Ren Fest gets classy with high tea, concierge service

September 30, 2018

Period costumes, horses, swords, troubadours and beer steins are what visitors expect to see at a renaissance festival. Fine China, not so much.

Yet high tea is the newest attraction at the Texas Renaissance Festival in Todd Mission, an effort by organizers to put a twist on the 44-year-old event that opened this weekend.

“It’s a traditional British high tea,” said Marketing Director Travis Bryant. “We always try to reinvent ourselves.”

Each day, visitors can attend a high tea at 1 p.m. and traditional tea at 4:30 p.m., held on a new covered deck above the Queen’s Pantry. For $55 per person, guests can enjoy a full meal of finger sandwiches, biscuits, scones and sweets along with hot tea — or iced tea, Texas style, for guests looking for a break from a warm afternoon. Customers can also purchase cocktails.

Rhonni DuBose, the lead creator of the tea, said the festival wanted to create a unique event where guests can take a respite from the bustle below and relax for an hour in comfortable confines. The breezy deck overlooks the main thoroughfare and includes tables set with linen napkins, tablecloths and China teapots and cups.

“We tried to be a bar that’s not a bar,” said DuBose. “We had to marry Victorian and Renaissance aesthetics.”

DuBose said the event appears to be off to a smashing start, even as staff works out some kinks. The event so far has been popular with mothers and daughters, and a man proposed to his girlfriend during tea on Saturday, DuBose said.

Friends Melissa Pumarega of Spring and Poonam Desai of Houston attended the 1 p.m. tea after a morning walking the grounds. They said the tea offered a nice break for a leisurely lunch to chat and recharge.

“It’s nice to be here at the Ren Fest, but a little bit removed from the craziness,” said Desai, who is six months pregnant.

Pumarega, who has attended British teas before, said she was unsure what to expect from the Renaissance Festival version.

“This was exactly what I wanted because it was away from walking around, it was covered, there’s a fan going,” she said. “Plus, it’s really pretty up here.”

It is a tea fit for a king, his highness himself testified.

“I like the tea very much,” said the festival’s jovial monarch, played by Greg Taylor, before excusing himself to attend a jousting contest.

Bryant said the festival had about 11,000 visitors on Saturday and Sunday, a slightly lower number than usual, owing to intermittent downpours that put a damper on the weekend. Clouds gave way to sunshine and low-80s temperatures by the afternoon, which helped dry muddy areas.

Other new events include stage acts Philnic the Great, fresh off an appearance on the television show “America’s Got Talent,” and comedy musical duo The Toobadours.

The festival has also debuted this year the 1574 Founder’s Club, a private concierge service. For $75 per day, members can enjoy a private bar and restrooms, lockers and air-conditioned rooms.

Ren Fest has nine themed weekends and runs through Nov. 25.

Zach Despart covers Harris County for the Chronicle. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at zach.despart@chron.com.

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