The irony of British-inspired tea bars in New York City – BoilingNews


It’s the irony of history, if not an example of cosmic feminist karma, that the best British-inspired tea bars in New York City – among them Tea & Sympathy, Lady Mendl’s and Brooklyn High Low – are women-owned establishments. From 1657, when tea first became available in London’s coffee houses, to the early seventeenth century, when women were invited in, recreational tea drinking was reserved for rum-busted men. A simultaneous broadsheet celebrated the drink’s power to “make the body active and tasty.” Over the next two centuries, the musk of patriarchy rose from this risky pastime, and in 1889, Ladies’ Home Journal could report that “at five o’clock has become a community institution” where “ladies are generally in the majority.”

At Lady Mendl’s, the finger sandwiches range from classic to daring unconventional, including a crostini topped with butternut squash puree and Boursin cheese.

In the 1980s, a London expatriate named Nicola Perry for a workshop at New York University drew up a business plan for “an English-style tea room, designed to introduce an American clientele to the joy of a great British tradition.” She wrote: “The atmosphere and decor will be cozy and comfortable,” with “old porcelain and silverware, chintz tablecloths and lace curtains.” In 1990, two days before Christmas, Perry held his first afternoon tea at Tea & Sympathy (108 Greenwich Ave.; tea service from $ 40): a two-level dish with finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, vanilla sponge cake, and hot black tea served in the most delicious cups. Today, the popular tea shop in the West Village can take in the atmosphere of a pub, and Perry has had to introduce some house rules that she has printed on the menu. Nr. 5: “Be comfortable with the waitresses.”

Brooklyn High Low offers ninety-nine tea varieties, including an added whole butterfly pea flower that turns the liquid into a psychedelic indigo.

Lady Mendl’s (56 Irving Pl .; Tea Service $ 65), in Gramercy Park, is named after a socialite and a pioneering interior designer who once lived in the neighborhood. The glorious salon, tucked inside a Georgian rut from 1834, is easy to miss, but once this little jewel box is found, treasures reveal treasures. The five-course afternoon tea starts with a pumpkin-apple soup, with crème fraîche, pomegranate seeds and roasted pepitas, in a Moroccan tea glass. The finger sandwiches range from classic (egg salad, smoked salmon, cucumber and butter) to the daring unconventional, including a crostini topped with butternut squash puree, boursin cheese, arugula and balsamic glaze. After miniature scones and 21-layer vanilla cream crepe cake comes pistachio macarons and chocolate-dipped strawberries. Each dish is paired with one of six black, green or herbal teas. A spokesman said the owner, who is soon to be ninety, is “comically rich and prefers not to have her name in print.”

Honey Moon Udarbe was raised by hippie parents in Northern California. In addition to running Brooklyn High Low (611 Vanderbilt Ave .; tea service from $ 48) in Prospect Heights, she also runs a nearby vintage store and clears out the estates of dead rich people. She does not dispose of anything if it can be used again; broken teacups are revived as components of a beautiful funky chandelier. If Lady Mendl’s takes freedom with the afternoon tea conventions, the Brooklyn High Low will detonate the paradigm. Pastrami and Dijon mustard on rye? Guava and blue cheese on gluten-free bread? Twenty-nine tea varieties, including an added whole butterfly pea flower that turns the liquid into a psychedelic indigo?

In the tea community, there is a narrow spectrum of permissible opinions as to whether to first spread the cream or jam on a scones. At both Tea & Sympathy and Lady Mendl’s I was asked, with some solemnity, to apply the cream first. At Brooklyn High Low, the server said, “I like to just use my fork and dip myself in different things.” What?! Occasionally the wait staff inadvertently hears the squeak, or an item falls off a shelf, or a light flickers. “The building is fairly new, so the ghost probably came in with one of the tea sets,” says Udarbe. “I think she’s an old lady who’s just happy that people are still using her teacups.” ♦



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