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.
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.
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.
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
(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?