Monday, March 17, 2014

Tea Party at Straw Valley Cafe

This past weekend we had a bridal shower for one of my good friends. She's Scottish, so I wanted to do something tea. Only problem? Finding a venue to host. I tried a couple of places. The first place I looked had a reputation for poor service, and when I called I had the impression they couldn't (wouldn't) work with our budget of less than $500 for 15-20 people. The second place I checked with wanted to have  a headcount before they'd reserve the date (which, if you've ever tried planning an event, is the exact opposite of how people do things--it's hard to say for sure "I'll be there" when you don't know when it is!)

Then it occurred to me to try an old favorite, Straw Valley Cafe and Wine Bar. I've raved about them before; it's the same beautiful location our SciFi/Fantasy Meetup group used to meet (before we got too large to fit!).
Photo taken by one of the other bridesmaids--
The teacups were rather amazing!

Straw Valley just opened up a new restaurant facility. As in, last weekend. When I was booking, they were still in the planning stages to open, and I suspect we may have been the first outside event to book with, definitely the first tea party. They made sure to work with our budget and gave us some options on what we do with what we had. The rates were good; the base room fee was the same as the other venues I tried and the snack/drink costs reasonable.

And it was lovely. The tea was fantastic, loose-leaf Darjeeling with milk and honey. We had lemon-rosemary scones, and vanilla and lemon cupcakes with the most fantastic homemade whipped frosting, plenty for our 15 guests. The location is lovely, and the staff friendly, too.

 They put a lot of nice touches into getting the area ready, and I think the restaurant is going to be a success. They were fine with me starting to set up as soon as I arrived (admittedly it was only 15 minutes early).

View from the room where the bride opened her gifts.
I won't say the event went without hitch. It's a brand-new restaurant and they're clearly still figuring things out. We ran out of tea fairly quickly, and discovered they'd forgotten spoons for mixing with the milk and honey. Hunting someone to ask about this took a little effort, since everyone disappeared soon after we started serving ourselves tea from the cast-iron teapots. That said, as soon as I found someone they got right on it and we didn't run out of tea again, and someone was always nearby after that. Seemed like the sort of mistakes people make the first couple of events, and ones that didn't seem likely to be repeated at future events, given how courteous and helpful the staff has been in the past.
There was a fountain in the gift room.

You're best off scheduling late lunch hours for an event of this time, since they like to close around 4 to get ready for dinner. I would also recommend that anyone choosing to go with them come with signs prepared ahead of time--the venue is an oasis of calmness and beauty in the middle of downtown Durham, but to optimize this effect it's laid out in a manner that makes it seem larger than it is--with the unfortunate side effect that people can get lost wandering around.

On the whole I'd give the Cafe a 4 out of 5 stars, although I expect that will actually get higher as they gain experience hosting events. The baked goods were top-notch, the tea fantastic, the location beautiful, and staff helpful and eager to make sure things went well. There are a couple of kinks to work out, but I'd be surprised if the place isn't well-oiled by May.

Given the other options in the area, I'd definitely call it your #1 option for a tea party in the Triangle right now. Not bad for any other kind of bridal shower or party, either!

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