Whether you're celebrating a special occasion or just looking for a memorable experience, afternoon tea—popularly called high tea in New York City—can be a fun outing with kids. It's an especially great winter outing and particularly fitting during the holidays.
Several places serve high tea in New York City, with varying degrees of appropriateness for children. From the fancy Eloise Tea at the Plaza Hotel to the less frilly Russian Tea Room, there are teas—and the goodies that come along with them—for children of all ages and parents of all budgets. Here's our take on some of the best spots for a tea outing in NYC.
Madeline's Tea at the Carlyle – Upper East Side
35 East 76th Street
Largely due to singer/pianist Tina deVaron, Madeline's Tea at the Carlyle Hotel is one of our favorites in the city. Held in the famous Bemelmans Bar, Madeline’s Tea pays tribute to the creator of the Madeline children's book series, Ludwig Bemelmans. Surrounded by the author-illustrator's delightful murals, deVaron explains how Bemelmans stayed in the Carlyle Hotel for 18 months painting depictions of famous NYC monuments in exchange for room and board. The setting is small and intimate, the food and tea are plentiful, and the music rocks. A big thumbs-up for little Madeline.
Kids Will Love: Kid-friendly foods and Madeline dolls, books, napkins, and plates strewn about. The star of the show is deVaron, who gets children up on their feet by singing requests, including everything from The Sound of Music to the Twelve Days of Christmas to Taylor Swift hits.
Children's Tea: This is kid heaven. A buffet offers kid pleasers such as banana and Nutella crepes, bacon mac and cheese, silver-dollar pancakes, cupcakes and, of course, lemon madeleines, as well as more traditional tea sandwiches.
Best For: Children younger than 10 who love music and dressing up.
Cost and Schedule: $75 per person, $35 for children younger than 3, plus tax and gratuity. Offered on Saturdays November 5-December 24, with seatings at 10:30am and 1pm. Reservations are a must.
Lady Mendl's Tea Salon – Gramercy
56 Irving Place
Lady Mendl's is a true Victorian tea salon in a brownstone on Irving Place that serves an elegant, classic, English afternoon tea. Sit on couches by the fireplace or at elegantly set tables.
Kids Will Love: The fancy room, service, and touches such as decorative rose sugar.
Children's Tea: There are no gimmicks here or even a children's menu. The five-course tea includes sandwiches, scones with Devonshire clotted cream and jam, desserts, and bottomless pots of tea from a wide selection, including several of the spot's own blends.
Best For: Ages 12 and older. Younger kids are not permitted. This is an ideal spot for a special outing such as a family get-together or a teen girl's birthday treat. The five-course afternoon tea takes at least an hour and a half. Read our full review and see photos.
Cost and Schedule: $59 per person plus tax and gratuity. Served Wednesday to Sunday, afternoons only. Visit the website for a complete schedule. Reservations are required.
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The pretty setting (and tableware) is half the fun. Dress up to make it an extra special event. Photo courtesy of Alice's Tea Cup.
Alice's Tea Cup – Upper East and Upper West Sides
156 East 64th Street, 212-486-9200
102 West 73rd Street, 212-799-3006
220 East 81st Street, 212-734-4832
Only someone with a heart of stone would not be enchanted by Alice's Tea Cup. With three NYC locations, it has the most magical atmosphere and the best food of any tea house we've sipped at. Note: All three outposts are tiny so expect a bit of a wait.
Kids Will Love: Butterfly wings are everywhere (you can borrow a pair during your visit or buy a set in the gift shop.) The "Menu for the Small" features items such as peanut butter and jelly on banana bread.
Children's Tea: The Wee Tea includes a pot of tea or other beverage, one scone, choice of any children's menu item, and dark chocolate mousse.
Best For: Everyone. The food is great, there are lots of options, and it's not pricey.
Cost and Schedule: $29 for The Wee Tea. Adult tea prices range from $28 for The Nibble to $100 for The Jabberwocky. Patrons can order off the regular menu, too. Served daily.
American Girl Tea – Midtown East
609 Fifth Avenue
Parents have plenty of opinions about American Girl dolls, ranging from "too expensive and too commercialized" to "love them!" But my daughter and I truly enjoyed the American Girl tea experience. The room and tables are lovely and cheerful, if a bit crowded, and the food is surprisingly good. Overall, this is a wonderful experience any little girl will cherish.
Kids Will Love: Having a doll sit beside them in her own little seat and with her own place setting. The café provides plenty of dolls to choose from if your daughter doesn't have her own.
Children's Tea: Tea sandwiches, butterfly cookies, and chocolate mousse flowerpots are among the highlights.
Best For: Girls of all ages who love dolls, but some of its special tea events are reserved for those ages 8 and up.
Cost and Schedule: $21-$24 per person, excluding tax and gratuity. Served daily at 4pm. Call or book reservations online. Be sure to check the calendar for special holiday-themed teas and even a special brunch with Santa.
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Tea at the Russian Tea Room isn't just for the girls. Photo by Mommy Poppins.
The Russian Tea Room – Midtown East
150 West 57th Street
This iconic NYC restaurant offers a children's tea with a few Russian touches such as peanut butter and jelly blinis. It doesn't have the charm of other locations, but its lack of frilliness make it possibly the best tea for boys. Read our full review and see photos.
Kids Will Love: Hot chocolate with whipped cream and a whole plate of desserts just for them. Seeing the fancy Russian toys in the gift shop is fun, too.
Children's Tea: Tea served Russian-style, or hot chocolate plus a tiered carousel of kid-friendly tea sandwiches and that aforementioned plate of desserts. See the full menu.
Best For: Boys, since the art deco room is not super girlie. The restaurant is often less than full so the antics of small children are accommodated.
Cost and Schedule: $35 per child. Adult tea menus start at $50. You can take your children to tea, but order off the regular menu for yourself. I ordered a salad. While the kids had their special outing, I saved myself the calories—and about $20. Children's tea is served daily from 2 to 4:30pm. You can book a kids' birthday party by reserving a table for children's tea (you pay regular menu prices) or working out a package for a private room.
Eloise Tea at the Plaza – Midtown East
Fifth Avenue at Central Park South
The stunning Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel reopened in 2010 after extensive renovations, and launched the Eloise Tea, as well as an Eloise Shop and even an Eloise Suite (at more than $2,000 per night), all inspired by the popular children's book series.
Kids Will Love: Stopping by the pinked-out Eloise Shop, where they can play dress-up, watch Eloise movies in the reading room, or play pretend tea.
Children's Tea: Tea sandwiches include peanut butter and jelly, and the dessert spread features an eye-popping poof of Eloise-pink cotton candy. Kids can pick from pink lemonade, vanilla iced tea, or a variety of "hot hot" teas. See the full menu.
Best For: Special occasions. This is an outing your child will remember for a lifetime.
Cost and Schedule: $50 per child younger than 12, $95 per adult. Served daily from noon to 5pm. Reservations fill up, especially during the holidays. Call to reserve.
Also Worth Considering
Rose House is located in Flushing's Chinatown at the Queens Crossing Mall, 718-359-7673. It's one of our top picks for a special Mother's Day outing in Queens!
We've noted what ages are appropriate at each venue, but you might be wondering if your kid is even ready for a high-tea experience. We've found age 5 is a great starting point, but kids as young as 3 may enjoy those places geared toward children such as American Girl.
Top image: Alice's Tea Cup. Photo by spontaneidee via Instagram.
This article was first published in December 2010, but is updated annually.