The Seventh Committee (Part I)

The North Lounge, NYC

I didn’t think I’ve ever mentioned the United Nations here, or if so only in the most indirect way.

These contes deal with beer, food, and spirits in the sense of their characteristics in time and space. Hence, their confection, taste, price, markets, and similar.

This seems at arm’s length from an organization of world states, now almost 200 members. Its goals essentially are to prevent conflict among states and foster goodwill or at least co-existence; probably cultural exchanges as well. All to the good, but not directly connected to the gastronomic or epicurean, or anything that seems proximate such as trade, investment, manufacturing.*

Nonetheless this post deals with the U.N. because I’ve learned that it has a bar, called the North Delegates’ Lounge. It’s the bar and social centre of the U.N., reserved to delegates and staff, Secretariat staff, U.N.-accredited media, and their guests.

I’ve passed by the U.N. in New York many times. I’ve never been inside, and tended to focus on the striking tall tower, completed in 1952, the Secretariat. There is also the low, pavilion-like structure next to it, the General Assembly.

But between them further back, facing the East River, is the Social and Economic Conference Centre.

On its second story on the north side is the Lounge. The Delegates Dining Hall, partly open to the public (in usual times), is on the fourth floor.**

A few years ago, the North Lounge underwent a significant remodelling and partial restoration. This article explains the background, by Jordan Kushins at Gizmodo in 2013. A Dutch “dream team”, as dubbed at the time, did the design and renovation work.

I thought they did a nice job. The use of pastel is effective; it reminds me of conference rooms at university in the early 1970s, updated of course with all mod cons for information technology.

This work was undertaken by the Netherlands at its expense, and presented to the U.N. as a gift of the Dutch people. This was part of a larger revamp of U.N. facilities, with different countries assuming responsibility for a building or portion.

Below is how the North Lounge looked in 1952 (UN Photo, Walter Ethelbach).

 

 

Winston Aldworth, a New Zealand journalist, profiled the renovated bar and “scene” a few years ago. Another profile appeared in a 2016 article by A.M. Brune at Atlas Obscura.

Aldworth mentioned a few craft beers, and Brune mentioned an ESB (extra-special bitter) from Rockaway. Evidently a large list of beer, wines, and other offerings is available, although I haven’t succeeded as yet in finding the bar list.

A “Beer of the Month” program has been publicized, which is salutary. The Lounge picked Bira91 IPA from India a couple of years ago, see a report at the NDTV site.

The North Lounge in 1958

We can gain some historical perspective in that a detailed news story covered the bar in 1958. It appeared in the Iraq Times, but clearly originated elsewhere, probably Britain.

The hook: “the world’s only unlicensed bar”. It makes very interesting reading.

Lots has changed since then, and some things haven’t. Gin was big among the delegates then, not so much martinis (too strong) but G&T and other mixes. And gin is popular everywhere today, presumably including the North Lounge in 2020.

Beer was, and evidently still is, a stand-by. Note how Britain had no beer represented at the U.N. bar, 10 years after the U.N. opened in New York. Evidently its delegation was satisfied with gin, whisky and soda (a classic mid-20th century drink in the British world), and other nations’ beers.

The American diplomat Henry Cabot Lodge liked sherry. I don’t think it has the popularity outside Spain it once had, though.

Russian diplomats at the time weren’t able to secure Russian vodka in New York. There was American-made vodka, which they disdained as “Connecticut gin”.

Now that one, I can’t figure out. Maybe it was grain neutral spirits distilled in Connecticut for gin with the leftover sold as vodka?

The main tipple was orange juice, i.e., sans booze. OJ still has a big sale at the UN, from my recent reading.

N.B. The United Nations has six working committees at its New York headquarters. The seventh committee is staff vernacular for the Lounge.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the United Nations website identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Our study continues, in Part II.

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*In contrast, an organization such as the European Union can influence many aspects of food and drink policy, which can impact their taste, consumption patterns, or social status. Legislation enacting appellations of origin is an example. The best example in brewing is probably the articles of the European Treaties that were held to prevent Germany from banning as “beer” beer imports from other member states that did not comply with its Pure Beer Law (Reinheitsgebot).

**Just as for the Lounge, a restaurant can provide interesting grist for the historical food mill. I’ll bear this in mind for the future. But information is not easy to come by, e.g., the menu of the Dining Hall seems not to be available online. When I can next get to NYC, I’ll try to have lunch there.