Big Fish Bistro

Old Man Rafferty’s

The Tiger’s Tale

The Old Bay

Corrections or additions?

This article by Diana Wolf was prepared for the June 6, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

In a Crowd, But Also Alone

If you are not single, you will probably recognize

these four restaurants for just that: Places where you can get some

food and drink at reasonable prices. Not four-star dining, by any

means, they are nonetheless convenient places for an outing with

family,

friends, or business colleagues.

If you are single, however, you might find them interesting for other

reasons. U.S. 1 correspondent Diana Wolf, a veteran of the central

New Jersey singles scene, took a reading of the nightlife:

Top Of Page
Big Fish Bistro

`One bite and you’ll be

hooked"

proclaims the menu at Big Fish. That may be true of the food, but

not necessarily the bar crowd. It seems Big Fish leads a double life.

On its off-nights, suit jackets mingle with pearls and Ann Klein

sidles

next to Tommy Hilfiger. Even those dressed in denim are hip. The soft

rock of ABBA and Hall & Oates floats above the bar chatter. This is

the perfect atmosphere to share a drink with a friend and talk without

shouting.

The other side of Big Fish is the crowd of people four-deep from Happy

Hours on Fridays from 4 p.m. until the band begins at 9:30 p.m.

Whatever the night or the crowd, this place reeks Attitude. The funky

combination of primary colors and bubble decor, along with a 12 by

10-foot fish sculpture, are a yuppie magnet. Big Fish is wide, open,

and unique. The metal sculpture framing the bar is both graceful in

design and practical in function supporting liquor bottles, small

televisions, and sparkling colored glassware.

The highlight here — and reason alone to visit — is that Big

Fish is the only local bar to serve New Jersey winery Unionville’s

Ice Wine, a thick, honey-tasting concoction that is a dessert by

itself.

It’s the most expensive glass of wine at $8. Drink prices average

$4 to $6, and the selection of beer and wine is typical. Dinner is

more costly — entrees around $15 — and is available at the

bar until an hour before closing. A late night menu of finger food

is available for one half hour after that. Blues and jazz bands play

Friday and Saturday nights at 9:30 p.m.

It’s a 30-something-and-older crowd. My first visit is with a friend.

Saturday night finds our available female selves swimming in a sea

of families and couples. Saturday is "date night," and much

of the bar crowd consists of couples passing the time while waiting

for a table. My friend and I have a great time with each other’s

company,

but there is no one available to meet. All is not lost. The smoothest

Vodka Collins I have had in years is made by the talented bartending

staff, the perfect sour blend without too tart a nip.

Friday post-Happy Hour is more the "singles" night. Two males

ripe from England — in Princeton for a new job — talk with

me, and phone numbers are exchanged. Nothing beyond that happens,

and that is okay. There is no sea of raging hormones, just a quiet,

mature approach to socializing that is refreshing and welcome.

Big Fish Seafood Bistro, 3535 Route 1, MarketFair,

609-919-1179.

Sunday and Monday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday: 11

a.m. to midnight.

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Old Man Rafferty’s

A wall of noise slams into me as I open the door to

Old Man Rafferty’s, the friendly chatter of a mingling crowd. Happy

Hour is waning, but you wouldn’t know it from the crowd milling about.

There are seats available at both the bar and some nearby bar tables,

so I slide into a barstool. The male bartenders are jovial and

friendly,

easy to chat with. One bartender recommends the crabmeat sandwich

for dinner, so I try it. He winks at me — twice! — and I

arrived

with no makeup on. My sandwich arrives late, yet tasty. The bartender

apologizes for the delay, and is attentive throughout my evening.

The chair on my right remains empty most of the night, the perfect

spot to lean over and give the bartender a drink order. I banter with

people as they wait for drinks. Every male and female is willing to

talk, and this is before they’ve had a drink.

There are no bands here at Old Man Rafferty’s, no room for

entertainment

beyond the crowd itself. The restaurant is busy throughout the night,

and the attached gourmet shop has a steady takeout crowd. This is

a drinking bar with no particular memorabilia cluttering the walls.

The circular bar is wooden, upscale and casual, with business suits

and jeans both comfortably at home here.

The full menu is available all night, priced from $8 to $16. Burgers

and sandwiches are available, your standard bar fare, along with some

specialty entrees. Desserts are $5, and chocoholics especially will

experience Nirvana in these exquisite selections. The drink menu

features

some unusual beers, among them a wheat beer served with a squeezed

lemon in it. The wine list is outstanding. Old Man Rafferty’s recently

increased its wine selection from 13 to over 30 varieties, and all

are available by the glass or by the bottle. It is rare to find such

choices in single serving quantities, so support it where you can

find it.

The Happy Hour crowd is professional and older, ranging from mid-30s

to 50s. Pfizer and J&J rub shoulders with Rutgers here. Women discuss

the pros and cons of buying a beach house, and the proper location.

A 50-something couple tells me all the places they’ve lived as they

await friends at the bar. A married 40-something businessman

entertains

his business clients with mixed drinks. They all chat with me, victims

of my empty-right-seat ploy, and the businessman pays for my meal

and drink. A woman celebrating her 28th birthday with some friends

and a New Brunswick bar tour throws down a few shots courtesy of that

same businessman.

This woman represents the age which emerges as the night progresses.

The bar area, which can hold about 50 people comfortably between the

seating and standing, becomes tightly packed with youthful bodies.

The businessman and his clients are still enthralled with my company,

and the conversation turns bawdy as the alcohol hits their

bloodstream.

I am not threatened or insulted by these collegiate antics,

recognizing

them as just that. Regardless whether it’s an influence of this

younger

crowd or a mid-life crisis in action, it’s fun to watch.

No matter the age, the crowd at Old Man Rafferty’s is loud and

outgoing,

a friendly mix of male and female throughout the night. You can’t

ask for a better combination when drinking. No quiet introspection

in this bar. You come to this bar to eat or drink, or both. You’ll

have a good time doing either, or both.

Old Man Rafferty’s, 106 Albany Street, New Brunswick.

732-628-0565. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Friday and

Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Sunday 12:30 to 10 p.m.

Top Of Page
The Tiger’s Tale

A classic TV show we all remember featured a bar

"where

everybody knows your name." A bar with just that cheerful ambiance

is the Tiger’s Tale on Route 206, just north of Route 518. Bartenders

here greet guests by name as they enter, pouring the regulars’ drink

orders before they sit down. A man eating clams chats with a bartender

and other patrons as if they are his next-door neighbors, which they

well could be.

The Tiger’s Tale opened 18 years ago in the location that formerly

was the Foolish Fox and before that Black Bart’s — the

alliteration

alley of the Princeton-area bar scene. In the past 18 years, the

"eclectic"

decor of signs, mirrors, photos, and sports memorabilia hasn’t changed

much. The Ms. Pac Man video game and the jukebox are among the newer

additions.

I arrive at 10:30 p.m., and find a comfortable seat at the bar. Sports

and sitcoms play on silent televisions behind the well-lit bar. Any

location along this huge rectangular bar offers a vantage point to

scope out bait in the entire crowd, which picks up considerably after

11 p.m. Walking room becomes a premium along the thin, crowded aisle

which circles the bar. If you’re not coughing from the chimney’s worth

of smoke inside, you have to shout to be heard by anyone.

There is no typical patron in this mix of college kids, older men,

couples, singles, and foursomes. T-shirts and jeans are the outfit

of choice, but even the formal-looking woman in her black leather

jacket and long skirt doesn’t look out of place. The age range varies

from mid-20s to mid-40s, with many patrons over 50 years old. One

such man sits on my left, a widower playing the field between Internet

relationships and local ladies. Everyone should have such an active

social life!

The mixed drinks are full strength and the cheapest I’ve seen. There

are 26 beers on tap. The free popcorn served as a bar snack puts any

movie theater to shame. The food menu is priced between $3 and $10,

and the food is worth every penny. You witness the preparation

first-hand

as the bartenders double-duty as grillmasters, flaming burgers and

seasoned shrimp-ke-bobs on the grill behind the bar. The male and

female bartenders smile and joke with each other and customers, making

us all envious that they get paid to work in such a fun, fabulous

atmosphere.

Bands play on Thursdays and Friday. Tonight a band sings obscure ’80s

tunes that everyone recognizes. My widowed friend and I cut

a rug to the songs, along with a handful of other patrons whose

sobriety

is questionable.

There is enough variety and action around the bar to keep you

entertained

even if you don’t meet someone, which is doubtful. You may not meet

a person to date, but you will have a good time with whoever sits

next to you.

The Tiger’s Tale, 1290 Route 206, Montgomery Township.

609-924-0262. Hours: Monday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Top Of Page
The Old Bay

After paying the Friday $5 cover, the word "sex"

greets me as I walk up to the bar. The current conversation ends;

apparently I missed the best part, or my presence has dampened the

topic. The TVs silently play "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"

and baseball. Hip, wanna-be-trendy 20-something women in granny

glasses

drink Corona with double lime. From the herd of leather coats and

jackets being worn this spring, I expect to hear the crowd moo.

Welcome to the Old Bay, a restaurant and bar 14 years old this May.

Designers transformed the former 1857 National Bank of New Jersey

into the closest place to a New Orleans’ French Quarter bistro you’ll

find in New Jersey. The atmosphere is dark, the walls a sophisticated

tan, complete with gargoyle wall sconce lamps and a wrought iron

spiral

staircase.

Beer is what Old Bay is known for, offering Beer Night, College Night,

and Happy Hour specials throughout the week. A plethora of domestic,

imported, and microbrews are available for consumption, most between

$3 and $6. With beers available from Germany, Holland, Finland,

France,

and Australia, a beer menu proclaiming the seasonal offerings assists

those beer-illiterate. The late-night menu — available on

Thursday,

Friday, and Saturday from 10:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. — features a

variety of pizza, cajun food, and desserts, all priced from $4 to

$8. The gourmet bar snacks are the tastiest I’ve had anywhere.

Live bands play in the restaurant area Thursday, Friday, and Saturday

nights at 10 p.m. Some bands jam and some bands croon. The blues band

playing this night is not easy like a Sunday morning. The robotic

movements of the lead singer seize me to distraction, and I’m thankful

for the dim lights.

Turning my attention to the crowd, I realize I’m sitting alone. The

crowd is in the 20 to 30-something realm, and I’d expect this age

group to be friendly. There is one other single female, and no one

approaches her, either. I walk back into the bar and position myself

near two 20-something guys. I ask them to watch my glass while I use

the bathroom, thanking them when I return, their introduction to chat.

They either don’t know the rules of the game or do not care, because

they nod and resume their conversation.

My predicament is not for lack of people. In the restaurant, there

are couples, trios, and a table of 10 listening to the band. Upstairs

pre-established groups have staked out their territory at the dining

tables. The bar area can hold about 30 people comfortably, and has

been overflowing to the point of claustrophobia since 10:30 p.m. The

groups are not social, but social within themselves. I remember better

nights I’ve had at Old Bay, each of those times attending with my

own entourage of friends. This is a lively place to hang out with

friends, but not to meet and mingle.

The Old Bay Restaurant, 61-63 Church Street, New

Brunswick,

732-246-3111. Www.oldbay.com Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.;

Saturday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday 3 p.m. to midnight.


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