A Chicago Tradition: Afternoon Tea at The Drake Hotel

Afternoon tea at Chicago's Drake Hotel
Photo courtesy of The Drake Hotel

A harpist plays next to a large fountain, while you sip tea from china cups (pinkie up!) and eat from a three-tiered plate of finger sandwiches and bite-sized desserts.

It's what Afternoon Tea is like at The Drake Hotel - a fancy, fun, and nearly 100-year-old tradition in Chicago.

The Drake has long been associated with history and elegance. The iconic hotel, seen from Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive, pre-dates the John Hancock skyscraper behind it. It's hosted dozens of famous guests, including Princess Diana, Charlton Heston, Jack Nicholson, and Richard Gere. To see more, check out a display case of celebrity signatures and photos by the elevators on the lower level.

Adding to the hotel's elegance is their famous Afternoon Tea, held in the beautiful Palm Court room. A large fountain and chandelier is in the center of the circular room, appointed with small couches and cushioned chairs.

The menu includes two pages of different teas. There are traditional, fruity and light varieties, and even some with hints of interesting flavors like chocolate or lavender. The food served on a tiered plate. The finger sandwiches include strips of crustless white bread with egg salad or cucumbers and tomatoes, plus salmon on dark rye. The desserts are also yummy, including sweet macaroons, bite-sized brownies and cookies, and other gourmet treats. If there's something you want that's not on the menu, just ask - they will bring it to you - whether it's a cheeseburger or a scoop of gelato.

Everything's served on china and with silver flatware. You feel very regal and elegant, which makes it a special treat. The cost is $42 per adult and $20 per child.

Afternoon Tea is a popular spot for mother-daughter outings, holidays, or special events. People dress up to attend, and it's not unusual to see little girls in dresses and boys in jackets. If the girls are American Girl Doll fans, let them know in advance and they'll set up a doll chair and a special little tea set for their doll.
Afternoon tea at Chicago's Drake Hotel
Photo courtesy of The Drake Hotel

New in 2016 is a Drake Hotel History Tour & Tea, a guided tour of tales dating back to the 1920s. It's narrated in theatrical fashion by Amy Verdon, who makes the stories come to life with her background as a performer. The tour includes explanations of the architecture, ghost stories, crimes of the times, celebrities, entertainment and more.

The tour includes a 45-60-minute walking tour between the lobby and the 10th floor, plus tea service. Cost is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity, or just $25 for the tour alone. Reservations are required at least seven days in advance.

The Drake Hotel, 140 E. Walton Place, Chicago, Ill. 60611, (312) 787-2200,

Jamie Bartosch is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @jsbartosch.