There are paper hearts and candy hearts and all sorts of other hearts in the store windows and multitudes of flowers in buckets set on the sidewalks outside the bodegas and grocery stores. Bakery windows display heart-shaped cakes and all sorts of creamy desserts. Manicure salons grab your attention with heart-shaped balloons tied to their metal stands propped on the sidewalk advertising specials. Restaurants hire people to hand out flyers with their Valentine's dinner menus printed on them. There is no way to forget Valentine's Day in New York.
And, it's like New Year's Eve, you feel left out if you don't have a date. Buying yourself a heart-shaped box of candy isn't going to make up for that. And you can buy yourself flowers any old day. For me and some of my friends, the best way to feel pampered is to have high tea at an elegant establishment. And there is no more elegant establishment for that than Lady Mendl's Tea Room.
Lady Mendl's is inside the INN located at 56 Irving Place right in the midst of the Irving Place Historical District in Manhattan, just a block away from Union Square. Irving Place is lined with row houses built in the mid-19th Century that are designated by New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and are saved from real estate developers. Already, you feel like you are stepping back in time as you leave the glass and steel City behind for Edith Wharton's era.
The Inn is a combination of two row houses creating one hotel. From the sidewalk, you climb the stone stairs and enter the lobby through a tall, heavy mahogany door. The tea salon is off the lobby to the left. This is the front parlor of a house and has windows looking onto Irving Place. The front parlor flows into a back parlor through pocket doors. The windows in the back room overlook a small garden. The oak floors, that creak in places, are covered in Persian carpets.
I was at Lady Mendl's on a misty, winter day with my friend Christine who was visiting from Texas. The fireplace was lit and we sat looking onto the wet street and watched the cars and people passing by without hearing them at all. We could hear the fire crackling, the clink of porcelain china and glass, and people in soft conversation around us. Tables are laid with floor-length white cloths. Silverware and glasses gleam and shimmers with the candlelight on each table. There are flowers on the table at Lady Mendl's every day, not just February 14.
Guests choose from a multitude of teas on the menu. Each patron gets a full pot of their own tea, but taste-testing each others choice is encouraged. High tea begins with a salad and moves on to quartered sandwiches, tea cakes, and of course, scones with clotted cream and fruit.
There is no rush. It's like you're visiting a friend and perhaps should leave a calling card when you leave.