Palmer House lobby Chicago: A classic (and classy) hangout

| February 18, 2013 More

Palmer House Chicago

The historic Palmer House hotel lobby downtown Chicago is my go-to place for afternoon tea and cocktails served in an elegant setting.

When you refer to a building in Chicago as “historic,” it generally means post-1871, the year of the Great Chicago Fire. The original Palmer House hotel was built in 1870 (as a wedding gift from developer Potter Palmer to his bride), and another one was under construction nearby. Both were destroyed in the fire. A new Palmer opened four years later, and in 1925 it was rebuilt and expanded.


Today, the multi-tower structure at the corner of State and Monroe Streets retains its historic character. It is most evident in the two-story grand lobby, which was designed as a European-style drawing room.

The second-floor space is accessible from Monroe Street through a marble double staircase. Inside you will find chic and comfortable furnishings in earth tones, bronze light sconces, and a remarkable mural ceiling. The restored 50-foot-long work of art features Greek mythological scenes. It was painted in 1926 in Paris by French artist Louis Pierre Rigal.

The room is filled with activity, generated by the adjacent reception desk and restaurant, nearby ballrooms, and the bar. To take it all in, grab a drink and sit in one of the plush chairs, or reserve a table for afternoon tea.

Palmer House Lobby Chicago

The lobby is known for its 50-foot-long ceiling mural, painted by a French artist.

Palmer House Lobby ceiling

The mural features Greek mythological scenes.


The hotel’s proximity to downtown attractions, including restaurants and the Theater District, make the bar a convenient spot for pre-dinner or post-show cocktails. It’s a place to bring a date or enjoy a conversation with friends in a comfortable atmosphere.

Palmer House Chicago Lobby Bar

Located near downtown theaters, the Lobby Bar is perfect for pre-show cocktails.

Palmer House Lobby Chicago - drinks

Care for a drink?…


I first experienced Palmer’s Afternoon Tea during a ‘staycation’ at the hotel a few years back. I was impressed with the elegant presentation, quality of food, and friendly, knowledgeable staff. It was the same during my recent visit.

The service includes a choice of tea (black, green, or herbal) and an assortment of creative sandwiches, pastries, and petit fours. Among my favorite items are: European cucumber and watercress sandwiches, British tea cookies, candy fruitcake, and banana mascarpone mousse.

Afternoon Tea - Palmer House Chicago

Enjoying my tea :)

Palmer House Afternoon Tea

Hmm… sandwiches, pastries, and petit fours with condiments

If you go:

  • Tea is served daily from 2pm-4pm. Reservations are required (see below).
  • I suggest allowing at least one hour for the entire experience.
  • Certain dietary needs can be accommodated. Mention them when making your reservation.
  • Price: $40 per person (sparkling wine or mimosas are $10 extra)

Getting There and Links

Palmer House – a Hilton Hotel
17 E Monroe St. (Monroe & State)
Afternoon Tea reservations (Lockwood Restaurant): (312) 917-3404 or online
Website | Facebook

Public transportation: Red Line, Blue Line (Monroe stop)

(I enjoyed the tea service at a discounted price, courtesy of Palmer House. As always, all opinions are my own.)
Sources consulted: City of Chicago, Encyclopedia of Chicago, Preservation Nation

Have you had Afternoon Tea? What was your experience like? 

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Category: CITIES


About the Author (Author Profile)

Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.

Comments (42)

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  1. avatar Josie says:

    Hey Pola,

    It has been years since I went to an elegant afternoon tea.
    The Palmer House looks absolutely incredible and so sophisticated! Thank you for elevating my afternoon and giving me something to search out on my next visit to a big city. (Hmm, headed to Philly in a couple weeks. . )
    Oh, and you look gorgeous too, my dear!

  2. avatar Tanya Wright says:

    This is so beautiful. I am a big afternoon tea girl. I was in Chicago this past October and had afternoon tea at the Drake. I will try here the next time. I so love your blog. You do an outstandi g job with a lot information. Thanks so much Pola!

    • Hi Tanya. Thank you so much for the lovely comment and kind words! Much appreciated. :) And I’m glad you told me about Afternoon Tea at the Drake – I need to try it one day!

  3. Tea in America! For some reason, I only associate tea with Europe, but this is definitely something I would love to do. Maybe the next time I am in Chicago, you’ll meet me for tea?

    BTW, this place is beyond beautiful!

    • I can’t help but think of London, but I have to say that Chicago has some great afternoon tea options. I’d definitely go with you if you came to visit! Consider this a deal, Erin. :)

  4. avatar lorrie says:

    thanks for sharing this I will have to check it out while im there maybe we can meet up while im in chicago

  5. avatar Leah Travels says:

    This brings back great memories. Thanks for taking me back. Your photos are beautiful as always.

  6. avatar Jennifer says:

    This looks absolutely lovely! I love afternoon tea. Maybe I’ll pay a visit on my next trip to Chicago.

  7. this looks lovely, Pola! Very chic and European! Must check it out when next in Chi town! ;)

  8. fancy! we felt strongly that afternoon tea needs to be come an american staple after our experience in dublin, and we’re glad to see that chicago is doing its part :)

  9. avatar lola says:

    gorgeous photos as always. wish we could go back there…maybe soon!! miss you, Pola!

  10. OMG that first shot of the lobby.. so pretty. It’s got a great vintage feel to it.

  11. avatar Cassie says:

    Really stylish place and a tastier looking tea service than those stuffy, Victorian tea houses!

  12. avatar Lance says:

    The lobby is stylish and trendy. However, the guest rooms leave a lot to be desired. It’s a much, much, much older hotel and the infrastructure is in need of an upgrade.

    • Hi, Lance. You might say it’s the beauty and the curse of historic hotels… I know they have a lot of updated rooms, and a few years ago I was lucky to stay in one of them. The lobby, however, is my favorite place for the reasons you mention. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your insight!

  13. avatar Miret says:

    Oh la la, what a nice place this is! Wow! :-)

  14. avatar Andrea says:

    Oh, I love a traditional afternoon tea! The location is just beautiful too!

  15. I’m all about afternoon tea wherever I go in the world, so thanks for giving me the heads up on this place for when I visit Chicago – it looks really elegant and lovely!

  16. avatar Britany says:

    I never made it to the Palmer house when I lived there — so sad. But I’ll be back for a visit soon and I think its about time I experience tea time!

  17. avatar Rose Scott says:

    This looks like a grand place for afternoon tea – I’m a huge fan of afternoon tea with friends, just chatting in gorgeous surroundings :-)

  18. avatar Agness says:

    Pola, you are so posh :-P. I can’t imagine myself sitting there like a queen in my trainers on and drinking a glass of wine, just can’t!

  19. avatar Sofie says:

    Wow, what an amazing decor!
    I’ll be having my first afternoon tea in London two weeks from now.
    Am absolutely looking forward to it:)

    • I drove by Palmer today and was thinking how nice it would be to go back for another Afternoon Tea service. I love the decor too! Have fun in London, that’s definitely THE place to try tea. :))

  20. avatar Romy Mlinzk says:

    Hey Pola, this is really lovely and looks like a “Kaffeehaus” in Vienna. But: didn’t you mentioned you don’t need reservations in Chicago’s cafés?! ;))

  21. avatar pokrowce says:

    bardzo fajne miejsce !