Classic Cups

A Chicago treasure: afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel

This month, we've had classics on the brain.

As we've mulled over the idea of "old is new", our thoughts turned to tea. And for tea in its most classic British form, there's one definitive destination: The Drake Hotel.

For the daily afternoon tea ($35), tables in the historic hotel's gilded, airy Palm Court are set with china and shining silver tea strainers. Since 1981, tiered platters have been laden with crustless finger sandwiches, in such flavors as smoked salmon on pumpernickel, sweet egg salad on brioche, cucumber-tomato on white bread, and roast beef with arugula on an Asiago cheese roll. 

Scones are crumbly and barely sweet, with lemon curd, berry preserves and double Devon cream. The top tier holds the sugar high: miniature key-lime tarts, red-velvet cheesecake bonbons, cream-puff swans.

The tea list is far from stodgy, with 16 selections from Harney & Sons, including blacks, greens, oolong, white and herbal. The Bleu Peacock oolong is delicate and nuanced; lapsang souchong packs a savory, smoky wallop.

It's lunch, an afternoon caffeine jolt and a taste of history, all in one.

The Palm Court at The Drake Hotel, 140 E Walton St.; 312-787-2200 or thedrakehotel.com