A single tracks the night lights.

Polly Esther’s

Rusty Scupper

Triumph Brewing

Yankee Doodle Tap Room

In New Brunswick: Clyde’s

The Melody

In Trenton: KatManDu

Corrections or additions?

This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 24,

1999. All rights reserved.

Hot Times, Hot Spots

by Diana Wolf

Top Of Page
A single tracks the night lights.

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Polly Esther’s

If you are single on a Saturday night, the first place

to try might as well be the most popular. I walk into Polly Esther’s

at the Forrestal Village and stop for a second to admire the portraits

of E.T., Charlie’s Angels, and Bruce Springsteen. A guy immediately

approaches: "This your first time here?" I meet a guy in under

60 seconds, a personal record.

Located in the Marriott Hotel, Polly Esther’s at 9 p.m. is cool, both

in temperature and atmosphere. A few other early patrons sit on bar

stools watching sports on muted TVs as loud music rocks the walls.

I take advantage of the emptiness to wander and admire the memorabilia

on the walls. There are jigsaw puzzles of Hanna Barbera, pictures

of the Amazing Chan and John Travolta, and 1970s memorabilia —

from C3PO cereal to a Farah Fawcett Charlie’s Angels doll to 1970s

lunch boxes and a wall of lava lamps.

The bar dominates the room, taking up a good quarter of the entire

room’s space. There are two table areas, but chairs are limited. A

few of the tables have "reserved" signs on them, limiting

seating space even further. By the upper table area, there is a

Twister

game board painted on the floor with a wall-mounted spinner. Yes,

people do play, I am told, although none do it on this night.

The crowd shuffles in. This is not your teeny bopper,

beautiful-people-on-display

crowd. This is my age group — 30 — and beyond. The crowd

ranges

from college graduates to people who could have taught me in high

school to young grandparents. They all gathered here with one goal:

to dance to ’70s and ’80s music.

The two dance floors are pathetically small. The lower one is the

largest but I recommend the upper one, because it affords a great

view of the room and is less crowded. Get up there early, because

the tight stairways become clogged with people standing on them. The

"smoke" machines scattered around are angled to spit the foggy

substance directly in your face, regardless which dance floor you’re

on. The result is not the sexy atmosphere intended, but a lot of

coughing.

As my night progresses, a fire alarm temporarily evacuates the room,

and a bachelorette party bounced in, complete with blow-up male doll.

After 11 p.m., the glitter and polyester (of course) become more

apparent.

The club gets hotter and smokier, and it becomes wall to wall people.

Despite the hot crowded room, the people are friendly — I have

never had so many people apologize to me for bumping into me as we

danced

I dance with several guys during the night, and have a drink bought

for me, so my evening is not a loss. I actually have a very good time,

but would have had a better time with a friend to share it. If the

1970s and ’80s are your kind of music and you like people-watching,

you will enjoy Polly Esther’s.

Polly Esther’s, Princeton Marriott, Forrestal Village.

609-716-1977; 609-520-6335 for hotel. Tuesday and Wednesday, 4

p.m.-midnight.

College special Tuesday 9 until closing with ID. Thursday and Friday

4 until 2 a.m. Saturday 8:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. Closed Sunday and

Monday.

Pricing for admission is creative to say the least: There are no cover

charges if you come early, but charges increase from $3 to $8

depending

on the night and your arrival time. Coat check is available at no

cost.

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Rusty Scupper

Friday is Jazz Night at this Alexander Road institution,

and I saunter over to hear the musicians, a duo squeezed into a corner

next to the fireplace (not lit, fortunately). Chatter from the two

rows of dinner tables between me and them make the music almost

impossible

to hear.

The bar, located upstairs from the main restaurant, has an air of

snobby elegance, like an exclusive club dressing down for Casual

Friday.

The design of wood beams and dull red brick at odd angles, combined

with the random spot lighting, makes for a dull, dimly-lit area. But

there is a wonderful open view of the restaurant below, which

separates

the front bar from the back area, a better lit room where two pool

tables are housed.

The age range begins at The Professional 30 and increases from there.

This is a sophisticated crowd. I have never seen so many glasses of

wine ordered by customers sitting at the bar. The clientele dresses

in jeans and blazers, a cell phone attached to many an ear. The 5-8

p.m. crowd is the After Work Crowd, people enjoying Happy Hour

specials,

and unwinding from the business day. The After Dinner Crowd arrives

from 8 to 10 p.m. or so, a quieter, more sedate group. The Late Night

Crowd shows up after 11 p.m. and stays until closing time — these

are the lovely people who need a lovely place to drink.

Singles come here to socialize within their own clique-ish groups.

If you’re looking to meet a mate of some financial success, this is

the place to go, but good luck getting someone to talk to you.

Rusty Scupper, 378 Alexander Road. 609-921-3276.

Monday-Thursday

10:30 a.m. midnight. Friday and Saturday 10:30 a.m. until 1 a.m.

Sunday

1 to 11 p.m.

The cost to be here is not a casual one. Drinks are somewhat pricey,

but the bar menu begins at $5, and is served until midnight. A

make-your-own

roast beef sandwich at the bar is a bargain at $1.

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Triumph Brewing

Entering Triumph, you walk down a long hallway. What

you find at the end of the tunnel is a spacious, well-ventilated,

noisy bar and restaurant. It is multi-level, with a small bar area

on the first floor and the main bar a few steps down, both areas with

tables and bar seating available. The second floor is restaurant

seating,

overlooking the first floor.

Smoking is permitted only at the bar, but thanks to high ceilings

and many ceiling fans, I was pleased to go home not smelling like

cigaret backwash. Triumph is also loud. You need to shout to be heard

over the background music and the other shouting conversations.

The crowd is sophisticated and well-dressed, but not snobby. These

are career people who come here. In one night I meet a lawyer, the

owner of a small business, and a sportswriter. The patrons are polite.

A guy holds the door for me as I enter. It’s nice to know social

graces

have not been forgotten.

If you go to eat, lunch is available until 4:30 p.m. every day. Dinner

is served Monday-Saturday until 10 p.m., with a late night menu after

that until midnight. Sunday dinner is served until 9 p.m., with no

late night menu. Prices are reasonable, with entrees costing $12 and

up and appetizers like quesadillas, Thai wings, and seafood dishes

starting at $6.

Triumph is known for its beers, brewing over 50 types and flavors

on site, so the selection is constantly changing. A female favorite

is the raspberry, available in the spring. Current selection favorites

are the Pumpkin Ale, available through Thanksgiving (I recommend it!),

and the deep, smoky Rauchbier. You can sample their current selections

by ordering a beer sampler, small glasses of all seven beer types.

Free tours of the brewery are available Saturday at 1 and 3 p.m.,

and these tours take you to the same brewing tanks seen behind the

main bar. There is no free tasting at the end of the tour.

Thursdays have a good after work crowd. Wednesdays feature a band,

usually jazz. There is plenty of room for patrons to sit or stand,

but the musicians look cramped in a crevice next to the smaller bar.

At the main bar conversations swirl around me. Groups are talking

to each other, patrons chit-chat with me as they wait for their

drinks,

a few sit down for longer talks. No one pushes into me or crowds my

personal space. The atmosphere was friendly, and I felt comfortable

being there by myself. Triumph is an overall pleasant experience,

the best and most complete one I’ve had.

Triumph Brewing Company, 138 Nassau Street, Princeton,

609-924-7855. Monday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday noon to 11

p.m.

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Yankee Doodle Tap Room

A must-do activity is to look at the autographed college

photographs of Princeton alumni on the wall. They feature Brooke

Shields

and Ralph Nader and . . . oh, I won’t spoil the fun. Go look for

yourself.

The Tap Room, as the bar at the Nassau Inn on Palmer Square is known,

maintains a dignified atmosphere with its off-white walls and dark

wood accents. Hanging candelabra lights and spot lighting make this

bar is bright, but not overpowering so. This is a casual gathering

place, the type of place you can spend all night drinking and talking

or — like one older woman — reading a mystery and eating a

pizza.

People in sweatshirts sit next to people in polo shirts who sit next

to people in three-piece suits or sequined dresses. There are plenty

of seats around the small bar and in the "lounge" area near

the fireplace, which has the look and feel of an exclusive country

club.

The restaurant takes up two-thirds of the room space with its highback

wooden booths. The other third consists of the bar and lounge area.

You can order food at either location. The food prices here are

reasonable,

especially for downtown Princeton. Dinners average $15, and the late

night menu is under $10. During the early evening (5 to 8 p.m.) is

when the bar is at its busiest, often three people deep waiting for

drinks. Service is slow at the bar, even when the bar is not

understaffed.

The regular patrons at the Tap Room are generally older, but the place

livens up on weekends with bands playing. There is a $3 cover after

10 p.m.

On the Saturday night I visit, a woman celebrates her 50th birthday,

and her group dances to the band. Others follow, but even then it

is mostly women dancing and laughing and singing. The guys stand with

drinks in their hands, watching the women have fun. The potato lump

next to me sat on his bar stool the whole night, his back to the band,

smoking his cigar and looking annoyed that others were having a good

time. Yawn.

The air gets hot, stale and choked with smoke as the night progresses.

If it weren’t for the fun women I meet and the great band, I would

have left long before closing. Guys, you can come here to meet a

vivacious

female, but you’d better have more to offer than a smile and a beer.

Nassau Inn Tap Room, Palmer Square, Princeton,

609-921-7500.

Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Sunday until 11 p.m.

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In New Brunswick: Clyde’s

A traditional martini is composed of dry vermouth and

either gin or vodka, with an olive or a twist, and — as James

Bond fans know — it can be shaken or stirred. Clyde’s is a martini

bar and the place to go to indulge in some James Bond fantasies.

Beneath an unobtrusive green awning you will find this Zagat-listed

restaurant with a small, rustic, ski lodge-type bar. Wooden shelves

are decorated with frosted bottles, martini glasses, and empty wooden

cigar boxes. Tea light candles line the stairwell beneath the railing.

Cozy.

Located close to the county courts, the crowd is a professional one

during the weekdays. Fridays are their busiest night, especially

during

the unofficial Happy Hour of 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday is the dinner crowd,

with most bar patrons eating a full-course meal at the bar from 6-8

p.m. I enjoy a lovely conversation with the couple next to me. By

8:30 p.m., the dinner patrons leave and are replaced by the drinking

crowd, where 30 is on the young side and "quiet" is not part

of the vocabulary. By 9 p.m. the bar is chaos, and my barstool is

highly coveted.

The patrons are friendly and the service is excellent, but this is

not a good atmosphere to meet other singles. Singles do attend, but

this is not a casual hangout. There is no entertainment and no bands.

The bar area is small, seating a dozen comfortably with a few

scattered

tables behind. There is room to stand two-people deep between the

bar and the wall. It’s a great place to go with friends, or once you

find that date, but if you go alone you will never find a seat and

you will be crushed in the crowd.

Clyde’s, 55 Paterson Street, New Brunswick. 732-846-6521

Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday 4:30

p.m.-2

a.m.

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The Melody

Pink and blue lights outlining the windows and a

cheerful

sign reading "Melody Cafe" greets you as you walk through

the door. All brightness fades as you enter a dungeon, black walls

crudely painted with images of scantily clad women and nipple-pierced

couples. The air is cold, and loud scratchy music blares all around.

Cardboard bats and skulls hang from some past Halloween, now permanent

decoration. There is a small dance area on the first floor next to

the DJ booth. Upstairs has the bathrooms with doors that do not close

completely and a larger dance floor that is open on nights with bands.

There are three video games inside, with a waiting line for the

tabletop

Ms. Pac Man.

The bartender insists on checking my ID, which makes my night until

I learn New Brunswick bars have been raided recently, so all IDs are

now scrutinized. As I sit at the bar, four bartenders examine one

ID, unable to ascertain its authenticity. The female bartender, a

young waif cold in shorts, shows me the ID handbook they use to spot

fake licenses. The bartenders are friendly, and service is quick.

This is a cash only bar, but the drinks are cheap. The Melody is known

for its Tuesday ’80s Night. Friday and Saturday nights feature bands,

and there is a cover those days.

The age range is fantastic. Just when I think only people under 25

with piercings are here, in walks a foursome of parental types,

ordering

drinks and being just as loud as the younger ones. The Melody is a

much loved local dive with the look and feel of a grimy fraternity

basement. This loud, dingy bar provides drinks and music and not much

else. There were lots of single people here, but no one I would want

to date.

The Melody, 106 French Street, New Brunswick,

732-249-4252.

Tuesday through Saturday, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Top Of Page
In Trenton: KatManDu

Sunday night is Caribbean Night, and I haven’t heard

good reggae since college. KatManDu is decorated as a tropical

getaway,

disguising its wide open brick warehouse interior very nicely (in

the main dance room, note the gekko). The spacious building has three

main areas: an outdoor pier that is plastic-enclosed during the colder

weather; an indoor center dining area with a big screen TV, a

fireplace,

and a great view of the Delaware River; and the main dance floor and

dining area. The look is particularly effective in the outdoor sports

area. With vines attached to the ceiling next to the hanging space

heaters, it has a very tropical feel.

On the Sunday night I visit this village is a ghost town with fewer

than 100 people. But Sundays have no cover, and it is a good night

for watching the band. The wide dance floor stays empty, no dancing

or trolling for mates here. Because the bartenders are surprisingly

inattentive for the number of customers in attendance, preferring

to talk with their co-workers instead of waiting on customers, I leave

earlier than I had intended. It’s boring, I decide.

KatManDu’s other nights are more successful and just as varied. Monday

is Country Line Dancing, Tuesday is Swing Dancing, Wednesday is 17-24

year-old night (when only one bar serves alcoholic beverages),

Thursday

is College Night, Friday has a featured band, and Saturday is WPST

Night. The cover charge averages $7 after 8:30 p.m. The cover charge

is in effect all night Mondays and Tuesdays because a dance lesson

is provided.

What is the best night to attend? That depends on your interest and

age group. There is ample dance space, which can fill quickly any

night of the week. Regardless of the night, this is a trendy hang

out where the beautiful people dance, and 30-year-olds hit the upper

limit of the age range. If you go for dinner, I recommend earlier

in the evening when it is more quiet, saving the late night for the

revelers.

KatManDu, Route 29, Mercer County Waterfront Park,

Trenton,

609-393-7300. Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday 10

a.m.-2 a.m. (depending on crowd).

n


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