Tea and Fantasy: Lady Magpie’s Tea and Curiosities Serves Up Both at Tuckerton Seaport

By J.D. WATSON | May 29, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Tuckerton — Walk up a few weathered steps from the crushed shells in the driveway and through the large, imposing front door and prepare to enter a world of fantastical beasts, treasures from worldwide excursions, unique steampunk inventions and tea. Lady Magpie’s Tea and Curiosities, located in the Sea Captain’s House at the Tuckerton Seaport in Tuckerton, offers an equal amount of whimsical comfort and caffeine, said the proprietors, Phyllis and Grant Buford of Manahawkin.

“With the theme of steampunk, we’re trying to do the British idea of have a cup of tea and relax,” explained Phyllis.

She also played with the theme by including the arts in the STEM acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. “We’re hoping to combine the arts and education, making something with fantasy that’s fun.”

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction literature that incorporates technology and mechanical designs inspired by 19th-century industrial era steam-powered machinery. “Steampunk was invented by (H.G.) Welles and (Jules) Verne,” two prominent writers from the era, Phyllis said.

In an homage to some of those seminal writers, the risers on an interior staircase leading to the second floor have been painted to look like the spines of famous titles of the age, such as Welles’ Time Machine and Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Included in the list are some of the Bufords’ favorites.

The staircase was painted by local artist Paul Hartelius.

Restoring the Captain’s House into a functioning tea house has been a challenge. The original structure, dating to around 1855, had been added onto at least three times, the most recent being in the 1940s, according to Phyllis. The restoration has been a joint effort between the tea house and the Seaport.

“The restoration is not complete,”she continued. “We’re applying for a grant for exterior paint.”

The varied rooms of the tea house have their own unique themes. Coming through the front door, one enters into the New Jersey-themed Conservatory, complete with a New Jersey-based scavenger hunt, including an appropriate steampunk sculpture of the unofficial state monster.

To the left is a gift store where one can buy tea sets and the like. Phyllis described the sets as repurposed, upcycled china. The room itself was once a screened-in porch, added around 1910. “It’s such a joy to help bring the house back,” she added.

Continuing on, at the foot of the book spine staircase is a vintage pump organ. “It’s very complicated to play,” mused Phyllis. Many of the items decorating the tea house have been found at estate sales and antiques stores; others have been generously donated.

To the left, the walls of the Parlor were left unfinished purposely to show the different wallpapers and textures, reflecting the history of the room. Appropriately, the theme here is a dual homage to ice cream and suffragettes. “Ice cream parlors and tea rooms were the only place turn-of-the-century women could go unescorted,” Phyllis explained.

To the right of the staircase, the Captain’s Library represents the captain’s trips around the world, according to Phyllis. A curio cabinet used to be a door out to the porch, but, wanting to limit traffic flow but not wanting to lose the lovely glass doors, volunteers secured the doors and built shelves from the captain’s travels. The room also includes a scale model and vintage poster of the Blue Comet, the train that used to service Long Beach Island. The room’s books also function as the Seaport’s working research library, according to Phyllis.

Continuing to the rear of the house, the Dining Room is dedicated to inventors and innovations. In addition to wall-mounted barometers and vintage clocks, the room features an actual bell jar from Thomas Edison’s laboratory. The unmatched furniture and china sets, what Phyllis called her “orphans,” lend a homey, old-timey feel to the room. The impressively mustachioed Grant shows off some of their collection of mustache cups, tea cups with a semicircular ledge inside, designed to let hot liquids pass through while keeping waxed mustaches dry and protected from hot steam.

In the rear of the house is the kitchen, the front half of which has been decorated in the 1940s style, reflecting when that room was added to the house; the rear half is a working kitchen. Grant bakes, making tarts and scones and the like, while Phyllis runs the front of house. “We usually have between six to 10 varieties of tea, but we’re working on getting our own blend,” Phyllis said.

While the menu is currently limited, they hope to expand their offerings by Father’s Day, adding soups, sandwiches and quiches, according to Grant.

“We use local ingredients when we can. I have a friend who raises ducks and chickens; duck eggs are very yolk-y: they make great custards,” he added.

“Magpies are gatherers, and they like shiny things,” Phyllis said, explaining the appropriate name of their new business. “We’re taking unmatched sets of china and making new things, repurposing them.”

Phyllis explained her first tea room experience was in London, at the Ritz. “I was hooked,” she gushed. “Grant supported me when I wanted to open a tea house, but it wouldn’t be as formal as the Ritz. Nothing too pretentious.”

Lady Magpie opened last October but had its official opening May 4, when all the rooms had been decorated.

“We’re very fortunate and very happy with the Seaport” and all of its support. “We’re really looking forward to the summer.”

Lady Magpie’s Tea and Curiosities is located at 120 West Main St. and is open currently Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, by reservation only, from noon to 3 p.m. Call 609-597-7550 or visit ladymagpiestea.com for reservations or more information.

— J.D. Watson

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.