The Local Tourist: Afternoon Tea at the Drake Hotel

Afternoon Tea at the Drake
Photo: Michigan Ave Magazine

Over a million international tourists visit Chicago each year. They march the streets, eyes to the skies, fawning over the architecture, pouring into Giordano’s for an ‘authentic’ deep dish, fish facing the Bean, gorging themselves on Italian Beef, and looking down on the rest of us from the Willis (Sears) Tower. My family and I have never done any of these things and, since moving from Milwaukee and officially making Chicago my home almost 7 years ago, I still haven’t done them. This saddens me because Chicago is a national treasure and the home of many American firsts. I’d like to appreciate the architecture, gawk at the monuments, and eat a hot dog like I don’t live here and see this stuff every day.

Chicagoings’ brand new series, The Local Tourist, is a pretty great excuse to look at Chicago through the Kanye West novelty glasses of a tourist. With each article expect to fall deeper in love with your city and grow more knowledgeable of the gems within it.

This week my accomplice and I embark on a local rite of passage: Afternoon Tea at Palm Court in the Drake Hotel.

Afternoon Tea at the Drake Hotel


High Tea at Palm Court in the Drake Hotel (Gold Coast, 140 E Walton Street)

The History 

The story goes that this tradition started in 1840 by the Seventh Duchess of Bedford to fill her hunger during the long periods between meals. Quickly this ‘snack time’ became a big elaborate excuse to gossip with friends and drink in the middle of the day.

My partner in crime

Maritza Buelvas. Writer of The Coquette Baguette (, Assistant Editor of Giuliana Rancic’s journal FabFitFun (, and Chicago Wedding Hairstylist ( She does it all!

How it All Went Down

Like me, Maritza is an only child who at an early age developed an obsession with fashion and breakfast. That’s right, breakfast. Ever craved crapes at 2 a.m.? Eaten waffles after a night out with your friends? Preferred flaky biscuits to boring dinner rolls? Then chances are you too are obsessed with this, most important, meal of the day. Didn’t know that about yourself, did ya?

Maritza is a breakfast guru. Her blog, The Coquette Baguette, provides an exclusive look into the nation’s best breakfast spots and offers advice on what to wear while noshing. She describes it as “a breakfast blog with an appetite for style”. Check out her site for a fabulous midday pick-me-up!

“My favorite breakfast would have to have been in Paris …with my husband.” The culinary trifecta: enchanting surroundings, beautiful clothing, and, of course, great food. Maritza looks down at her tea and smiles. “It was just perfect!”  High tea in London with her mom and aunt comes in at a close second favorite and I can see her becoming lost in thought as she reminisces on these moments.

My favorite breakfast would have to have been in Paris …with my husband.

Afternoon Tea at the Drake Hotel

Afternoon Tea at the Drake Hotel is something I’ve never done because, frankly, I’m an espresso drinker – and espresso doesn’t cost $40. If it did I’d be homeless from my habit. Thankfully, Martiza is a pro at this and patiently helps me select my tea (Chocolate Mint Truffle). The waiter quickly rushes over with our sandwich and pastry selections (which are so small I feel a bit like Alice after digesting a ‘drink me’ potion) and our afternoon formalities commence. Surprisingly, the vibe isn’t hoity-toity or hilariously antiquated. The feel of the room is, in a word, peaceful; kept interesting by the giddy laughter associated with ladies-who-lunch.  A few steps away, the harpist pulls serene cords at just the perfect tone and our tea is richer and more captivating than even my last cup of coffee. I’m hooked! What’s more, by the end of it all we were completely full and each left with doggy bags.

Survey Says…

Full disclosure: Afternoon Tea at the Drake’s going to cost you $38 per person prior to gratuity. Is it worth it? I’m shocked to say it is! Remember, although exquisitely delicious, you’re not paying for the tea and sandwiches, per se, but for the moment. The Palm Court is one of the most beautiful dining spaces in the city. Your food is served on the finest China, and a harpist is draping the experience in tranquility. It’s worth the occasional splurge for a lasting memory best shared with family and friends.


The Local Tourist is a series targeting Chicagoans who love their city but take for granted its many wonders. Each article offers a new look at an old Chicago tourist attraction.