends until we can hardly breathe.
The only thing one has to choose at Lady Mendl's is what tea you'll be taking, as everything else is prix fixe. Over the times that I've visited, I almost always go for a white tea, staying away from the darker stuff (White Peony is my favorite!). Jac & I both had rather light teas with hints of jasmine, and alternated pots often so we could sample each other's (although we each liked our own best!). Once you order your tea, your server comes back promptly with a pretty big pot full of fresh brewed tea. No two teapots are exactly alike here, adding to the shabby chic feel of this little gem, but all are floral printed (as are the plates and other china). Apparently, they will refill your pot should you happen to drink it all, but I've never been able to finish mine quick enough. But it's the thought that counts, right?
As I said before, the menu is prix fixe, a five course afternoon tea to be specific. Nothing is very heavy at all, but surprisingly, you leave feeling very satisfied. You begin with an appetizer, which varies with the season but was a delicious mini quiche this late October. The second course is a selection of tea sandwiches: smoked salmon, cucumber, egg salad, and turkey. And because the service is impeccable here, as soon as you've eaten one mini sandwich, you are asked if you'd like another one to replace it. Third are scones, and then the last two courses are Lady Mendl's signature cake and a small plate of cookies and chocolate-covered strawberries. I look forward to the cake when I visit because of how sweet yet light it is. I eat it layer by layer, savoring every single bite.
Sandwiches: salmon in the back, turkey on the left, cucumber, & egg salad on the right.
Lovely fireplace right next to where we were seated.
We sat towards the front of the salon (as you can see, there are table settings in the back) on the two love seats positioned across from each other. It made it feel less like dining & more like a living room.
The other side of our love seat setting (a.k.a. my seat). You can really see Lady Mendl's dainty design aesthetic in this room. Lovely florals and pinks bounce around you as you sip and chat.
There's a waiting room on the right when you walk in, and they have lots of postcards with pictures or paintings of Lady Mendl's on them. I love this one & take one home pretty much every visit (I have like 6!).
I relish any opportunity to visit this darling little tea shop. And this was a visit made even more special with my best friend along. It was a wonderful way to say "see you soon." I wish her all the happiness and success that her new city has to offer, knowing full well that she'll bring a little NYC sparkle along with her as she takes the Windy City by storm!
Cheers to my 2nd installment of this series. Click here to check out the first one all about Central Park!