ARTS

  /  

April 23, 2002

Kill Obscurity

I apologize up front for the sparseness of this little article. Honestly, I just don't know that much about the state of teatime in Chicago. Even more honestly, I have been to only two afternoon teas in Chicago. But here is a run-down of those two: one at the Drake and one at the Ritz Carleton.

Both hotels serve afternoon tea daily, but the best day to go is Sunday. The Green House at the Ritz serves tea in the afternoon but they seat people only at 2:30 and 4:30. It is better to go at 2:30 if you are planning on sitting and chatting for more than an hour because they promptly kick you out when the clock ticks to 5:30. The Drake seats people continually but their tea ends around 5:00. The formats are similar: both offer a traditional tea, which includes dainty sandwiches, delicate pastries, and little pot of tea. You can opt for wine or champagne instead of tea for oodles more money but I don't think it adds to the feeling of decadence at all. Remember: you are going for decadence.

Moving on to décor and environs, the Drake serves tea in a rather large rectangular room. The lighting is dim and the furniture is very plush; I don't really know how to describe it except as such: it resembles a mobster's nouveau riche home—except everything is authentic and not bought with cash. The dim lighting and dark furniture are key because they add to the decadence. There is a gigantic (and I mean gigantic) flower arrangement on top of a fountain composed of naked cherubim spitting. The bathrooms are bigger than Manhattan kitchenettes and have little stools for you to sit on while you powder your nose.

The Ritz is similar but not as decadent because they make the mistake of putting the tearoom in a well-lit greenhouse with tons of light and floor-length windows. Compared to the Drake, the feeling of taking tea at the Ritz is comparable to drinking at a bar lit with fluorescents. It's a no-no. To its credit though, the Ritz serve you your tea on Wedgwood plates with Frette napkins. I hope someone knows what I am talking about because I don't want to come off as a pretentious ass. Remember, the point of taking tea at one of these hotels is to be decadent—but not like having Cristal poured onto your back while getting massaged. Not that kind of decadence.

Moving on to food, the Drake serves basically twice as many types of sandwiches and pastries as the Ritz. There is no way that I am going back to the Ritz. Granted, the Ritz has a world champion of pastries as their pastry chef; still, I can't eat little dollops of sugar as pastries. Also, the Drake serves you these amazing asparagus ham sandwiches and a puff pastry in shape of a swan. The tea selection is better at the Drake, too. But if you end up at the Ritz even after reading this article, try the Apricot Black tea because it is very good. The traditional tea at the Drake is 21 dollars; at the Ritz-Carleton it costs 20 dollars. With tax and tip, both places cost around 26-28 dollars. Remember: parking fees are atrocious around there.

Ritz-Carleton. Next to Watertower Place. Near the Museum of Contemporary Art on Pearson.

312.266.1000

The Drake. Behind Watertower Place on Walton.

312.787.2200

Also other places that serve tea:

Russian Tea Time. Near Art Institute on Adams.

312.360.0000

$19

Villa Kula. On Lincoln north of Montrose

773.728.3114