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Charleston's tearoom tradition

Charleston's tearoom tradition
WRITER: 
May 2019

Get an insider taste of the Holy City



St. Philip’s Church (left), the oldest Anglican parish in the state, is open for tours during tearoom season.

In a city bursting with stylish, trendy restaurants, Charleston’s church tearoom tradition is a welcome blast from the past. Each spring, places of worship across the Holy City transform into bustling cafés, churning out classic Southern staples. Local parishioners, all volunteers, cook and serve old-fashioned fare such as ham biscuits, okra soup, and chicken salad, as well as indulgent desserts like Huguenot torte and Lady Baltimore cake. Though not the main draw, there’s tea, of course, hot or iced—the latter, sweetened, reigning supreme.

The tradition commenced more than 70 years ago at Old St. Andrews Parish Church. In 1948, the West Ashley church had been sitting idle for 57 years before a group of female congregants were tasked with cleaning the neglected sanctuary. Their packed lunches attracted the attention of passersby, and recognizing the fundraising potential, the women opened the area’s first tearoom at Old St. Andrews in 1954.

This philanthropic tradition lives on at various churches today, and proceeds from the seasonal luncheons benefit numerous missions. Since Grace Church Cathedral began its traditional tearoom service in 1992, the organizers have given away more than $1 million to outreach programs across the Lowcountry. Beyond the tasty, affordable meals ($5-$10), the tearooms offer guests a glimpse into these historic churches and a taste of Southern hospitality at its finest.

Springtime Tearooms

St. Philip’s Tearoom
[April 29–May 3]
Monday–Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Where: St. Philip’s Parish Hall and courtyard, 142 Church St.
The Setting: Live piano accompaniment in the Parish Hall or outdoor seating in the beautiful courtyard, with a view of the church’s magnificent steeple.
Must try: Their famous okra soup

Second Presbyterian Church
[May 24-26]
Friday–Saturday, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.; Sunday, 12:30 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Where: Second Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall, 342 Meeting St.
On the Menu: The “Seconds Please” tearoom offers a traditional lunch, cake, and tea service benefitting the church’s mission.
Tip: This is the only Sunday lunch service in town.

Grace Church Cathedral Tearoom & Boutique
[May 27–June 7]
Monday – Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Where: Grace Church Cathedral, 98 Wentworth St.
On the Menu: Homemade soups, sandwiches, salads, and desserts such as Huguenot torte.
Gussied Up: Though attire is typically casual, you may spot guests donning wide-brimmed hats for the occasion.

Resources: 

Photographs (cake & dining room) courtesy of Grace Church Cathedral