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Rose Garden Tea Room
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

You can sip among the roses at the Huntington’s newly renovated tea room

The museum’s nearly century-old Rose Garden Tea Room debuts in May with historic renovations and new additions.

Michael Juliano
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Michael Juliano
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Stroll through the mansion-adjacent rose garden at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens and it’s hard not to daydream what it must’ve been like to have a taste of early-20th-century luxury. You can kind of come close with the return of the San Marino museum’s signature dining experience, where you can steep in upper crust existence for an afternoon while sipping tea among the roses.

The newly renovated and expanded Rose Garden Tea Room is now broken up into three spaces: the Tea Room, a refurbishment of the original rose garden-facing dining area that restores its historic bones and adds some welcome contemporary touches; the Herb Room, which doubles as a private meeting space with a small patio overlooking the herb garden; and the Shakespeare Pavilion, an open-air terrace on the east side that abuts the lush Shakespeare Garden and the colorful archways of the rose garden.

Rose Garden Tea Room
Photograph: Time Out/Michael JulianoTea Room
Rose Garden Tea Room
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano
Rose Garden Tea Room
Photograph: Time Out/Michael JulianoHerb Room

The Rose Garden Tea Room officially opens to the public on May 24, though member previews begin starting May 1. As long as we’re talking about dates, there’s one more you’ll want to remember: May 10. That’s when reservations open up for dates through the end of September; tables will be released incrementally on OpenTable following that initial block. (You can choose between inside or outside when making a reservation and note which room you prefer.)

When the pandemic forced the Huntington to shut its doors for the first prolonged period in a century, the museum realized it presented an opportunity to aesthetically and structurally restore the historic space, as well as to modernize the kitchen and heating and cooling systems. The Myron Hunt-designed building was constructed in 1911 and opened to the public in 1928, a year after the death of railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington; it offered various takes on lunch and tea in the years that followed, while a proper afternoon tea service arrived in the ’80s.

Remodel after remodel had gradually morphed the interior of the original space into something that more closely resembled a contemporary banquet hall than a sumptuous Roaring Twenties tea room. So the $11.2 million renovation set out to strip down those alterations and restore some of the structure’s original architectural elements, like its beam ceiling and warm wood fireplace.

As for the new additions, Architectural Resources Group cofounder Steve Farneth describes them as respecting the original fabric of the tea room. The finishes borrow from what he calls “the Huntington palette” with stucco walls and clay tile roofs, but with a contemporary touch that complements rather than imitates the original structure. Some of the design elements have been literally borrowed from the Huntington’s collections, too: Historic tea pots and reproductions of old orange crate labels adorn the lobby walls while the golden lily textile from the William Morris catalog covers the banquettes (a fountain that was previously off public view was also moved to the terrace).

Rose Garden Tea Room
Photograph: Time Out/Michael JulianoEntrance
Rose Garden Tea Room
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano
Rose Garden Tea Room
Photo: Joshua White / JWPictures.com. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.View of the Shakespeare Pavilion.

The process also uncovered a bit of hidden history: old playing cards and a bridge score pad were found inside of the walls. “It was built in 1911 to be Henry Huntington’s very own man cave, with a billiard room and a card room and a two-lane bowling alley,” explains Karen R. Lawrence, president of the Huntington. That billiard room is now the main dining area, while what was formerly the bowling alley serves as the kitchen. Meanwhile, a pair of lion statues that once flanked the front door have now been moved to mark the new main entrance.

Tea Room historical photo
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.View of the south entrance to the bowling alley (now the Tea Room), flanked on either side by a stone lion statue, circa 1918.
Rose Garden Tea Room
Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

Of course, it’s not a tea room without tea, and you’ll find plenty of that—16 types in total, including a pair of signature Huntington blends. Those wash down an assortment of tea sandwiches (four as of opening) and some crisp and crumbly sides.

“The menus will be evolving,” says chef Jeff Thurston. “The inspiration is all around us: When I look out and walk through the herb gardens, I’m able to pull that into the menu and into the items that we use. And obviously being in Southern California, the availability of some amazing products just comes right to our back door.”

Rose Garden Tea Room
Photo: Jose Lopez. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.Tea service in the newly renovated Rose Garden Tea Room.
Rose Garden Tea Room
Photo: Jose Lopez. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.Tea service in the newly renovated Rose Garden Tea Room.

The “Traditional Tea” option ($62) includes a selection of teas as well as seasonal scones and a selection of sweet and savory finger foods (for our preview, that included things like deviled eggs in a crispy phyllo cup, caramel-and-banana tarts and open-faced sandwiches like cucumbers with dill cream cheese or strawberries with black pepper cream cheese). The “Huntington Tea” upgrade ($75) includes all of that, plus a glass of house bubbles, lobster salad in phyllo and Huntington bonbons.

It’s worth noting that’s a considerable increase over its last full-service incarnation; in early 2020, the basic tea menu cost just $37 while the buy-up option was $60. Based on our limited preview, the presentation of the food (and the space as well) surpasses that of the old tea room, and everything we tried was fresh and (after having one of everything) fairly filling. But it’s definitely a premium-priced offering, toward the luxury end of L.A.’s other top afternoon tea options—and that’s before you even factor in the $25 to $29 it costs to enter the garden grounds. But no other spot nearby can boast a botanical bounty quite like the Huntington, and as you sink into a seat on the flower-filled terrace while sipping some tea, you may find it makes the high price a little easier to swallow.

Rose Garden Tea Room
Photograph: Time Out/Michael JulianoShakespeare Pavilion
Rose Garden Tea Room
Photograph: Time Out/Michael JulianoHerb Room
Rose Garden Tea Room
Photo: Joshua White / JWPictures.com. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.Exterior view of the renovated Rose Garden Tea Room.

The Rose Garden Tea Room is open Mon, Wed–Fri 11am–4pm; Sat, Sun 10:30am–5pm. The “Traditional Tea” service costs $62 while the “Huntington Tea” option costs $75. Admission to the museum and grounds costs $25 on weekdays and $29 on weekends (when reservations are required). You can book a table for the Tea Room on OpenTable starting May 10.

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