The change happened quietly in a matter of just a few days: the basement restaurant at 128 Nassau Street that was home to Sotto Ristorante and Lounge until late June was transformed into the Princeton Sports Bar and Grill. The owners, Rich and Joe Carnevale and John and Tino Proccacini, are the same, but sensing a surplus of fine dining establishments and a recession-driven demand for inexpensive, casual dining options, they rebranded their restaurant as Princeton’s only sports bar.
The restaurant’s cavernous basement interior is not much changed from its days as Sotto. As you come down the stairs from Nassau Street, there is a lounge area to your left with the bar and couches and a table seating area to the right. The decor, of course, has changed: the pale yellow walls now feature sports action shots by photographer Dick Druckman of Gold Medal Impressions in Princeton Junction and more than a dozen flat-screen TVs. The clientele, too, is younger and more varied than at Sotto, with several families, groups of kids, and young and middle-aged couples filling the tables.
Though the TVs are everywhere, they are not overpowering. The sound is muted, and even with a mostly full restaurant on a Friday night my friends and I were able to have a comfortable conversation over dinner and drinks. But rest assured: If you came to watch sports, you’re practically guaranteed to find the sport you want to watch. From our dinner table I could see baseball and boxing, and later on from my vantage point on a couch in the lounge area, I could see the Yankees game on one TV and ESPN’s interminable Lebron James coverage on another TV a few feet away.
The menu is big, varied, and distinctly Princeton University-themed. Typical bar food — burgers, wings, and onion rings — is accompanied by Italian holdovers from the restaurant’s previous incarnation as well as pricier American fare like ribs and steaks. I had a Bicker Burger (onions, mushrooms, bacon, and blue cheese, $11), named after the process some of Princeton’s eating clubs use to select members. A friend had ahi tuna bruschetta ($11).
The orange-and-black color-coded menu is divided between house specialties (orange) and other items (black). Uniquely Princetonian selections include the Cornel West (an open-faced sirloin sandwich, $12), the Woodrow Wilson Burger ($9), the Prospect 10 (a full rack of ribs, named after the challenge of drinking a beer at each of the 10 eating clubs in the same night, $19), and the Jadwin and Hobey Baker (specialty pizzas, $11-12).
The food is decent, but it’s the inexpensive beer that gives PSBG its sports bar appeal. A pint, even of Guinness, is only $5, and after 10 p.m. $1 Coors Light draughts are available. During happy hour (weekdays, 4 to 7 p.m.) there are $5 appetizers and wine, beer, and mixed drinks for $2.50 in the bar area.
Gone are the classy live music and well-dressed servers from Sotto, replaced by, as one would expect in a sports bar, All Star Game viewings and a T-shirt-clad wait staff. It is a new atmosphere, to be sure, and one that should appeal to a wider swath of the Princeton community.
Princeton Sports Bar and Grill, 128 Nassau Street, 609-921-7555, fax: 609 921 7556, www.princetonsportsbar.com. Monday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to midnight.