It certainly wasn't meant that way, but it sounded like a challenge to me:
"I don't know if you're intimidated by a bunch of ladies," said the kindly woman behind the cash register at The Barn Antiques in Lake Alfred, "but men go in there all the time."
She was talking about the Back Porch Tearoom, the utterly adorable dining room at The Barn, a family-owned outpost for high-end antiques since 1969. Easy to spot three miles south of exit 48 on Interstate 4 in Polk County, the old-fashioned red barn (as the place is informally known) is the most prominent tourist destination in a rural area otherwise known for lakes, groves and unspoiled country roads.
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County Road 557, Lake Alfred, FL 33850, USA
But, intimidated by the ladies? I don't think so.
I just wanted to look around first.
The Barn (barnantiques.biz) divides its extensive inventory of armoires, sideboards, tables, chairs, beds, dressers, pine, primitives, glass and art pottery into roughly a half-dozen areas, such as the Pine Room and studio featuring stained glass.
I saw things that I would never need in a million years (a $95 wool winder?) and pieces that I instantly wanted to take home, such as an inviting Hitchcock rocking chair ($295). I also imagined that I could make decorative use of an English willow cricket bat and batting pads, a relative bargain for $45.
Other affordable trinkets such as red and yellow enamel tea and coffee pots ($35-$55) sat on shelves across the room from an enormous leather bellows table from the late 1800s ($575) and a mahogany Scottish sideboard from the mid-1800s ($2,400).
Everything was beautiful, even to an undiscerning bachelor's eye.
Next to the antiques store, the Stable gift shop offered designer wreaths, flower arrangements and baskets. Outside, the Back Yard Garden shop was stocked with geraniums, colorfully decorated glass birdbaths, wind chimes, metal art, birdhouses and whimsical accessories such as "Tree Face," plastic features to add human personality to tree trunks.
Finally, it was time to enter the tearoom, where my lunch (turkey breast on a croissant, vegetable soup and lemon drop cake) was delivered in a cute wooden picnic basket to my table, adorned with painted wild flowers. My presence doubled the number of guys in the room. Not intimidated at all.