Friday, March 7, 2008

Tea at the Plaza

When the Plaza Hotel on Central Park South in Manhattan was sold in 2004 and closed for conversion to condominiums, many New Yorkers were sad — really sad. They remembered tea in the Palm Court, drinks in the Oak Room, masses of crystal and flowers, celebrities awash in swank and mischievous Eloise, who had the run of the place.

However, after a $400 million overhaul, parts of the century-old Plaza have reopened. The hotel now consists of just 282 rooms, with most of the building allotted to condos and time-shares. But a harpist is again on duty in the Palm Court and tea is being served under a stunning stained glass ceiling that replicates one that was there between 1907 when the hotel opened and 1944, when it was replaced. Happily, the mirrors and caryatids on the rear wall are also still there, reflecting the room's new furnishings. Diners now sit on heavy, tall-backed blue velvet chairs that make each table seem private, though moving those chairs to get in and out of them requires the help of a waiter!

Tea, I'm happy to report, is better than ever with an exotic tea selection, beautiful, mini- open-faced sandwiches, superb scones, jam and clotted cream and a tempting array of exquisite pastries served on a silver, three-tiered tray. The service is impeccable and there is absolutely no pressure to finish up and move along.

All of this comes at a price — quite a price. Tea starts at $60 per person, and is more if you order champagne or a heftier complement of sandwiches. (Tea at the old Plaza used to cost $29, or $35 if you ordered caviar blinis.)

Of course, for visitors with Euros in their pockets, at the current rate of exchange, tea at the Plaza would only cost $39 — in my opinion, a bargain — and conveniently located near the high-end stores of Fifth Avenue, which offer additional bargains to those with foreign currency.

I predict that for the foreseeable future, there won't be too many New Yorkers in the Palm Court, but lots of overseas visitors having a wonderful time.