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One of the downsides of finding cheap flights is that sometimes they don’t have the most direct routing. A great way to mitigate the inconvenience is to duck away into a lounge at a connecting airport, which is what I did recently when a trip from Casablanca (CMN) to Los Angeles (LAX) put me through a layover in Lisbon (LIS) and an even longer one in Newark (EWR), home of the Art & Lounge.
Arrival and Check-In
I was flying with United and while Newark has United Clubs in the terminal — and I have free access to them, thanks to the two annual club passes I get with my United MileagePlus® Explorer Card — I was curious about another free option. Thanks to my Priority Pass membership, a perk of The Platinum Card from American Express, I could get into one other Newark lounge: the oddly named Art & Lounge in Terminal B.
Unlike most airport lounges, Art & Lounge is land-side, meaning you’ll see it before the security checkpoint if you’re on your way into the terminal, but outside security if you’re already in it. As a transfer passenger, this meant that I not only had to make time to get through immigration and customs, I also had to leave the secure area and budget enough time to pass through security again before my connecting flight. Another obstacle was that my flight from Lisbon arrived in Terminal C while the lounge is located in Terminal B — and it can be a long way between terminals at Newark Liberty. Fortunately, time was on my side; thanks to Global Entry and the speedy and free AirTrain, it took me less than 20 minutes from the time I walked off the plane to the time I entered the lounge.
Finding the entrance, however, was a challenge. I saw absolutely no signage directing people to the lounge and had to rely on the description in the Priority Pass mobile app — which turned out to be inaccurate — and some trial-and-error to discover the lounge was actually in a short hallway on the ground floor. Tip: look for the big blue and purple “Liberty Terrace” sign and walk the opposite way. While the sign for the lounge is large and colorful, it was overshadowed by an ad for an Israeli mattress company at the time.
Checking in was quick and easy, requiring just a swipe of my Priority Pass card and a signature. No boarding pass was needed, making me wonder if I’d accidentally come across a new place to hang out whenever I’m in Newark, whether I’m flying or not! In addition to Priority Pass holders, Members of Lounge Club and Lounge Key are welcome as well. Worst case scenario, day passes can be purchased for $35.
The lounge is mostly L-shaped, with a few seating areas separated by screens and blocks of furniture. In the main seating area, a large projection screen showed The Disney Channel at full volume. A few other TVs throughout the lounge were mercifully on mute.
The seating is eclectic, sleek and modern, a mix of low chairs, tall-back swivel chairs and loveseats, none of which had great padding nor encouraged passengers to sleep. Corners were banked with shelves of colorful, fake books, while narrow spaces between some seat clusters made for difficult navigation with luggage. Even though it was only about half full on a Sunday afternoon, the lounge felt crowded and cramped.
Despite arriving during a break between meal service, many tables still sported uncleared food items. When a worker made the rounds with a cart, she could barely squeak through. Also not helping with the lounge comfort level was the air conditioning, which was so strong in some areas I had to move over to avoid catching a cold.
A small bar area featured about a half-dozen tall stools on each side, while a small cafe area nearby had traditional cocktail tables and chairs. A single computer station with a multi-function printer was available for use.
In addition, the small “Monet Conference Room” was available for an additional $75-100 per hour.
Amenities and Wi-Fi
This lounge had no showers, but the men’s room was clean and roomy. I spotted some free newspapers and Jewish-focused pamphlets that were available to take from shelves near the entrance. Flights were not announced, and I was warned at check-in to be aware of my boarding time.
As mentioned, a conference room and business desk are available for use, but this could hardly be described as a haven for the business traveler. Electrical outlets were hit and miss, with some spots of the lounge featuring them on walls and counters, while others were outlet wastelands. More than once, people had to reach over my seat to get to a plug. Even more concerning was the fact that this was the worst Wi-Fi I’ve ever tested in any airport lounge.
Despite having three networks available for guests, the connections were often not stable enough to do a speed test, let alone upload or download anything of significance. I tested the speed of the strongest network three times during my hour-long stay and the highest upload/download speed I achieved was .32/.21 Mbps, with one test at .11/.01 Mbps. I didn’t know a speed that low could be measured.
Food and Beverage
I had arrived too late for the Sunday brunch and too early for Sunday dinner, so according to a sign, I was left with “Lunch/Snack,” which was much more snack than lunch. The many empty trays in the buffet taunted my hunger.
Still, a hot soup goes a long way for a weary traveler and the minestrone — the only hot food available — was a slight step up from Progresso. A modest salad bar was augmented by packaged cookies, chips and salsa, nuts, crackers and pickled vegetables.
Soft drinks and beer were available self-serve, and a pleasing selection of wines and liquors were also complimentary, served and mixed by a bartender.
A coffee machine sat next to a standard choice of teas. A selection of sealed kosher food was available “During El Al flight time only,” which must have been now, as small packages of sandwiches-on-challah and other snacks lined a separate (and loud) refrigerator.
This lounge looks great when it’s empty — it really is quite stylish, and as a fan of design, I appreciate what they’re trying to do with the colorful furniture, stylish chandeliers and playful portraits — but it just isn’t practical. It needs fewer people and more space. Maybe that’s the price to pay for a non-exclusive lounge that’s available to so many people at such a popular airport. Imagine if it were also easy to find!
Ultimately, Art & Lounge is just not a place to relax. As if the bad Wi-Fi, loud TV, crowded seating, blasting A/C and angrily churning refrigerator weren’t enough, you also have to worry about any troubles you may have getting back to your terminal, going through security and getting to your gate. Does it beat waiting at the gate? Hard to say.
If I’d paid $35 to use this lounge, I’d be upset. But for free, with complimentary drinks and a place to sit, it’s not the worst I’ve seen. I certainly would not make the trip to Art & Lounge again on a layover from a different terminal. If it were on my way into the airport though, I’d be more likely to stop here for a quick complimentary cocktail, then use a United Club pass to avoid the stress of being land-side and the madness of not being able to get online. Unfortunately, Art & Lounge has not yet mastered the art of the lounge.
Have you visited this lounge? Share your own experience with us, below.
All images by the author.
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