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New Work: The Oak Room

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The end of last year saw the return of an undisputed New York classic: the Oak Room and Oak Bar at the Plaza Hotel. Pentagram worked with the owner and design team to create the graphics for this landmark destination.

The Oak Room at the Plaza, now 102 years old, began as a men-only bar. Closed during Prohibition, it reopened as a restaurant in 1934. Years of modifications, not to mention decades of tobacco smoke, dimmed but never entirely extinguished its luster. 2008 brought a painstaking renovation led by architect Annabelle Selldorf. Although modern touches abound, the design team made a decision at the outset to channel the restaurant’s great iconic history. This is, after all, where the action in Hitchcock’s 1959 North by Northwest begins, with Cary Grant meeting friends in the Oak Room. Our goal was to create a graphic program that Cary Grant’s character, advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill, would have approved.

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The original Oak Room and Oak Bar logos each featured Fraktur-style lettering, but the existing examples and the historical archives revealed little consistency. Designer Yve Ludwig carefully redrew the letters to create new logotypes for each venue. The design team also created something new: an “O” monogram, flanked by acorns, that is used as a secondary logo and as a repeat pattern on fabrics and finishes. The colors and materials specified for menus, matchbooks and other items were specified to coordinate with the accents of copper and green of Selldorf’s interior design.

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As sometimes happens, especially in this economic environment, the restaurant’s launch in November has been followed by a period of adjustment, culminating in the appointment of a new chef, the up-and-coming Eric Hara, later this month. We look forward to the changes to the menu, but hope that Hara doesn’t touch the amazing cocktail list. It includes the Oak Bar’s signature “Mid-day Reviver” (Rittenhouse Rye, Absinthe, maraschino and citrus) which, these days, is more indispensible than ever.

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Project Team: Michael Bierut, partner-in-charge; Yve Ludwig, designer.