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16 Tea Varieties Await Visitors At The Huntington's Reopened Rose Garden Tea Room

A person with dark-tone skin holds a white tea cup in midair with a view to white tables set with tableware and champagne glasses beyond.
Tables in the refurbished tea room are set for the next day. Reservations were snapped up quickly and are booked out four months.
(Susanne Whatley
LAist )
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During the COVID-19 shutdown, the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino reopened its gardens to guests seeking a safe outdoor place to spend time. But indoor spaces remained shuttered, including the venerated tea room.

Visitors peering in the windows could spot set tables frozen in time inside a 1911 building that was quite a bit past its prime.

Even after the library and museum reopened, the tea room remained closed. That's because the Huntington seized a "silver lining" to the shutdown and took the opportunity to completely renovate and expand the beloved spot.

About the reopening

 A tray of blackberry, strawberry and raspberry tarts is dusted in powdered sugar.
The menu offers 15 varieties of pastries.
(Susanne Whatley
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The budget for the renovation was $7.5 million and the initial plan was to reopen in 2022.

A little behind that schedule, the Rose Garden Tea Room resumed serving up tea, scones and finger sandwiches to the public this week (after members got a series of previews.)

On the eve of its reopening, Randy Shulman, a vice president for external relations for the Huntington, stood amid freshly-set tables, talking about how the pandemic shutdown cleared the way for a refresh.

”For several years we've been really hoping to restore this building and expand what we could do as far as our tea service, which is very, very central to many people's Huntington experience," he said. "So that gave us an opportunity to think and act quickly and so we worked fast to restore and expand the tea room and have it ready as fast as we could."

A rendering shows gardens and floor plans
Original floor plans for the Rose Garden Tea Room's new and renovated spaces.
(Courtesy Architectural Resource Group (ARG)))

What to expect

The original Myron Hunt-designed building, whose windows look out onto the rose garden, is now flanked by two additional seating areas. One borders the herb garden while the other is an outdoor pavilion adjoining the Shakespeare Garden with a newly-installed 17th-century fountain. All are furnished with new tables and chairs. The original room also has long banquettes including one covered in fabric from a pattern in the Huntington's William Morris collection. There are also cozy club chairs in front of a fireplace with its refurbished mantel of carved wood.

Shulman says when renovations got underway, they hoped to find the floor of Henry Huntington's two-lane bowling alley. It harkened back to the days when the rail tycoon enjoyed the building as his man cave. It sits a distance away from the mansion he shared with wife Arabella that now serves as the museum of their art collection.

They were disappointed to find the alley floor had long since been ruined in the years after the estate became an educational institution and the building was converted into a cafe and tea room.

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What’s on the menu

A man with light-tone skin wears a black apron over a white chef's coat and stands near a walk in fridge holding a pastry tray.
Pastry Chef Luis Perez displays a tray of fruit tarts destined for the tables of the Huntington's newly-refurbished tea room, which reopened to the pubic May 24th.

Returning patrons will find an expanded offering. There are 16 traditional and herbal teas to choose from (Shulman's favorite is the Huntington signature blend with hints of jasmine and bergamot, though a recent sampling of the carmelized pear variety won his devotion.)

Sandwiches including chicken salad and salmon with caviar arrive on the bottom plate of a three-tiered carrier. Above, there's an array of pastries such as ginger cake with candied apple and a buckwheat financier with pistachio and lemon. Two types of scones are accompanied by clotted cream and marmalade made with oranges grown in the garden.

The best part of my job is reinterpretation of the classics.
— Luis Perez, pastry chef

"The best part of my job is reinterpretation of the classics," said Luis Perez, the tea room's pastry chef, during a pause in preparations for opening day. "We're doing classic tea items and updating them," such as adding buckwheat to the financier recipe.

Warning: Reservations might be tough

With the reopening comes a swarm of visitors. Chef Perez prepares for about 350 people a day. Reservations for a table at the Rose Garden Tea Room filled quickly and, judging from LAist's numerous attempts at dates and times on the Tea Room’s Open Table web page, are booked up for the next four months.

You can choose from three tea services:

  • Traditional Tea ($62)
  • Huntington Tea ($75) — includes a glass of bubbly
  • Children's Tea ($28)
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