- Nightlife is a collective term for entertainment that is available and generally more popular from the late evening into the early hours of the morning. It may include pubs, bars, nightclubs, parties, live music, concerts, cabarets, theatre, cinemas, shows, and some restaurants.
- Social activities or entertainment available at night in a town or city.
Naysayers will plead their case that there is no nightlife in Princeton. I suspect because there isn’t the type of entertainment singles or college students might seek, such as nightclubs. Princeton also rolls up its carpet early on the weekends for some.
Most restaurants close by midnight. Exceptionally, those with liquor licenses are allowed to stay open until 2 AM. Alchemist & Barrister, Ivy Inn, and Triumph Brewery are the only three that are open that late. Wawa at the dinky station is open 24 hours because it doesn’t touch a residential zone, but it hardly counts as a spot for entertainment. Bars and restaurants in the Gasoline Alley area (on Nassau between Moore and Maple) and in the Princeton Shopping Center are next to residential zones, and like Cinderella, at the stroke of midnight patrons must go home.
Here’s the tricky part about bars in New Jersey. The state limits restaurant liquor licenses in each municipality to one for every 3,000 people, making the law the most restrictive in the country. The law limits licenses, hence the many BYO restaurants in Princeton, and it’s also the reason they can’t stay open past midnight.
Considering last call in most cities is 2 AM (4 AM in NYC), Princeton has three bars open until 2 AM, and two of these bars have music, plus one of those has dancing. This qualifies Princeton as having a limited, yet legitimate nightlife. And nightlife isn’t restricted to drinking, music, and dancing. There is something in Princeton for almost everyone after the sun goes down. Below is a list of nightly entertainment by category.
- American Ballet Repertory – Some performances are at McCarter, but also at State Theatre, and Patriots Theatre at the War Memorial
- McCarter Theatre Center – Offers an incredible array of entertainment for families and adults, including circus acts, live music, concerts, cabarets, plays, and dance
- The Princeton Festival – Opera, musical, dance, concerts and other performances only in June at McCarter Theatre Center, Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton Theological Seminary, and other locations on campus
- Princeton Garden Theatre – Showing classic, independent, and international films
- Princeton Symphony Orchestra – Chamber Series, Classical Series, and PSO POPS! at Richardson Auditorium, plus they partner up with Princeton Festival and the Princeton Garden Theatre for an event
- Princeton University Art Museum – One of the world’s leading university art museums with collections of more than 92,000 works of art open until 10 PM on Thursdays
- Agricola Community Eatery – Upscale restaurant bar
- Alchemist & Barrister – Casual gastropub open until 2 AM except Sunday nights
- Conte’s Pizza – Casual restaurant bar
- Despaña Princeton Fine Foods & Tapas Bar – Sports (soccer) bar only serving wine
- The Dinky Bar & Kitchen – Serving craft beer, unique cocktails and small production wines along with small plates and snacks. Extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays, closing at 1 AM.
- Ivy Inn* – Very casual pub offering a pool table, darts, a juke box, 8 screens for sports, and open until 2 AM except Sunday and Monday nights
- Main Street Euro-American Bistro and Bar – Casual restaurant bar
- Main Street’s Clocktower Cabana (Memorial Day – Labor Day) – Outdoor restaurant bar
- Mediterra Restaurant and Taverna – Upscale restaurant bar. Monday – Thursday, 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM and after 9 PM they have Happy Hour $2 tapas
- Mistral – Upscale restaurant bar
- The Peacock Inn – Upscale hotel bar with a sophisticated atmosphere and creative cocktails. The restaurant is on the other side, but a small plates menu is available at the bar. Happy Hour is Monday – Friday, 5 – 7 PM
- Teresa Caffe – Upscale restaurant bar
- Triumph Brewing Company – Casual brewpub open until 2 AM
- Winberie’s Restaurant & Bar – Casual gastropub
- Witherspoon Grill – Upscale restaurant bar
- Yankee Doodle Tap Room – Casual gastropub
- Ivy Inn – Music and dancing at this downtown bar
- Princeton Salsa Club – Tuesday group lessons and Thursday Bootcamp cost $15 per lesson for the general public. Private lessons are also given.
- Princeton Swing Club – They meet every Wednesday starting at 7 PM and offer free dance lessons and have an open dancing from 9 PM – 10 PM
- Alchemist & Barrister – Live music every Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday
- Café Improv – Music venue in the Solley Theater of the Arts Council of Princeton in the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts
- Ivy Inn – DJ, bands play live music, karaoke
- Mediterra Restaurant & Taverna – Live music on Tuesdays and Thursdays 7 – 10 PM in the restaurant
- Small World Coffee – Check their calendar for live music
- Witherspoon Grill – Live music on Tuesdays
There are too many to list, so these are the streets were you will find dining in Princeton. The majority are located on Nassau Street, Witherspoon Street, and Palmer Square
- Chambers Street
- Nassau Street
- Palmer Square
- Princeton Shopping Center
- Spring Street
- State Road (Route 206)
- Tulane Street
- Witherspoon Street
* Some call it a dive bar because of its affordable prices and it’s not as urbane as others in town.