Tea Time: The Compass Rose

Turned away from the King George Hotel, Michelle & I wandered back to Union Square and into the palatial St. Francis Hotel. I was dead set on relaxing with a cup of tea, especially since I was a week into a month-long detox with no alcohol.


I escaped work before 5pm for the first time in months and was waiting outside the hotel for Michelle, dreaming about buttered scones and tea. She ran down the hill towards me, leaving a pot of chicken soup simmering for her sick boy blocks away. We entered the lobby of the King George, looking for the Bread and Honey tea room. Having read that it was on the mezzanine level, we trekked up the spiral staircase hunting for a reasonably priced tea time. We were informed at the top by a bellhop that the tea room had been moved to the first floor, and tea was only served on the weekends. He made a fake pouty face to mirror our disappointment and shooed us on our way.
“How easy would it be to just get a drink somewhere?” I said, meaning alcohol. I eyed five bars within spitting range.
“No, you’ve done so well on your booze-fast. We can find another tea joint. I think Magdalena’s near Neiman’s serves tea.”
She steered me away from the welcoming barstool. We crossed Geary and walked toward Union Square.
“Do you want to try this place?” I gestured at the St. Francis. We had wanted to avoid the $30 high tea experience, but gave in after seeing a la carte options on the menu posted outside.
The hostess invited us in for cocktails. Sheepish, we asked if we could still get afternoon tea, as the clock hands edged towards 5pm.
“I feel like an old lady,” Michelle giggled.
“Where did I put my knitting?” I looked through my bag.
We were shown to our table, hidden from the rest of the stylishly cocktail-sipping tourist crowd by a large wooden column. After confirming with the waiter that petit fours were sweet treats and not little meat morsels, we ordered a plate and 2 pots of tea. I opted for Oolong while Michelle tried a Ceylon tea.
The petit fours were delicious: chocolate-coated macaroons, carrot cake, tarts and marzipan. The tea pots arrived with their accompanying strainers and extra hot water. We subtracted points for the use of sugar packets, not cubes.
“We would definitely have cubes,” we promised each other, planning our own tea shop. “And we could do tea leaf readings and tarot cards…”
Mercifully, the piano player took a break and we sunk further into our comfy chairs. A constant stream of tourists flowed by with drinks in hand. Pink concoctions in martini glasses, beers poured into flutes, gin and tonics everywhere. Conference badges flashed in the sunlight from the window.
“I wonder why people are drawn to this place. Hotel bars suck.”
Our waiter asked if we’d like to charge our tea snack to our room. If only. Walking out $20 lighter, I realized that money would have stretched further at Happy Hour. Only 3 more weeks…
Overall tea experience: B-