The laws that govern liquor licenses for restaurants in New Jersey are among those restrictive in the nation, according to a recent article in New Jersey Monthly. Thankfully, it also highlights a bill that could finally bring some changes to the 68-year old regime.
Licenses are granted on a per capita basis, one for every 3,000 residents in the municipality in which the restaurant operates. If you live here, or know anything about the municipal structure of New Jersey, you know that they can only be described as inefficient, with well over 500 municipalities in a reasonably geographically small state. Researching this post, I learned that over 100 of them don’t even cross the boozy finish line of 3,000 residents.
photo by varshesh joshi via unsplash
I’ve learned to appreciate the benefits of BYO. The need to self-sommelier fueled a burgeoning desire to learn more about wine and explore wine regions and winemakers around the world. Our wine travels now regularly incorporate wine club memberships and direct-from-the-vineyard purchasing to help support the industry and the heroes who provide us the fuel to parent successfully. Plus it is incredibly economical – we can enjoy an extra special bottle of wine without the restaurant markup.
“cocktail glasses” by Leeroy via pexels
But sometimes, I need a drink. Whether it’s a refreshingly mixed cocktail, a carefully curated wine list, a special selection of featured wines by the glass, or — my personal favorite — a suggested wine pairing for select dishes or as part of a tasting menu, the art of developing a selection of adult beverage options that compliments the food, the ambiance, or the scene, is an important part of the restaurant dining experience. And perhaps just as important, it helps the restaurant thrive – that markup is admittedly important to their financial success, and in turn to the continued rise of the foodie culture in northern New Jersey and beyond.
These are important, noble reasons to select a restaurant that invested their hard-earned dollars in a liquor license.
But let’s be honest. The real reason it sometimes, I need a drink. And I need someone else to do the thinking for me.
“hanging wine glasses” by kaboompics
So today, I’m rounding up some of the best non-BYO options I’ve discovered to date. These are our go-to spots for a date night, and I’ve even thrown in a kid-friendly option or two. All of them also work when you’re dining out with friends and just know you’re not going to agree on beverage selection, rendering the self-sommelier option a little too challenging even for Gary. Click through the restaurant name for my full review, or go for it and book yourself a table.
|Works on multiple levels – go earlier for a kid-friendly taco night, complete with sangria for mom and dad, or visit later in the evening for fresh, flavorful margaritas, great music (sometimes live) and fun atmosphere. Their slogan is “tacos and tequila” and there really isn’t a more perfect combination to relax and unwind. official website or book it on opentable|
|Relatively new to the Jersey City scene, South House features ‘farm to glass’ crafted cocktails and an interesting selection of beers. The food is all Texas, and South House is “dedicated to bringing local and national, new and established artists of today, who have been inspired and influenced by the iconic Delta Blues greats” as part of their live music schedule. The open space is part urban loft, part Texas cowboy bar – and 100% fun. official website or book it on opentable|
|Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen at the Vail Mansion – Oyster & Wine Bar
|Another one that quite literally works on multiple levels, but our favorite is the Oyster and Wine Bar. Hip yet casual, cool yet friendly, Jockey Hollow makes art out of drinking. I won’t spoil all the surprises, but let’s just say it’s high tech (iPads, a wine preservation system) and high brow (cocktail ingredients you have to google to decide if you like them or not). The thoughtful service balances all that out and makes for a memorable evening (that is, of course, unless you enjoy it a little too much). official website or book it on opentable|
|You probably need to plan ahead and make a reservation for this popular spot on weekends and busy nights, but weekdays you’re free to be a little more spontaneous. Strong wine list, creative seasonal cocktails, and a full bar, all in a lovely setting that is equally open and airy in the summer and cozy and warm in the winter. We also like two of their sister restaurants – Urban Table in Morristown for a hip farm-to-table burger and creative cocktail and Trap Rock Restaurant in Berkeley Heights for a locally brewed craft beer and American “ski lodge” fare. official website|
|Moonshine Modern Supper Club
|You can find Gary and I here about once a week. I love the bar area, where I can relax with a selection from the frequently updated offerings wines by the glass (including those accessible via a preservation system) which helped earn Moonshine a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2015. Gary prefers the dining room, which is a little quieter. Either way, you’ll also find great food – the country salad is a must-try and a perfect light meal. official website or book it on opentable|
|A little more involved than some of the choices here, but a great option for a more romantic date night or dinner with friends. Serenade is best known for its focus on the art of pairing wine with food, and their tasting menus are an excellent way to explore both the regionally focused, French influenced cuisine and the extensive wine list. Or you can go the more simple route, such as the Saturday night three course prix-fixe, or just a lovely entree and a glass of wine – the team at Serenade will delight in choosing the perfect glass for any occasion. official website or book it on opentable|
|16 Prospect Wine Bar & Bistro
|The wine bar is charming and cozy with an extensive, if not terribly creative, list of wines by the glass or bottle, beers, cocktails and martinis, plus a full bar with the expected liquor options. The small plates and handmade pizzas are a perfect accompaniment. For dinner, there are better options quite literally around the corner. My recommendation? Stop here for a pre-dinner drink and cheese plate, or stay by the fireplace and make your own tapas bar in Westfield. official website or book it on opentable|
|A Zagat Top 5o in New Jersey, always worth the trip if you’re not a lucky local. It’s also convenient for commuters or those who work in the area to enjoy a lovely meal en route home. On a weekend evening, the outdoor space is a great place for an early dinner with the kids, as long as they are aspiring foodies comfortable with a European menu. official website or book it on open table|
|This tucked-away restaurant is likely completely unknown to you unless you happen to commute through the Short Hills train station. If you do, lucky you – stop and have a drink. If you don’t, it’s worth a visit – the wine list is eclectic, the cocktails are fun twists on old favorites, and there is a nice selection of craft and microbrews. Patio seating provides the perfect kid-friendly environment thanks to built in entertainment – the trains! The kids are happy, the food is decent, and the drinks are perfect. If you’d rather a little more quiet or adult atmosphere, the interior is lovely and perfect for meeting up with friends. official website|