Princeton, New Jersey

Friday, April 08, 2005

Jill C. Becker for The New York Times

Built in 1756, Nassau Hall survived bombardment in the American Revolution and now holds the office of the president of Princeton.

Jill C. Becker for The New York Times

Princeton’s many wealthy benefactors have provided it with a wealth of outstanding art at its art museum.

Jill C. Becker for The New York Times

You may hear anything from pop to blues to classic rock ‘n’ roll for a $5 cover at Triumph Brewing Company where the crowd is student-heavy but not raucous


Princeton, N.J.


I think of Princeton as being lazy and good-looking and aristocratic – you know, like a spring day," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in "This Side of Paradise." Eighty-five years later, the appraisal still fits. From the restored, century-old wrought-iron FitzRandolph gates of Princeton University to the sleek rowing shells on sparkling Lake Carnegie, the town retains an air of easygoing noblesse. It is studded with landmarks from a Revolutionary War battlefield to Albert Einstein’s workplace, but nevertheless lives firmly in the present – traditional but not stuffy, charming but not quaint. A backpack-toting student walking a sheepdog with dreadlocks (that’s right, the dreadlocks were on the dog) shares the sidewalk with chattering 10-year-olds and tweedy luminaries in town for one conference or another. In the tree-shaded downtown, Colonial-era buildings and high-end spots coexist with a used-record store, jeans-and-corduroy vegetarian hangouts and ice cream shops. And the campus is its own luxurious green city, in the words of Raymond Rhinehart, author of a guide to campus architecture, "a marketplace of ideas, set in a garden."


6 p.m.
1) Catch of the Day

Call ahead for a spot on the waiting list at the Blue Point Grill (258 Nassau Street, 609-921-1211), an unassuming chowder house with the slogan "fresh fish, no frou frou." The menu typically lists 20 fish specials, from Barnegat bluefish ($16) to a whole Greek bronzini ($26). It’s B.Y.O., but not to worry: Nassau Liquors Grain & Grape (264 Nassau Street, 609-924-0031) is a handy half block away.

8 p.m.
2) The Flavor of the Place

Get out onto Nassau Street, Princeton’s main street, to window-shop the bookstores and boutiques, check out vintage buildings and peek down side streets at beautifully kept Victorian houses. The red-brick Bainbridge House (158 Nassau Street), dating to 1766, is now the Historical Society of Princeton (open noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday; 609-921-6748). The Tudor Revival building at 92 Nassau Street, built in 1896, was once a Princeton dormitory. Your goal is the Bent Spoon (35 Palmer Square West, 609-924-2368), whose owners pledge to use local, organic and hormone-free ingredients whenever possible in the ice cream and sorbet they make fresh every day. Order blood-orange sorbet or roasted-hazelnut ice cream ($2.50 for small, $3.50 for medium).


8 a.m.
3) Stack ’em Up

Get up and go early to PJ’s Pancake House (154 Nassau Street, 609-924-1353), Princeton’s breakfast nook since 1962, with the initial-carved wooden tables to prove it. Students, young families and gray-haired couples rub elbows while plunging their forks into the tender pancakes – buttermilk, blueberry, buckwheat and nine other varieties (about $8.50 for a stack of three, with eggs and bacon). Afterward, stroll down to Micawber Books (110-114 Nassau Street, 609-921-8454) and pick up a map of Princeton and the university campus ($5.95).

9 a.m.
4) Take a Tiger by the Tail

The bronze tigers flanking the entrance to Nassau Hall are a fitting invitation to the architecturally rich Princeton University campus, though their dignity is compromised by the generations of children who have clambered over them. Built in 1756, Nassau Hall survived bombardment in the Revolution and now holds the office of the university president. Alexander Hall has echoed with the words of speakers from William Jennings Bryan to Art Buchwald; Prospect House, deeper into the campus, was Woodrow Wilson’s home when he was president of the university. Don’t be surprised if a wedding is under way at University Chapel, a Gothic-style landmark. Architecture buffs will also want to see the Carl Icahn Laboratory, designed by Rafael Viñoly; its soaring aluminum louvers turn in sync with the sun to maximize the shade. All over campus, look for unusual spires and whimsical gargoyles of cackling monkeys, dinosaurs and dragons.

10:30 a.m.
5) Art in the Heart of Campus

Besides giving Princeton one of the richest endowments of any university in the world, Princeton’s many wealthy benefactors have provided it with a wealth of outstanding art at its art museum (609-258-3788). Don’t rush it – there are more than 60,000 works, and the galleries are spacious, peaceful, blessedly uncrowded – and free. The pre-Columbian and Asian collections are notable, but you can also see Monet’s "Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge" and Warhol’s "Blue Marilyn."

12:30 p.m.
6) Follow the Icons

Pick up a sandwich on excellent fresh bread at Witherspoon Bread Company (74 Witherspoon Street, 609-688-0188) and set out to trace the footsteps of giants. "It’s a fine fox hunt, boys!" George Washington is said to have cried to his troops as the British fled from them on Jan. 3, 1777, at Princeton Battlefield (500 Mercer Road in neighboring Princetown Township, 609-921-0074). The victory helped restore faith in the American cause. Picture the troops clashing where students now sunbathe. A small museum in the wood-frame farmhouse is open from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Back on Mercer Road, head toward town and turn right onto Olden Lane to reach the Institute for Advanced Study (Einstein Drive, 609-734-8000). Einstein used to walk to work there from his house at 112 Mercer Street in Princeton Borough – sometimes, legend has it, after forgetting to put on his socks. The buildings, still a rarefied haven for distinguished scholars, are closed to the public, but the 500-acre Institute Woods, where violets bloom along the banks of the Stony Brook, is open to the public year-round.

3 p.m.
7) Relativity and Retail

Only in Princeton will you find a store that combines an Einstein mini-museum with great deals on woolens. Walk directly to the rear of Landau of Princeton (102 Nassau Street, 609-924-3494) to see the Einstein photos, letters and sketches. Then check out the pashminas ($59). The 42 shops tucked neatly into Palmer Square include Simon Pearce (27 Palmer Square West, 609-279-0444), with glass bowls, vases and stemware; Bluemercury (72 Palmer Square West, 609-497-9100), with eye kohls by Nars ($18); and Honey West (63 Palmer Square West, 609-688-1914), whose owner, Annie Perini, said that quilted clutches in floral printed patchwork ($20 to $40) were "flying out" one recent Saturday.

8 p.m.
8) Go Mediterranean

Relax at Mediterra (29 Hulfish Street, 609-252-9680), where wines from 10 countries line the walls. Try the local Griggs Farm chicken with wild mushrooms and parmesan gnocchi ($23). Mediterra is one of several relatively new restaurants offering an alternative to the more formal local institutions, including Lahiere’s (11 Witherspoon Street, 609-921-2798), the grande dame, founded in 1919.

10 p.m.
9) Brews and Blues

You may hear anything from pop to blues to classic rock ‘n’ roll for a $5 cover at Triumph Brewing Company (138 Nassau Street, 609-924-7855) where the crowd is student-heavy but not raucous. A busy bar dispenses seven handcrafted beers at a time. Depending on who is playing, you may be rubbing elbows with a physics graduate student or 40-somethings escaping their teenage children.


11 a.m.
10) The Tow Path

Rent a mountain bike at Jay’s Cycles (249 Nassau Street, 609-924-7233; $8 an hour or $32 for 24 hours) and cruise southeast on Alexander Street for about a mile and a half until you see Turning Basin Park on the right. You’ll be next to the Delaware-Raritan Canal tow path, a level dirt trail that is a delightful place to walk, bike or jog. If you’d rather be on the water, you can stow the bike at Princeton Canoe & Kayak Rental (483 Alexander Street, 609-452-2403) and rent a watercraft for $9 to $14 an hour. Make your way a half mile up to the Washington Road Bridge and look for impossibly fit young Princetonians sculling under a bright blue spring sky on Lake Carnegie.

Visiting Princeton

Princeton is 52 miles southwest of New York City, about halfway between Philadelphia and New York. Go south on the New Jersey Turnpike to Exit 9, then south on Route 1 to Princeton. Turn right on Washington Road and follow to Nassau Street, the center of town.

The Nassau Inn (10 Palmer Square, 800-862-7728), in the heart of the business district, has 203 rooms and suites, with 18th-century-style furnishings, a fitness center and a pub-style restaurant. Rooms start at $215 a night.

The Peacock Inn (20 Bayard Lane, 609-924-1707) is a bed-and-breakfast within walking distance of the university and the shopping district. It dates to 1775 and has 17 rooms. Rates start at $145. Its restaurant is open for dinner Monday through Saturday.

Five miles east of town off Route 1 is the Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village (201 Village Boulevard, 609-452-7900). It offers indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, a bar, two restaurants and a sushi bar. Its 294 rooms start at $149.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top


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