In Part I, I discussed the Delegates Lounge at the New York headquarters of the United Nations, using a 1958 account to contrast with today’s Lounge.
Today, I’ll go back even further, to December 1952, and an article in the New York Times by A.M. Rosenthal. Rosenthal was an award-winning, long-time journalist and senior editor of the NYT.
The Times published a number of pieces on the Lounge in the 1950s and 60s. All are good but Rosenthal’s is perhaps best, given, too, its early year of appearance.
His sharp depiction of scene and personalities is as good as being there, almost – maybe better because a top journalist notices things many will not.
He notes that while open only three months life at the Lounge had developed into a reliable pattern. Some nations congregated in specific areas. The Americans had “squatters’ rights” on two tan couches, for example.
Some delegates clustered near the Lounge entrance, so anyone wishing to talk to them had to “help them cluster”. Some patrons had a “broken-field” style, striding across the 60-yard length of the Lounge to meet others. We call that working the room, today.
Rosenthal wrote the Lounge nickname was “chicken-yard”, since “kernels of diplomatic information are strewn and picked up”. He pegs the nature of the place (1952) 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, making allowance for the cell phone.
For drinks, Rosenthal mentioned the popular Scotch and soda, also mentioned in the 1958 coverage. Dutch gin, Danish beer (likely Carlsberg or Tuborg), French and Greek brandy, and orange juice were also stocked.
From then until now O.J. has been a staple at the U.N. – the sugar and vitamins must work a special energy in envoys and retinues.
One difference from now is, in the 50s the Lounge had a martini trade, before lunch. Its busiest time per Rosenthal again was after lunch for a an hour to so, but then delegates would leave for the meeting rooms and sessions.
(Today, the Lounge has a nightly scene and Friday is the busiest night).
Few design details were conveyed by Rosenthal, perhaps due to the plush but minimalist decor. He did note that “fan-backed Danish chairs”, “[faced] a sea of mud”. The U.N. Complex was not quite completed in late 1952.
But the main workings of the bar, as he limns it, seem pretty much to apply today in the Lounge.
That is probably true of most bars anywhere. Habits in a place form early, shaped by the character of the clientele and management, and can long endure. New patrons constantly refresh the old but they follow the template of early days.