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And That’s the Tea

The Dunbar House in Sandwich brings the elegance and fun of a classic English Afternoon Tea to Cape Cod.

Chef Patrick Hurley and Kathryn Wolstenholme.

You walk through the doors of the old building, greeted by a dark wood bar, low ceilings and tapestries of gentlemen on fox hunts. The creak of the floors, the smell of brewing tea and the echoing laughter of guests permeate the space. Fireplaces crackle, enveloping you in their warmth. You’re not, in fact, finding refuge from a rainy London day, or relaxing in an English cottage. You’re in Sandwich, at The Dunbar House

The property itself has been occupied in Sandwich since 1650, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that it was used as a tearoom. Colonel Henry Dunbar purchased the property in order to be closer to the widening of the Canal so he could supervise the work. Mr. Dunbar would invite his men over after work for billiards and Mrs. Dunbar would host teas for their wives. It was the Dunbars who added the carriage house, now used as a wine bar, to the property. Today, Kathryn Wolstenholme runs the tearoom, and is on a mission to bring back the Afternoon Tea. 

“Our main goal is to keep the tradition of Afternoon Tea alive on Cape Cod,” explains Wolstenholme. “I want people to feel like they are being transported back in time and over to England. Everyone deserves a chance to get away from their day-to-day lives, stop multitasking, slow down and appreciate their surroundings.” The Dunbar House is certainly the place to do just that. Whether you’re in the bright, sunny dining room, the cozy, old tearoom or outside, enjoying the view, the aroma of tea and the clink of teacup on saucer will transport you to a simpler time, if only for a little while.

Afternoon Tea, one of the most well-known British traditions, right behind cheering on rugby teams in the pub and listening to the Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day, is not quite as ancient a tradition as many would assume. In 1840, Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, started a habit of what we today would call “snacking.” During that era, the fashionable time to eat dinner was around 8pm, but the duchess would find herself hungry around late afternoon, unable to wait until dinner. She requested a tray of tea, cake, and the new-fangled “sandwich” be brought to her room during the afternoon. As time went on, she began inviting friends to join her, and thus, the Afternoon Tea was born. These teas became more elaborate and spread throughout the upper class, becoming an event, with society women flaunting their gowns, gloves and hats. 

Wolstenholme took over the The Dunbar House in the spring of 2020 after the property changed hands a number of times since the Dunbars, most prominently in 2000 with the Hegarty family working to restore the colonial building while maintaining Mrs. Dunbar’s tradition of Afternoon Tea. While the main dining room is a newer addition, the high ceilings and large windows create a natural contrast to the dark paneling of the original design that feels organic and original to the building. Much of the décor at Dunbar has remained from its past lives, with antique books and blue willow china sets adding to the aesthetic. 

Wolstenholme says, “From a young age, I often found myself at various tearooms with my mom and Nana.” One of those tearooms was Dunbar. Wolstenholme holds onto fond memories of time spent in tearooms around New York, as well as Dunbar, with her grandmother, debating which desserts were the best and experiencing the different décor. When it came time to move on, the owners already knew Wolstenholme, who was born and raised on the Cape, and knew the tearoom was in good hands. 

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