Saturday, August 13, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — New York

I was not at all surprised to find lots of information about tea in New York, and I especially had fun discovering a few of the more obscure things about the Empire State!

 Tea Island on Lake George, New York, is a historic resort area that once had a tea house on it.  According to the 1868 book "Lake George" by B. F. DeCosta, "Two miles down the lake, on the west side, close to the shore, is the first island which we pass. It is called Tea Island, and is a perfect gem. In 1828 a 'Tea-house' was kept there to accommodate visitors, which fact accounts for its present name." And you can still visit Tea Island today! Click here if you'd like to see its modern incarnation.

• Some "society women" of a hundred years ago poured tea in New York City for the "motor men of Street Railway." This is one of those wonderful old Library of Congress images that raises more questions than it answers. Its title is simply what the photo reads up top, "Society women pouring tea for motormen of Street Railway." The photo, which is from around 1908, is part of the George Grantham Bain Collection. Who was Bain? He was a New York City photographer known as "the father of foreign photographic news." I can't help wondering whether Bain took this photo himself (those two men at right and that "society woman" closest to them look a bit, um, unimpressed, shall we say). "Motor man" appears to be a term for those who conducted trains and trolleys. So that's helpful, I guess, but why were the "society women" pouring tea for them? Motormen Appreciation Week, maybe? And did you notice the little candlestick lamps/lights on the table? Interesting. And isn't it funny that a century may pass, but we still need the basics of white tablecloths and stacks of plates and cups and a nice, big tea urn!

 • New York City is home of the Russian Tea Room, which is perhaps one of the most legendary tea rooms in the country.

This is a vintage postcard of the tea room I found some years ago, and the back reads: "Next Door to Carnegie Hall, Exquisite RUSSIAN and FRENCH CUISINE. Lunch - Afternoon Tea - Dinner - After-Theatre Supper - Vodka - Cocktails - Wines - Liquors." I've never been to the Russian Tea Room, but it's definitely on my bucket list! (Go here if you'd like to see more photos and their Afternoon Tea offerings.)



  1. Fascinating! I didn't even realize the Russian Tea room is still in operation - dang, last time we hit The Big Apple I thought we completed our "must do touristy things" there. Guess not. Glad we stayed at The Waldorf, because I have recently learned that it is going to be re-do and made into expensive condos. An era has passed to be sure.

    Enjoy your history lessons, Angela! ♥

  2. Thank you! It is now on my bucket list too. Maybe we can get the High Tea changed to Afternoon Tea?!

  3. Interesting info....Tea Island at Lake George! We have enjoyed tea at The Plaza in NYC. Fun times!

  4. Interesting. Love the old photos.

  5. Hadn't heard of the tea island, but wouldn't it be fun to have tea on the island today? The Russian Tearoom is definitely on my list. I peeked in the window once, but it wasn't open.

  6. Another great installment in your tea series, Angela - and interesting as ever.

    Tea island (only in New York!) Visited The Russian Tea Room with my sister several years ago and it was so lavish, everything I imagined it to be! *

    * Memorable scene in the movie 'Tootsie,' takes place at The Russian Tea Room - when Dustin Hoffman (as Soap star Dorothy Michaels), corners the 'Tootsie' director (appearing in a cameo role) outside The Russian Tea Room - asks the director, 'where's The Russian Tea Room?'

    The director (not recognizing Dustin Hoffman, dressed as Dorothy Michaels) replies, 'you're standing right in front of it!' (Of course, Dorothy Michaels follows the director inside, sits down at the table and 'fools' the director: it's really Dustin Hoffman under all the makeup, the wig and the clothes...such a funny movie and my sister Patti had a small part in that movie: 'Girl at the party.'

    Patti was working as a receptionist at Columbia Pictures in NYC and when the call went out for Extras at the birthday party scene, Patti applied and, since it turned into a small speaking role with Dustin Hoffman, Patti actually was able to get a Screen Actors Guild (membership card), her name in the credits and received residual payments for quite a few years (plus, bragging rights for being in such a popular comedy, one of my all-time favorite movies!)

    Thanks for this tea series, Angela, it brings back memories. Joanie

  7. Love the vintage postcards shared in this post, particularly the one with the society women!

  8. This information is fascinating, thank you for sharing all this great tea history with us.
    You mentioned the candles w/shades on the serving table. Apparently those were quite popular according to this book

    It's called "Gala-Day Luncheons, A Little Book of Suggestions". There are a few of Caroline French Benton's books out on Google for free. I believe most of them are compilations of articles from magazines of the era.

  9. Tea Island is a special little gem on our beautiful Lake George, known as "The Queen of America's Lakes". And while the tea room is no longer in operation, there are many fine tea rooms serving in nearby, historic Saratoga Springs. I have this sweet card in my own collection, Angela, and there is nothing better on a lazy summer day than a boat ride around this small north woods isle.


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