The Four Seasons’ Bill Taylor and Jenny Johnson talk about holiday traditions over a meal at the hotel’s Bristol Lounge
Celebrating the holidays in Boston can be a wild ride: Downtown Crossing traffic snarls brush against tutu-wearing Nutcracker fans, and Trinity Church caroling follows Dudley Square Kwanzaa concerts. But one guaranteed source of respite is the Teddy Bear Tea at the Four Seasons Hotel. Regional vice-president and general manager Bill Taylor, a veteran hospitality executive who started out as a dishwasher in his hometown of Newcastle, England, makes sure of that. First, there’s the eye candy: Children dress in red-carpet-worthy ensembles. Then, there are the celebrity sightings: Supermodels and sports heroes read fairytales to guests. Finally, there are the fluffy bears themselves—hundreds of them. When I arrive at the Bristol Lounge, Taylor is thrilled to give me the grand tour. “Welcome to Boston’s Living Room!” he says.
The Four Seasons has become synonymous with the holiday spirit in Boston. What makes the experience unique?
During this busy time we give people a chance to sit back, relax, and celebrate the season—and to do so in style. Walking into the Four Seasons during the holidays is like entering a Christmas wonderland that you never want to leave.
And then you have your Teddy Bear Tea, which is one of the most anticipated events during the holiday season.
Yes, the Teddy Bear Tea has been a Four Seasons Boston tradition since the doors opened 28 years ago. It’s a holiday haven for the kids, as well as a place for parents to relax and cozy up inside the Bristol Lounge. Each child brings a note of warm wishes attached to a Teddy Bear, and places it under our tree.
The Bristol Lounge’s famous chowder
Tell me about the Kids Giving Back to Kids contest the Four Seasons has done in the past, as part of Teddy Bear Tea.
Kids submitted stories about what they have done for others kids. After compiling the stories, we asked guests at the Tea to vote on which touched them the most. The unanimous winner was Johanna Brait, an 11-year-old survivor of Burkitt’s Lymphoma. She raised more than $35,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation by selling handmade necklaces. We invited Johanna to bring her friends for a special cookie making party in the pastry shop.
Have any memorable celebrities visited the Teddy Bear Tea?
We invite local celebrities to come to read holiday stories to the kids. It’s a huge hit, and we’ve had some of Boston’s best: David Ortiz, Gisele Bündchen (and I must say, there were a few extra men in the room that afternoon), Stephen Gostkowski, Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who called himself “Santa Claude.” The kids go wild over the characters, like the Grinch, and of course the annual face of the Teddy Bear Tea, Truffles.
The decadent “Let’s Split It” devil’s food cake tower
Where do the Teddy Bears go after the tea?
We collect about 5,000 teddy bears each year, which we deliver to dozens of hospitals and charities. We see where there is the greatest need, and then we make our deliveries based on that. I remember a couple years ago, David Ortiz joined us to deliver the teddy bears to patients at Mass General Hospital. You can only imagine the expressions on their faces as they walked into the play area to meet their guest visitor: Legendary Big Papi, teddy bears in hand—a moment we will never forget.
After you entertain the kids, it’s time for your annual holiday party, which I’ve heard is quite the entertaining scene.
Yes, we have a roast of sorts during our client holiday party, and I usually end up being the main target. There are hilarious videos and skits featuring all sorts of mildly embarrassing things that bring the house down. Over the years, the event’s themes have ranged from the Oscars to Glee to The Price is Right. People see the Four Seasons letting its hair down.
The house Bristol Burger is consistently voted one of Boston’s best
What are people’s go-tos on the menu here at the Bristol Lounge this time of year?
Executive Chef Brooke Vosika puts a twist on chowder to create our famous Golden Nantucket crab chowder. Then there’s our award-winning “Who Needs the Bread” Bristol Burgers, always voted one of Boston’s best. I suggest finishing it off with our “Let’s Split It” chocolate devil’s food cake tower layered with truffled ganache, vanilla buttercream, and crème de cacao.
When you cook at home, what’s your specialty?
Sunday is family day. In the afternoons you’ll find me in the kitchen making meals for the week to come. As an Englishman, I’d say my specialty is a rib roast with Yorkshire pudding and my mother’s gravy. The secret to the gravy? Equal parts stock and wine, giving it a strong, boozy flavor.