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
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:
`One bite and you’ll be
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
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
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
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
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.
Sunday and Monday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday: 11
a.m. to midnight.
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
easy to chat with. One bartender recommends the crabmeat sandwich
for dinner, so I try it. He winks at me — twice! — and I
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
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
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
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
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
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
I am not threatened or insulted by these collegiate antics,
them as just that. Regardless whether it’s an influence of this
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
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.
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.
A classic TV show we all remember featured a bar
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
alley of the Princeton-area bar scene. In the past 18 years, the
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
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
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
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
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
There is enough variety and action around the bar to keep you
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.
609-924-0262. Hours: Monday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
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
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
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,
and Australia, a beer menu proclaiming the seasonal offerings assists
those beer-illiterate. The late-night menu — available on
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.
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.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.