Waitstaff in proper long dresses with bustles and lace-up corsets greet visitors to the Tudor Rose English Tea Room in Santa Rosa, where even the quintessential British nanny Mary Poppins makes occasional visits.
A traditional English tearoom with a twist, the Tudor Rose feels every bit the welcoming old-time sitting room envisioned by proprietor Angela Grant.
She’s Americanized the menu a bit, switching clotted cream for a more popular blend of whipping cream, sour cream and powdered sugar, and offering a cottage pie of ground and cut beef instead of shepherd’s pie with lamb.
The ambiance, though, is utterly English, with fine china and table linens, a pair of settees at the grand fireplace, a fountain with water cascading from a teapot on the wall and a framed poster of the late Queen Mother.
“It’s relaxed and not stuffy,” said Grant, 58, a native of Liverpool who grew up with the tradition of high tea. “I am not stuck-up. I couldn’t be if I tried.”
She is the official hostess at the Tudor Rose, where she offers traditional teatime, lunches, holiday dinners, murder-mysteries and other special events, like the recent Mary Poppins Holiday Tea Party for about 60 guests. She warmly calls her customers “dear” and “love.”
Grant welcomes guests of all ages, mostly women, who gather for a $15 endless pot of tea with a side of scones, and for baby and bridal showers, birthday parties, anniversaries and other celebrations. The Tudor Rose has been the venue for a wedding and a wake, as well as book readings and author visits.
Mary Poppins has made six appearances since Grant opened the Tudor Rose in the spring of 2013. Grant includes etiquette lessons when the magical nanny from the 1964 Disney movie visits: Don’t slouch, elbows off the table, linen napkin on lap, small sips (no slurping!) and pinkie out while holding a delicate teacup.
Three generations of the Darlington family of Napa attended December’s sold-out event, where Mary Poppins sang several songs from her movie, including “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
Laura Darlington, her daughters Emily Darlington and Betsy Fraser, and Fraser’s daughter, Nora Fraser, 3, were charmed by Miss Poppins, portrayed by Kori Parlett of Santa Rosa.
The outing was a surprise for Nora, who came dressed up in a pretty sweater and skirt, complete with fancy party shoes and a purse. She brought along her Mary Poppins doll, too.
“It’s so cute. We’ve been so excited to do this,” Laura Darlington said.
That, Grant said, is precisely why she hosts special events. She loves providing unique opportunities for fun-filled outings that people of all ages can enjoy.
A trio of friends in their 50s and 60s — no child with them — was so enchanted with the event they wore fashionable hats perfect for an English tea.
Maria Hockerson of Windsor, Leslie Mahan of Saratoga and Jim Clark of Sebastopol sipped tea poured from a fine china teapot and enjoyed dainty triangular sandwiches (sans crusts), cream puffs, scones and jam, all elegantly presented on tiered trays lined with doilies.
“It’s nice to do something different,” Grant said, “and this is something different.”
Even stopping by for lunch is an experience at the Tudor Rose, where menu items include $11 salads with names like Duchess Kate and Sherlock Holmes. Sweet and savory a la carte items ($3.75 to $11) feature traditional British favorites like potpies, pasties, sausage rolls, tarts, bread pudding and crumpets with a side of lemon curd.
Everything is made fresh on the premises using many local items, like produce from Santa Rosa’s Imwalle Farms.
The Tudor Rose offers 18 tea varieties, from black teas like the classic Earl Grey and a sweet vanilla Tudor Rose blend to red and green selections, all from Mr. Trombly’s Tea of Duncans Mills.
Grant has a vast resume of work experience, from scrubbing toilets to modeling, that led to opening her tea room. Serendipity, she said, had a hand.
She was traveling in Devon, England, with her boyfriend, Tim Ritter, and his mother when they happened upon a high tea served in a private cottage with a thatched roof, located on the moors. They were seated by the fireplace for “the most memorable tea of my life,” Grant said.
Before leaving, the trio discovered the tea was a fundraiser to build a playground at a school for children with special needs. They paid their bill and also donated about $270 for the cause.
The hosts “were sobbing and crying and jumping up and down” when they discovered the generosity of their visitors. It was a profound experience for Grant. “This was the most important day of my life,” she said. “That experience in Devon did something to me. It changed me.”
She instantly knew she was destined to open a tea room, to share the tradition of teatime. A few years later, she signed the lease for a space on Fourth Street vacated by Sawyer’s News. Her boyfriend, a building contractor, sketched out a design with a kitchen, a tea room and a private space for parties.
“It’s all crushed limestone,” Grant said. She wanted the space to have an old English Tudor feel, elegant but not fussy.
“I don’t like chintz but I wanted it beautiful,” she said. “I like the rustic with the beautiful stuff. I like the balance.”
Grant began collecting furnishings and fine china two years before opening, discovering items at thrift stores, antique shops and “junk stores,” and scoring such decor as a milk glass lamp with an embroidered and beaded lampshade at a yard sale.
She also displays several dozen fanciful hats – including men’s caps – so everyone can experience proper English teatime.
“They love the hats,” Grant said. “They love them and they wear them.”
She originally had eight on display, but customers soon asked if they could try them on.
“I put them on the wall just as decoration. Then it became all about the hats,” she said.
The Tudor Rose has become something of a trading post, with customers bringing in china, hats, even decorative items and vintage toys like a Mary Poppins doll and a Paddington Bear. Grant trades gift certificates, and has sold items that customers fancy.
She’s just happy the Tudor Rose is a gathering place for enjoying lunch or a pot of tea.
“I want them to experience some magic, where they feel good about life and themselves, and they’re happy,” Grant said. “It takes them out of everyday life.”