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Friday, July 31, 2009


Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon
56 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003
212 533-4466

Let’s go to New York City and a special place in the historical Gramercy Park section, the Inn at Irving Place. In this lovely and very romantic historic townhouse built in 1834 is Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon, an extraordinary oasis of charm and comfort.

Before I tell of this marvelous spot, I’ve got to give some background information for the fabulously interesting Lady Mendl. She is too New York City. If you know a bit of her history when you enter the Inn and see the Victorian architecture and furniture, you will allow yourself to slip back in time to another world. It’s all quite enchanting.

Born into a wealthy New York family, Elsie de Wolfe (1865-1950) was educated in Europe, had her entrance as a debutante in the court of Queen Victoria, and when her father died, debt-ridden from gambling, Elsie became an actress to support herself. She also became the lover of Bessie Marbury, one of the most powerful women in New York. But Bessie’s a whole ‘nother story. Their home stands diagonally across the street from the Inn at Irving Place. At age 40, her acting career over, Elsie retired from the stage to become an interior designer—in fact she practically pioneered the art of interior design, and her books became text for those who followed. At age 60, she married Sir Charles Mendl for his title and continued her association with Bessie.

Among her many accomplishments, Lady Mendl held salons on weekends for the rich and famous in NY theater and art—Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Arden, and Cole Porter who included Lady Mendl’s name in his witty lyrics in Anything Goes—invented the Pink Lady cocktail, invented blue hair rinse for graying ladies, wrote books on interior design and eventually her autobiography.

So, walk up the steps to enter this beautiful home. Turn left and enter the parlor, and then to the tea room, magnificently set with fine china service, a sugar cube decorated with a rose sitting on the saucer. You have come for a five-course high tea.

You choose your tea from a wide selection, and your waiter brings a fresh, crisp, mixed green salad with vinaigrette dressing. Undoubtedly you sigh deeply. You’re meant to be pampered. You converse unhurried through this course. Your tea cup may be refilled if necessary.

The wait staff offers you tea sandwiches: smoked salmon with dill cream cheese on pumpernickel, cucumber with mint crème fraiche on brioche, goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes on 7 grain, and smoked turkey and cranberry on brioche. Choose as many and as varied as you wish, and when you finish, your waiter will offer more. You eat slowly, enjoying the relaxing ambiance and the good company and conversation. You understand how lovely these mid-day breaks can be. More tea?

Your third course consists of scones with Devonshire clotted cream and preserves. If you think of the most delicious scone, the most sensational cream, and the freshest, fruitiest preserves you’ve ever eaten, ratchet it up a notch. This is heaven.

Your next course is beyond belief. This is a “cake” comprised of layers of thin crepes separated by layers of custard. Everything was so tight and light that it stood no higher than a slice of pie. Stunning! My sister, Robyn, at the end of the day, went into the kitchen to get the recipe for this gustatory delight, and they shared it with her! By the time we finished this exceptional course, we could not believe there was anything more to enjoy.

But wait. The last part of the tea was presented on platters—fresh cookies and chocolate covered strawberries. Voilá!

Picture yourself here for a special afternoon. You will not be disappointed. I’ve been here twice. The second time was a bridal shower. Marvelously done. The atmosphere, the furniture, the tea service, and the wonderful food made this a shower to remember. Even the lavatories are in keeping with the Victorian era. My first visit around Christmas brought me to another room where a beautiful tree was decorated with china tea cups. Lovely. In New York City, jump back in time and be pampered—as you well deserve.

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