In Part I, I discussed the Delegates Lounge at the New York headquarters of the United Nations, reaching back to 1958 for a comparison.
Today I’ll go back even further, to December 1952, an article in the New York Times by A.M. Rosenthal. Rosenthal was an award-winning, long-time journalist and senior editor at the NYT.
The Times had a number of articles on the Lounge in the 1950s and 60s. All are good but Rosenthal’s perhaps is best, given too the early year of appearance.
His sharp depiction of scene and personalities is as good as being there, almost – maybe better because a top journalist sees things many will not.
He notes that while open barely three months, life at the Lounge developed into a reliable pattern. Some nations hung out in specific areas, e.g. the Americans had “squatters’ rights” on two tan couches.
Some delegates would cluster near the entrance, so anyone else wishing to talk to them had to “help them cluster”.
Some had a “broken-field” style, striding across the near-60-yard length of the lounge to chat with different parties. We call that working the room today.
Its nickname then was “chicken-yard”, where “kernels of diplomatic information are strewn and picked up”.
He pegged the nature of the place in a few words:
When the General Assembly is in session as it is now, that is where the delegates, main and otherwise, confer, read, write, drink, telephone, do some stage setting for diplomatic bargaining, trade shop news, and sometimes even lounge.
Surely that applies today no less, making allowance for the cell phone.
For drinks, he noted the popularity of Scotch and soda, also cited in the 1958 account. Dutch gin, Danish beer (likely Carlsberg or Tuborg), French and Greek brandy, and orange juice are also checked.
From then until now, OJ has been a staple UN refreshment – the sugar and vitamins must work a special energy in the systems of envoys and retinues.
One difference from today is, in those years the Lounge had a martini trade before lunch. Its liveliest time, per Rosenthal again, was an hour after lunch, after which delegates left for meeting rooms and sessions.
Today, the Lounge features a nightly scene, with Friday the busiest night.
Few design details are conveyed, due perhaps to the plush but minimalist decor. He did note “fan-backed Danish chairs”, “facing a sea of mud”. The UN Complex was not quite complete in late 1952.
But the main workings of the bar seem to apply in pretty much the same way today.
I think this is true with any bar anywhere. Habits form early from the clientele and management, and endure for decades. The people change over time but they follow the template of early days.