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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 24,
1999. All rights reserved.
Hot Times, Hot Spots
by Diana Wolf
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
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,
crowd. This is my age group — 30 — and beyond. The crowd
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
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
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
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.
609-716-1977; 609-520-6335 for hotel. Tuesday and Wednesday, 4
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
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
on the night and your arrival time. Coat check is available at no
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
The bar, located upstairs from the main restaurant, has an air of
snobby elegance, like an exclusive club dressing down for Casual
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
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
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.
10:30 a.m. midnight. Friday and Saturday 10:30 a.m. until 1 a.m.
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
roast beef sandwich at the bar is a bargain at $1.
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
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
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
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.
609-924-7855. Monday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday noon to 11
A must-do activity is to look at the autographed college
photographs of Princeton alumni on the wall. They feature Brooke
and Ralph Nader and . . . oh, I won’t spoil the fun. Go look for
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
female, but you’d better have more to offer than a smile and a beer.
Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Sunday until 11 p.m.
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.
Located close to the county courts, the crowd is a professional one
during the weekdays. Fridays are their busiest night, especially
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
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
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.
Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday 4:30
Pink and blue lights outlining the windows and a
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
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,
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
Tuesday through Saturday, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Sunday night is Caribbean Night, and I haven’t heard
good reggae since college. KatManDu is decorated as a tropical
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
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),
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
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
609-393-7300. Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday 10
a.m.-2 a.m. (depending on crowd).
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