Murphy's Tavern Rumson Historic Dining Tour
Nov 19, 2018

Historic Dining Tour

By Lori Draz

Murphy's Tavern Rumson Historic Dining Tour

In November, with the tease of the big turkey dinner coming our way, putting historic restaurants on the monthly menu seemed like a delicious idea. New Jersey has a tradition of taverns and eateries that dates back to the earliest of colonial times, and many of these gems are still bustling grub hubs.

We’ll open our story with cocktails at one of the more curious spots in the area – Murphy’s Tavern in Rumson. While it is not nearly the oldest spot, this colorful lair has a rich history. It was a true old-fashioned speakeasy, opened shortly after the 18th amendment went into effect in 1919.

The location, in a quiet cove between the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers, gave smugglers easy access – and some say the backyard was used to brew up some less-than-tasty but very effective spirits. Tucked into a basement in a small Colonial home at 17 Ward Lane, with nothing other than a small indiscreet sign to tell you you’ve arrived, the tavern still honors the spirit of Mary Murphy. Murphy’s is now operated by the team of Heather Vena and Robb McMahon, and opens every day at 4 pm.

Now for a meal, we’ll travel on Route 537 in Colts Neck to the Colts Neck Inn. The hotel on the corner is a newer structure, but the restaurant just behind was originally built in 1717.

During its colonial times, the inn and eatery had many guests, including overnight visits from George Washington. The site was also the spot where Joshua Huddy met his maker at the end of the hangman’s noose. The spot has always drawn a crowd, as it historically served as a stagecoach stop between New York and Philadelphia.

Historic Havens The Journal NJ Dining

In its original design, the inn offered six guests rooms above the restaurant, with very low ceilings, which reflected the smaller stature of the men of the era. (Poor 6-foot George Washington must have had a tight fit.) Those rooms were destroyed when the original structure caught fire, but be sure to take a look at the original wall in the main dining room. Not only will you see the large mural, you can also see some of the original shingles. The exterior, which is nearing 100 years old, reflects the original styling of the property.

After dinner, follow Route 537 for a few minutes more out to Freehold. Right near CentraState Hospital, you’ll find Moore’s Tavern. This place is a busy sports bar and tavern today – still honoring its roots as a popular stop for travelers and traders.

The history of Moore’s can be traced to Moses Mount, who lived in the original structure. Moses had a rollicking personality and was described as a “lover of fast horses and a rider of race horses.” He was big spirited, honest, and jovial – all wonderful qualities for an inn and tavern keeper.

Moses was an aide to General Washington during the Revolutionary War. When that service was completed, he returned to Freehold and soon began operating a tavern and inn in his home. According to an order of the Monmouth County court of Quarter Sessions, dated April 25, 1787, Moses was granted a “continued license” for “keeping a public house of entertainment.”

His energy seems to resonate in the often-boisterous tavern, which has been well preserved. The beams show signs of the original tool markings, and there are historic details around.

For another serving of history, take a drive to what is practically in the center of the New Jersey. At 21 S. Main St. in the historic village of Cranbury, you’ll find the Cranbury Inn. Opened in 1780, the site was once three stagecoach taverns with a central innkeeper’s house. The three timber frame structures used original white oak and pine trees from the primeval forest, and the building that serves as the wine cellar and liquor store used to be the Justice of the Peace Office and the Telegraph Office.

History is rich and very evident. You enter the lobby of the Cranbury Inn through what was the colonial innkeeper’s living room. To the left, the pine-paneled main dining room features a fascinating collection of plates, displayed on a long plate rail. You’ll also see a collection of antique clocks, authentic colonial firearms, antique dining tables, old lithographs, and more recent artwork done to reflect the age.

The Cranbury Inn was also said to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. It is said to host an alleged “body hiding box” in a converted flue space. Since the activity was illegal, the story is not documented, but many point to the overly worn steps as an indication that more than normal amounts of trips were being made to tend to the hidden guests. It’s a very cool place and a short drive, perfect for an autumn day.

As you plan your Thanksgiving feast and all the things you’re thankful for, share a minute of thanks that we have these historic treasures – and thanks to the owners and operators who keep them and share them with future generations.