Asked to restore a bar in Princeton’s Yankee Doodle Tap Room, architects at JZA+D were all set to move forward when they ran into an unforeseen obstacle.
The Norman Rockwell painting behind the bar could not be moved.
That’s because its canvas was inlaid into plaster, atop a masonry wall.
“It shocked me – we had to pull away the wood frame and the adjoining paneling,” says Mark Sullivan, partner in the firm. “This is just not something you take down and move out of the way.”
Rockwell painted on site at the bar of the Nassau Inn in 1937. He’d been commissioned by investor and philanthropist Edgar Palmer, who donated the painting to his alma mater, Princeton University. Palmer Square Management, the current owner of Nassau Inn, has assumed stewardship of the painting, since it can’t be transferred without removing an entire masonry wall.
“You don’t know what you’re up against until you get into it,” Sullivan says.
The architects persevered, taking down the painting’s glass shield and carefully covering it for protection. They took out a 1970s-era “U”-shaped bar that had been added, then referenced an early black-and-white photo to replace it with a long and linear bar.
“The bar needed a facelift,” he says. “The tap room woodwork looks old and well used and then you get to the bar, where its surfaces were rubbed and touched, with polyurethane on the oak, and too many years of wiping and spills.”
Alcohol was taking a toll. The wood was showing its age. Management wanted to reconfigure their beer taps and add a few more kegs.
“And they also felt that the bar’s “U” shape was an impediment into the space,” he says. “It was not working well – it was hard for two bartenders to work there without bumping into each other.”
Now both the bar and the dining area around it have more space. Two bartenders behind the bar are no longer in each other’s way. There are new equipment, finishes, and a copper top to the bar. “We’re happy about that – it fits the aesthetic of the space,” he says. “It’s going to darken and etch and get more aged.”
They doubled the number of kegs under the bar, and coordinated the millwork for the taps below.
So now patrons not only have more choices in beers, but they can get a much better look at a classic piece of Americana.
It’s inscribed: “YANKEE DOODLE CAME TO TOWN ** RIDING ON A PONY ** STUCK A FEATHER IN HIS CAP ** AND CALLED IT MACARONI
Now that’s a narrative worth pondering over a cold one.
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