Walking up to the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum in Manhattan is startling. It’s set back from East 61st Street, so after passing bodegas and restaurants and a parking garage, suddenly there’s a stone wall topped by hedges that gives way to an ornate gate. The low-slung museum is nestled in the shadows of high-rises, a rough-hewn carriage house built in 1799 that was originally owned by John Adams's daughter Abigail. Coming upon it is one of those lovely moments of NYC disassociation, trying to reconcile this anachronistic building with its contemporary urban surroundings.

The juxtaposition is even lovelier when you walk through the house—a living museum filled with 18th-century cookware and parlor games and portraiture—and out into the charming garden, which is full of people in Victorian-inspired attire sipping tea, eating finger sandwiches, and playing Games of Graces.

This is the semi-regular Grand Victorian Tea, a mellow afternoon affair devised by nightlife impresarios Gemini & Scorpio in partnership with historical chef Rebecca Leigh Silverman. The duo have produced several Victorian events at Mount Vernon, from banquets to balls, and they’re planning a Grand Victorian Christmas this winter. “We’ve always focused on immersive, visually rich event experiences,” says G&S co-founder Larisa Fuchs from beneath a towering feathered hat. “The Victorian era is a lush visual inspiration, and being able to faithfully recreate it in environment, dress, and food is a delight.”

The soirée opened with Silverman sharing a condensed history of the impact of tea on the British empire. Queen Catherine was the first to popularize the drink, and it was such an expensive commodity that the lady of the house kept hers under lock and key, preparing it herself for guests while serving staff handled all other foodstuffs. By the turn of the century, in Queen Victoria’s time, tea houses began allowing ladies to take their afternoon repast unaccompanied by their husbands. This was the first time women could go out to eat by themselves, which allowed them to start talking about all sorts of things they might not have been comfortable sharing with the men in their lives, making tea a big stepping stone in the women’s rights movement

Silverman, who began leading tours at Storrowton Village, a living history museum in her hometown of Massachusetts, when she was just 12 years old, makes all the food for these events using period-appropriate recipes. Sunday’s tea featured two types of finger sandwiches (cucumber cress and egg salad with anchovy paste), devilled-mushroom toast points, scones with preserves and clotted cream, queen cakes flavored with rosewater and orange blossom, and meringue kisses, which the Victorian recipe suggested tinting red with cochineal. (Thankfully, Silverman used modern food coloring instead of bugs.)

Everything was served on 19th-century table- and glassware and accompanied by two kinds of traditional tea presented on a highly polished Victorian tea set. Silverman shared a turn-of-the-century saying about the order of preparation as she poured: “to put milk in your tea before sugar is to cross paths with love—perhaps never to marry.”

Guests sipped and nibbled, careful of their attire: The event required costumes, and attendees delivered, with ruffles, flounces, bonnets, and full skirts, or bowlers and vests and sharp-creased pants. Some had found their outfits at vintage shops and others were handmade; one woman had chopped and layered several blouses and skirts together to create a frilly, antique appearance, and another had deconstructed a 1980s prom dress for her period gown. “I always love when costume enthusiasts come and show off actual Edwardian dresses or replicas they've made themselves,” Fuchs says. “People take incredible amount of care with the clothing!”

Between bites, guests ducked inside for museum director Terri Daly’s enthusiastic tours of Mount Vernon, then reemerged into the garden to play Victorian lawn games like shuttlecock, battledore, and graces, a delicate sort of catch featuring dowel rods and hoops. For the larger events, Fuchs and Silverman also bring out antique “amusement” books filled with period word games, jokes, and puzzles, as well as their extensive collection of turn-of-century board and card games. “Our goal has always been to create a piece of immersive movie-level magic that people can walk into,” says Fuchs. “If we do it right, it creates a sense of joy and wonder that we hope lingers with guests even after they've left.”

Full of scones and tea, and satisfied with their hoop-throwing, attendees began to wander out as the sun set. Silverman watched them wistfully. “One of the first things you see when you leave here is Bed Bath and Beyond,” she says. “But isn’t it nice to have had this illusion for a few hours?”