On one of our visits to England years ago, we found ourselves exhausted from shopping and in need of a pick-me-up. A proper English tea seemed just the thing so we headed for a quintessential English hotel, Brown’s.
Brown’s hotel was started in 1837 by Lord Byron’s butler, James Brown, and his wife Sarah. Makes you wonder how much Lord Byron paid his butler. A servant’s pay back then was a few pounds a year so he must have gotten quite a bit from vails or tips to be able to buy 23 Dover Street and, within the year, expand it to include 21, 22, and 24 Dover street. Thus Brown’s Hotel was born, one of the first hotels in London.
Celebrating its 175th Anniversary, Brown’s has much to celebrate besides its longevity. It has hosted future Presidents, reigning Emperors, and European royalty. The hotel has starred in a novel, been home to a novelist, and on the front lines of new technology.
Theodore Roosevelt stayed at Brown’s in 1886 while Royal guests have included Napoleon III and the Empress Euginie in 1871. Elizabeth, queen of the Belgians, Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, and George II, King of the Hellenes were also guests. Queen Victoria attended many functions as a dinner patron.
Rudyard Kipling wrote part of the Jungle Book there while Agatha Christie stayed at Brown’s when she wrote the mystery, At Bertram’s Hotel, supposedly using Brown’s as the template for Bertram’s. Other celebrated writers who were frequent visitors included Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, JM Barrie, and Bram Stoker. Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call in Britian from Brown’s hotel in 1876.
With all that inspiration waiting for us, how could we not go to Brown’s for tea?
We were dressed casually, including the requisite sneakers, as one would for a good day of heavy shopping. When we presented ourselves in the front hall for seating among the overstuffed chairs, doilies, and mahogany tables one would expect to find, the maître’d nodded his head, gave us an encouraging smile, and then bustled behind us to rustle in a closet from which he pulled out an brightly colored jacket and an equally bright tie and extended them to my husband. Dressed in kaki’s, sneakers, and a polo shirt, my husband politely inquired: did the maitre’d really want to seat us with my husband wearing that jacket and tie because the combination looked odd, at best. We were quite prepared to find another place for tea and give up the wonderful treats we saw out of the corner of our eye.
“Absolutely,” the maitre’d said in his friendliest voice. “It’s just the dress code and you won’t be the only one. We keep jackets and ties for just this reason.” And, apparently, in colors no one would be tempted to steal.
So orange jacket on, patterned tie knotted, we entered the cozy environs of the tea room at Brown’s hotel. This was the type of room where people came to read a book or newspaper, to play a game of checkers, or to nod off as they waited for their room to be ready. Think English library with lots of nooks. We chose a settee and chair in the corner where we could see the rest of the room (and people might not notice the man in the orange jacket) and waited for the tea things to be brought out.
Arriving with a flourish were large tiered stands layered with plates of assorted tea sandwiches including those cucumber sandwiches you read about, raspberry scones, and the most wonderful pastries we had seen yet on our trip. A steaming pot of tea and china cups came next with a pitcher of milk and a bowl of sugar cubes. We drank and feasted with relish (enthusiasm, not the condiment, lol).
We settled back to enjoy this very British experience as we watched the hotel guests go to and fro. Every man was dressed in suit and tie (as my husband watched from the embrace of his orange jacket), every woman wore a dress or skirt and heels. All looked like they were in business or with the government, as Brown’s was a favorite meeting spot for those in office. We didn’t see anyone “famous” , but everyone outside in the reception area seemed busy. It was fun guessing what people were up to.
Famished, we tried everything. We ate the plates clean. We relaxed. We chatted. We enjoyed the show. And then we realized…we had not asked how much the tea was. Inquiry to the waiter revealed that at Brown’s you only paid for what you ate, which was quite a nice arrangement if you wanted just a bite and some tea for a reasonable sum. But we had eaten everything.
The bill was large, the most we had paid for tea then or now, but we were stuffed and decided that tea would suffice for dinner. Taking our departure, my husband readily handed back the orange jacket and patterned tie. Refreshed and well fed, we headed to the theater district with a lovely memory to share many years later.
We partook of many teas in England—from The Ritz to Harrods—all wonderful, but none more memorable than our feast at Brown’s with hubby in his orange jacket.
Where is your favorite place for a “spot of tea?”
Anne Carrole writes about cowboys who have grit, integrity and little romance on their mind and the women who love them. Check out her contemporary novella, Falling for a Cowboy, and her western historical novella, Saving Cole Turner at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or Kobobooks.com. Or find her at www.facebook.com/annecarrole, www.facebook.com/lovewesternromances or www.annecarrole.com
Picture: Wikipedia CC 2.0- Used with permission http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Brown%27s_Hotel_London.jpg http://www.flickr.com/photos/londonmatt