Afternoon Tea at Historic Sites

By Anna Yallouris, Host Committee Member                                                                      National Archives and Records Administraton

Another way to enjoy D.C. attractions is with a cup of tea. You can find several spots around the city that have afternoon tea, but there are a few historic sites that offer a unique experience through combining tea and history.  Here are some recommendations which make for a fun way to take in the sights at some of the most iconic locations in D.C.

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(ca. 1901) An Afternoon Tea. , ca. 1901. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2006687335/

The Willard InterContinental

The Willard is a historic luxury Beaux-Arts style  hotel located at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW and is one of the oldest hotels in Washington, D.C. The building was built by John Tayloe as a series of row-houses in 1816.  Over the next 30 years the name and owner of the hotel changed numerous times until Henry Willard began operating the hotel in 1847, known then as the City Hotel. In 1850 the Willards remodeled the building, combining it into one structure and renamed it Willard’s City Hotel. In 1901 the Willard was torn down to make way for the new Willard structure that currently remains today.

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Enter a(1853) The President leaving Willard’s Hotel, Washington. Washington D.C, 1853. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/00650923/. caption

Over the years the Willard, often referred to as the “Residence of Presidents,” has welcomed several U.S. presidents, foreign dignitaries, and celebrities. Franklin Pierce was the first president to reside at the Willard in 1853. Lincoln also stayed at the Willard for ten days prior to his inauguration. This iconic hotel  has also been the site of significant events, meetings, and historic moments in U.S. history for over 200 years: the first Japanese Delegation was held in 1860, the term “lobbyist” was popularized in lobby by Ulysses S. Grant in 1869, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made final edits to his “I Have a Dream” speech just hours before delivering it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the lobby, and the United Citizens for Nixon-Agnew leased four floors of the hotel in 1968 to work on the Nixon campaign.

This hotel has a beautiful lobby where you can take a break for afternoon tea in Peacock Alley featuring live harp music, a variety of teas, finger sandwiches, and pastries.  In August teatime takes place Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. The proximity to other attractions makes the Willard a great place to visit as well. You can walk past the White House and easily walk around to check out the various museums, monuments and memorials.

Washington National Cathedral

The Washington National Cathedral was first envisioned when George Washington commissioned architect Pierre L’Efant to create a plan for the nation’s capital.  L’Efant imagined a “great church for national purposes” and in 1893 Congress granted a charter to establish the National Cathedral. The charter, signed by President Benjamin Harrison resides at the National Archives.  Construction began in 1907 and the Cathedral was completed 83 years later to the day it began on September 29, 1990. The structure is a Neo-Gothic design closely modeled after English Gothic style of the late fourteenth century. The Cathedral has a number of stunning exterior and interior features including 112 gargoyles, 215 stained glass windows, and 288 angels atop the two west towers.

National Cathedral, Washington DC

Highsmith, C. M., photographer. National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. United States Washington D.C, None. [Between 1980 and 2006] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2011631023/.Enter a caption

The National Cathedral has been the site of national services of mourning and great celebration since its first service in 1898 and has been the location of funeral and memorial services for nearly all the 21 presidents since Congress approved the Cathedral’s charter. It is the sixth largest cathedral in the world and the second largest in the United States, with about 418,000 visitors and worshippers attending the Cathedral each year.

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One of the specialty tours that the Cathedral offers is Tour & Tea, a 2 hour experience including an in-depth Cathedral tour followed by a traditional English tea with sandwiches, scones, and tea treats.  The afternoon tea takes place on the seventh floor Pilgrim Observation Gallery where you can enjoy a scenic view of the city. This tour is only offered Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 1:00 pm, but, if you can’t make it for tea, be sure to check out the general sightseeing tours. The Cathedral is about a 5 minute ride from the conference hotel.  The Highlights Tour is a guided tour tailored for first-time visitors and is offered every half hour during the week from 10:15 to 11:15 and 1 to 3:30, Saturdays 10:15 to 3, and Sundays as available. The Cathedral is also open for self guided tours during regular visiting hours 10-5 during the week, Saturday 10-4, and Sunday start at 12:45. Sunday worship services begin at 8am.

Watergate Hotel

The Watergate Hotel has one of the best afternoon teas in D.C. and takes place every Saturday and Sunday from 2:00-3:30 pm. Afternoon tea is provided at the Kingbird restaurant and includes tea sandwiches, desserts, a glass of champagne, and bottomless tea.

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The Watergate opened in 1967 and became home to the Washingtonian elite. The hotel’s avant-garde architecture was designed by Luigi Moretti and was controversial when the design was unveiled in 1961, as it went against Washington’s neoclassical architecture. However, the Watergate is most known for being the center of the biggest political scandal when five burglars broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex the night of June 17, 197, which led to the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon. Today remnants of this political event still exist – you can stay at the “Scandal Suite”, Room 214, the original room used in the Watergate break-in. The room includes furniture and memorabilia from the 1960s and 1970s such as a reel-to-reel- tape recorder, book collection, typewriter, and other framed items.  If you do visit the Watergate, check out the Top of Gate rooftop bar for a great view of the city!

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

Although not as well known as the above locations, Hillwood is a beautiful estate nestled in northwest DC and is about a 6 minute ride from the conference hotel. The estate include formal gardens, exhibit spaces, and an afternoon tea which you can arrange through the group tours offered.

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Hillwood Estate was founded by Marjorie Merriweather Post, whose parents founded the Post cereal empire that would later become the General Foods Corporation, became heir to Post cereal at the age of 27. Marjorie spent a significant portion of her life collecting items to furnish her homes.  She developed a preference for the arts of the late-eighteenth century France and also had a passion for collection decorative arts from Imperial Russia. Marjorie purchased Hillwood, a 1920s neo-Georgian house in 1955, which she remodeled as a place to showcase her collections. She intended for her home to serve as a museum that would inspire and educate the public.

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Hillwood has the most comprehensive collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia, a distinguished eighteenth-century French decorative art collection, and twenty-five acres of landscaped gardens and natural woodlands. Visiting hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. I recommend participating in one of the guided mansion tours, taking time to tour the gardens and have a cup of tea if you have the chance!

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