It’s 7:00 p.m. on a Thursday night — the first night of December to be exact. You’re walking down Main Street when various pitches and volumes of “Ah, ah-ah, ah-ah ah, ah-ah, ah-ah. So goodbye yellow brick road,” fills your ears. It’s not good, not in the slightest — but the energy is palpable. Following the noise, you find yourself at the Lemon Squeeze.
The Lemon Squeeze is finally here singing their first sing along during a private reception. Those inside are celebrating the opening to the tune of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John. Although the official opening date isn’t until Dec. 9 at 4:00 p.m., the guests’ infectious energy could be felt through the walls.
Inside, warm light illuminates patrons as they clink their glasses and enjoy the soothing sounds coming from the piano. Various records and black and white photos of artists are highlighted by small lights on the dark walls. Brown leather couches and benches line the perimeter of the building, leaving room for tables and chairs in the middle.
The pianist serenaded the crowd with his vocals accompanied by piano renditions of the classics: Billy Joel, Elton John and The Monkeys. Patrons flocked up the few steps to the loft where he played so they could get a better view of the sleek black instrument. Turning your back to the piano, you overlook where arguably all the magic happens: the bar.
Three golden arches embedded into the wall behind the counter light up an assortment of alcohol. Bartenders grab a variety of different spirits, ranging from local suppliers like Hudson Whiskey to national brands like Makers Mark Whiskey, to make their signature cocktails. Patrons could ask one of the three bartenders to make them a Final Squeeze: vodka, lillet, gin, lemon honey and lemon; a Full Note: Bourbon, apple almond demerara and bitters — or one of the five other cocktails on the list. If none of those were to your liking, glasses of red and white wine were being brought around by staff for you to enjoy.
Attendees dined on eclectic appetizers; servers carried trays filled with sliders, cheese truffles, prosciutto and mozzarella on skewers and other tasty snacks. On a corner table, there were trays filled with vegetables and hummus, as well as a charcuterie board.
Several familiar faces were in attendance including current and former presidents of SUNY New Paltz, Dr. Darrell Wheeler and Donald P. Christian. Other New Paltz faculty members were in attendance as well as the family and friends of owners Ed Carroll and his wife Gina O’Brien-Carroll.
One server, third-year digital media production major Jimmy Purr, was one of the few students in the “Art of the Pitch,” class taught by Carroll for half of the fall 2022 semester. Purr recalled going up to Carroll one day after class and asking him if The Lemon Squeeze happened to be hiring.
“[Carroll] said, Yes. and not only did he say yes, he said, here’s the email of the general manager, good luck. One thing led to another and now I am very fortunate to be between these new walls of the Lemon Squeeze. I’m honored to be here,” said Purr.
Aside from devoting time to teach a class, Carroll has given back to New Paltz in many other ways. During the fall 2021 semester, Carroll and O’Brien-Carroll donated to the DMJ department to help create a podcasting class. The class, taught by Brett Barry, allows students to use professional equipment to produce high quality podcasts on a show called Paltzcast.
Barry was one of many professors in attendance to the exclusive opening. In terms of restaurants in town, Barry said that the Lemon Squeeze “really raises the bar.”
“This place is amazing — really beautiful. As far as first impressions go, I’m really impressed,” Barry said. “I’m looking forward to coming back.”
Apart from Paltzcast, students may recognize the names “Ed and Gina” from somewhere on campus. Lining the walkway in front of the lecture center down to Wooster are boulders with plaques, one of them reading, “Where Ed met Gina.”
Mid-way through the festivities, Carroll stood in front of the piano to give a toast. He thanked all those in attendance, including neighbors, fellow tavern owners, business people, the architects, his lawyer and agent for their help and welcomeness.
“In our other lives, in Gina’s life as a screenwriter and in my life as a television executive, one thing you learn is that market research is really a good thing to have. But sometimes, if you want to make something that’s original and special, you have to go from your gut,” Carroll said. “So this place is from our gut, and it’s from our heart. We would not have done this anywhere else but New Paltz. This is a very special town to us.”
O’Brien-Carroll and Carroll met when they were students at SUNY New Paltz in the early 1980s. They found themselves working jobs in the media; O’Brien-Carroll worked in film while Carroll worked in television. The two got married, moved away and raised two children — but frequently returned to New Paltz to go hiking, shop in town or just to visit campus.
The story of the Lemon Squeeze began on one weekend when the two found themselves back in town. Hungry, they sat down for an “impromptu” lunch at Murphy’s when Carroll casually mentioned to O’Brien-Carroll, “You know, I heard this place is for sale…”
Now, The Lemon Squeeze is ready to open and serve the town of New Paltz. Ending his toast, and before prompting the crowd to take out their smartphones to pull up the lyrics to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Carroll made sure to add, “think of December as the pilot. As any good producer knows, a series really doesn’t get rolling until episode three or four.”