This Secret Lounge Under Broadway's Lyric Theatre Is an Intermission Game-Changer
A golden curtain in the lobby of the Lyric Theatre masks one of the best-kept secrets on Broadway. It's easy to miss if you're not looking for it, especially amid the carnival atmosphere of the show currently playing the Lyric, Cirque du Soleil's Paramour. Behind the curtain is a winding hallway covered in thick red carpet. Follow the pointing hands down a stealthy stairway. Once an attendant hands you a glass of sparkling wine, you know you've arrived at the Ambassador Lounge.
Tastefully adorned with Danish Modern furniture and bathed in mood lighting, the Ambassador Lounge is the ideal spot for a romantic night out on Broadway: It features a coat check, private bathrooms, and top-shelf liquor. Its limited capacity shields its 40 nightly patrons from the chaos and long lines that regularly characterize intermission on Broadway: Using an unassuming door in the orchestra section of the house, they can slip back to the lounge during intermission where drinks will be waiting. In a house as big and boisterous as the Lyric, it feels like a lavish hideaway for the sophisticated theatergoer.
At 1,896 seats (just four shy of the Gershwin, home of Wicked), the Lyric is the second-largest house on Broadway. Regularly referred to in theatrical circles as "a barn," the Lyric has worn a variety of names over the last two decades denoting how often it has changed hands: the Ford Center for the Performing Arts (1998-2004), the Hilton Theatre (2005-2009), and the Foxwoods Theatre (2010-2013), when it hosted the infamous mega-musical Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. In 2013, it was acquired by the London-based Ambassador Theatre Group, which quickly redubbed it the Lyric Theatre, after one of the two theaters that occupied the lot in the early part of the 20th Century.
"We built this in the dark time after Spider-Man," said ATG's COO of New York Venues, Erich Jungwirth, as we sat in his favorite corner of the lounge. Jungwirth was hired by Foxwoods as the general manager of the Lyric (his first day coincided with the first day the cast of Spider-Man was onstage). A battle-hardened Broadway veteran by the time that show's tumultuous three-year run drew to a close, he stayed on after the theater was picked up by ATG. "This room was here, but it felt like an old smoking lounge," he noted.
"During Spider-Man it was only used for special events," Sue Barsoum chimed in. Barsoum, who also jumped aboard during Spidey, is the theater manager for the Lyric. "Young Frankenstein tried to do something with it, but no show really found the right way to market it and make it successful." So will ATG be successful at getting its audiences to embrace the lounge where previous owners have failed?
Admittedly, ATG is asking for a major cultural shift from its New York patrons: "The typical New Yorker doesn't show up until ten or fifteen minutes before curtain, because they know that if they arrive any earlier, they're usually left standing on the street," says Jungwirth. The Lyric does things a little differently: The lobby and Ambassador Lounge open 45 minutes before curtain (15 minutes before most other Broadway houses). "Our Ambassador Lounge patrons can relax and enjoy a drink before the show," he suggests, "Five minutes before curtain, someone will come over with their programs and they can proceed upstairs to their seats."
If that all sounds revolutionary in its gentility, it's not: In fact, it has been the norm in the UK (where ATG owns the bulk of its theaters) for years. All of the London Ambassador Lounges feature the same level of service presented in swanky interior design by George Couyas. "When I first walked into one of these rooms in London, I fell in love with the plush red carpet and dim lights," says Jungwirth, fondly recalling the lounge that runs underneath the stage of the Piccadilly Theatre, colloquially known as the "Tunnel of Love." All of the Ambassador Lounges strive for similar intimacy: "It makes me want to sit here and have a drink and tell secrets," Jungwirth says about the décor.
ATG is already planning to create an Ambassador Lounge in its latest Broadway acquisition: the Hudson Theatre, which is slated to officially reopen next February with the Jake Gyllenhaal-led revival of Lanford Wilson's Burn This, its first theatrical tenant in nearly five decades. Are such elite spaces the future of Broadway? And more importantly, is Broadway becoming like air travel, with primo lounges for top ticket-buyers and increasingly cramped quarters for the rest of us?
Jungwirth rejects the comparison, stressing that the Ambassador Lounge is not just reserved for VIPs and premium ticket-buyers: "You can be sitting in the cheapest seat in the back corner of the balcony and you can still buy access to this room," he states. The price of admission is $25 per ticket and includes a free glass of Prosecco. The best way to buy entrance is to walk right up to the Lyric box office and ask for it when you are purchasing tickets. For those of us who live in dread of long lines at the bathroom and bar, it's an upgrade that is decidedly worth it.