Afternoon Tea at the Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, MI

By Patricia Mack

The Parlor at the Grand Hotel
286 Grand Avenue, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
906-847-3331 | To learn more, visit the Grand Hotel official website

This is the tea party I only imagined when I was a little girl pouring make-believe orange pekoe for Teddy Bear and dollies, all of whom sat politely at my tiny table. And I, Grand Lady that I imagined myself to be, Mom’s Easter hat flopping over my brow, never spilled a drop.

I couldn’t help but smile remembering as I looked around at the elegantly appointed The Parlor where afternoon tea is held daily from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, MI. I leaned back in my lushly upholstered chair, sipped my English tea and marveled at how this place was almost — almost — the vision of my childhood imagination. Unlike in my vision, though, here there was the harpist and her angelic music, there was Champagne and sherry, and flowers, oh, those lovely fresh-cut flowers artfully arranged in vases strikingly placed around the room.

The Parlor’s décor is exceptional, thanks to Carleton Varney, who was a protégé of famed interior decorator Dorothy Draper of Dorothy Draper & Company, in New York City in the 1930s and 40s. He was hired to redesign the 125-year-old hotel in 1977. Renowned for his vibrant use of color and dramatic design, Varney brought an exciting quality throughout, but especially in the elongated Parlor where even the carpet comes alive with brilliant depictions of the hotel’s signature pink geraniums (you’ll also see them in the tea cups). The rug’s bright green geranium leaves echo the hunter green of The Parlor’s walls, which are background to luxurious emerald and coral-hued chairs and impressive chandeliers. Equally breathtaking is the expansive window view of the Straits of Mackinac.

Plates filled with savories or sweets accompany the tea service. The sweets plate includes scones and a jar of the Grand Hotel’s private label raspberry preserves. The teas, steeped in china pots during service, are mostly British favorites, and are sold at the hotel’s Carleton’s Tea Shop just off the main lobby.

The harp music softens the sound of conversation, the clink of fine china, and the steady clip-clop of horses’ hooves just outside the hotel. Horses’ hooves because horse-drawn carriage, bicycle and walking are the only ways to arrive at the hotel since all automotive traffic on the island is banned. This is hardly an inconvenience; it is ambience adding even greater credence to the Grand Hotel’s place as a U.S. National Historic Landmark as well as a Michigan State Historic Site.