This year is a big year for our North Square Lounge—it turns 20 years old! The North Square Restaurant, part of the Washington Square Hotel, opened in 1992, a good 5 years before the lounge. The restaurant offered the usual: tasty food, good wine, and accommodating service in a classy setting. It also had a very small bar. Beyond sitting at the dining table and enjoying a drink with your meal there really wasn’t a place to have a drink, chat, and enjoy good company in a more relaxed setting. That was until July 9, 1997, when the North Square Lounge opened; the same year North Square Restaurant also started their Sunday Jazz Brunch. Since its opening 20 years ago, the Lounge has enjoyed serving the Greenwich Village community.
As you step down into the entrance of the lounge you know you’re going somewhere special. It is like stepping straight into a modern version of a 1900s speakeasy. The dark wooden tables, golden walls, and light blue fabric and golden leather chairs bring a warmth to the room. While the red leather bar stools and large exotic painting across the tiles on the back wall draw your eye to the bar.
You’ll find yourself sitting amidst the original tile artwork of Rita Paul who painted some of the best-known icons of beauty of the early 20th century– Carole Lombard, Marlene Dietrich, Ann Sheridan, and Joan Crawford. Each piece of unique art was hand-painted by Rita specifically for the lounge and adds a certain energy to the room while you enjoy your favorite local beers and spirits. The Lounge specializes in offering craft beers and spirits from local breweries and distilleries. Beers are on tap from Brooklyn, Kelso and Sixpoint breweries along with bourbons and ryes from Tuthilltown (upstate NY) and Brooklyn. The wine list features selections from Brooklyn Winery and Keuka Lake Vineyards (the Finger Lakes region). Judy Paul, the founder of the lounge, explains, “We wanted to start with a local focus from the beginning.” The lounge also puts its own spin on creating new local drinks by incorporating herbs directly from the Washington Square Hotel’s rooftop garden. Judy’s personal favorite is the Jane Jacob’s Gimlet—a mix of organic cucumber vodka, fresh lime, and chamomile bitters.
When asked about her favorite part of the Lounge Judy describes, “I like the feel of it, it’s a very relaxed atmosphere. I think because the room is a square you feel more comfortable because you can check out the whole room—be a part of it if you want. A bonus is you can order from the same menu in the dining room, but with a more intimate feel.” The Lounge’s relaxed atmosphere has certainly set the scene for a few moments. From Ted Danson, out enjoying a drink with his daughter, jumping behind the bar and making drinks (talk about a Cheers flashback) to Norah Jones, during her brief time working at the restaurant (before she was an award-winning artist), singing at one of the Sunday Jazz Brunches.
The Washington Square Hotel, where the North Square Lounge is located, has always had some kind of watering hole, since its beginning in the early 1900s. In the 1950s and 1960s it was the Waverly Lounge, and when you ask any locals about it they’ll tell you it was a lively place. Judy hopes that guests still get that feeling when they’re visiting the North Square Lounge, “I hope they can experience the hotel’s history, the way locals remember it. I hope they get to take part in the Jazz Brunch, because music, especially jazz, has always been a part of Greenwich Village. [I hope they get to] enjoy the artwork and the food and the drinks.”
Of course, you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the lounge. The late Adam West gave the lounge a shot when it first opened, stopping by to try the martini. Many a night you’ll find NYU faculty and students during Happy Hour taking advantage of the lounge’s proximity to campus, yet its ability to act as a little escape. And yes, you may even spot a famous face or two.
The lounge continues to focus on being a part of the community and creating and sharing community with others. This past month the Lounge hosted the launch party for ‘The Village Trip’, “A month-long, multi-venue celebration of the history and culture of Greenwich Village past, present and future.” The launch included a dramatic reading from The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan. The Irish-American author and journalist enjoyed a few stints at the then-named Hotel Earle, and Washington Square Hotel was more than happy to host some of her family from Ireland. Different events like ‘The Village Trip’ happen all throughout the year, you just have to keep a look-out!
So here is a “Happy 20 years North Square Lounge!” and to a bright future that continues the unique culture of Greenwich Village far into the future!