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Historic Havens: Historic Sports Bars

By Lori Draz

This month, The Journal turns its attention to all the student-athletes in our Fall Sports Preview. Going to the games is a can’t-miss experience, but coming in a close second – especially for watching professional sports – is the sports bar. Long before we had hot wings and online betting, New Jersey had taverns. These were places not only for refreshment; they served as pivotal meeting places where the ideas that shaped our nation were born. Lucky for us, there are still many of these colonial New Jersey treasures left, many of which have morphed into sports bars, thereby continuing their legacy for refreshment and heated discussions. 

In the shadow of CentraState Medical Center on Route 537, 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 was an aide to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Upon his return to his beloved Freehold, Moses began operating a tavern in his home, at this location, for the local gentry and an inn for weary travelers. 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.” The date of the earliest license was granted to Moses has not been determined. Moses was a rollicking rogue with a big spirited, honest and jovial personality. According to the Historical and Genealogical Miscellany of Monmouth County, written by Dr. John E. Stillwell (Higgins Book Co. 1932), Moses was described as a “lover of fast horses and a rider of race horses.” His energy seems to resonate in the often boisterous tavern, which has been well-preserved. The present tavern has been carefully restored, yet much of the original remains and demonstrates early American building techniques. The tavern beams reveal the original tool markings of the time. Rumor has it that some of the original patrons still visit the tavern too, so be sure to ask the charming stranger next to you what year it is. You may just get a big surprise. 

Moore’s Tavern

A little farther down the road in the heart of Princeton’s Palmer Square, you’ll find the legendary Yankee Doodle Tap Room, an active central meeting place and a popular stop after university games and events. The Tap Room dates back to 1756, when it opened as a drinking club for Princeton University’s male students and faculty. In the late 1970s, it was opened to the general public.

History covers the walls, so be sure to linger to your table. You’ll see photos from the Edgar Palmer collection and pictures of famous Princeton alumni who have frequented the Yankee Doodle Tap Room. You’ll also see the names and dates of Princeton University alumni are carved into the solid oak tabletops. Behind the bar is something really special, the 13-foot Norman Rockwell mural – the largest one ever. It took the artist nine months to complete and depicts life during the Revolutionary period. 

Yankee Doodle Tap Room

There is also a centerpiece working fireplace with the inscription “Rest Traveler, Rest, and Banish Thoughts of Care; Drink to Thy Friends and Recommend Them Here,” which dates back to 1756, when the Nassau Inn was located on Nassau Street, before it moved to Palmer Square in 1937. The Yankee Doodle Tap Room is located at 10 Palmer Square East in Princeton. 

Not quite so old, but certainly rich in history is right down the stairs in Rumson. This curious spot is called Murphy’s Tavern. This 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 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 opens every day at 4 pm, and the spirits still flow as vigorously as ever.   

So now you can mix some lessons into rooting on your teams when you visit these gems. Careful not to overindulge or you may get a headache of historic proportions! Thanks to the owners and operators who keep these prizes beautifully cared for and ready to share with future generations.  

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