Princeton, New Jersey, locals all know the Tap Room, a legendary tavern with a beloved historic fireplace and a pre-war history as a men-only venue. Now the Yankee Doodle Tap Room, Nassau Inn’s most popular amenity has been completely renovated by local integrated design firm JZA+D, whose architects performed the update while leaving its most iconic element unmoved: a mural-sized painting by Norman Rockwell over the bar depicting Yankee Doodle riding his pony.

“Our intention was to take it down and store it away safely while we worked,” said Mark A. Sullivan, AIA, partner with JZA+D. “But it turns out Rockwell painted it right there in the room on a canvas attached to plaster covering the masonry. We had to leave it in place and work around it.”

One of Rockwell’s largest canvases, “Yankee Doodle” was commissioned by investor and philanthropist Edgar Palmer and donated to his alma mater, Princeton University. Palmer Square Management, the current owner of Nassau Inn, assumes stewardship of the painting since it can’t be transferred without carefully removing an entire masonry wall. The company tapped JZA+D for the renovation of the barroom, having worked with the design firm on multiple retail and interior projects over the years.

JZ+D Yankee Doodle Tap Room Bar During Construction

Photo courtesy of JZA+D

Sullivan’s project team focused on restoring the bar element to its original linear profile, replacing the worn-out U-shaped bar that was inserted some years ago. The gesture returns the room to its original layout and allows patrons to see the painting up close, while introducing more room for tables and better access for all to the fireplace. The new bar was designed and milled off-site, to be assembled in the Tap Room.

Meanwhile, new glass was introduced to protect the artwork during and after the renovation, and the millworker who fabricated the new bar also replicated the painting’s original frame.

JZ+D Yankee Doodle Tap Room Sitting Area

Photo courtesy of JZA+D

According to Sullivan, those were the main challenges, the rest of the project requiring replacing the tap lines, new paneling for the walls and wood-look plank vinyl flooring specified to improve the acoustics. “It was demanding but not complicated, and worth the considerable effort of paying close attention to countless details to preserve this local treasure,” he added about the challenges related to the mural.

Photo courtesy of JZA+D

Yankee Doodle Tap Room reopened in fall of 2022 in time to welcome patrons for the holidays.