THE VERY CLASSIC TOWN OF PRINCETON
I had been briefed. "Princeton," a friend told me before I set off for a visit there, "is absolutely the prettiest town in the world." That, of course, is a highly subjective generalization, one to which the residents of Camden, Maine, or Santa Fe, N.M. could raise a persuasive challenge. Still, anyone looking for an unspoiled town of gracious, tree-lined streets, distinctive shops, and the cultural and historic ambience of a beautiful college campus will find that my friend's statement is not far wrong.Skip to next paragraph
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Travelers to Princeton can easily be right in the center of it all by staying at the Nassau Inn. Located in Palmer Square, the comfortable hostelry is surrounded by charming storefronts straight out of a child's picture book. Just across from the inn's wide, welcoming door are the neo-Gothic fieldstone spires of Princeton University.
Although the inn dates back only to 1937 -- it was built shortly after the original inn was torn down to make way for the development of Palmer Square -- it is still an appropriate introduction to the cozy, nostalgic atmosphere that envelopes Princeton. Its beam-ceilinged and paneled lobby is an excellent place to relax before the enormous fireplace and listen to the friendly chimes of the grandfather clock in the corner.
After what had been a long drive to Princeton, I was grateful for the homey lobby and for the inn's convenient location, which allowed me to do my exploring on foot rather than by car. But touring would have to wait until the next morning, I decided. The activity now was to consider which of the inn's three restaurants would be the best choice for a leisurely dinner.
A good compromise between the informal, plant-filled Greenhouse Restaurant and the very formal, white-linened main dining room proved to be the cozy Tap Room, once a strictly male preserve that is now open to women. With student initials carved in tabletops and class numerals fastened to the low ceilings salvaged from the original inn, the Tap Room is the most vivid reminder of the Nassau Inn's historic link with the town's campus life.
Just as the university was designed after those of old England, the Tap Room sports such Tudor-style appointments as a baronial fireplace, high backed settess, adn iron chandeliers. Its focal point is strictly American, however, turning out to be the huge Yankee Doodle mural painted by Norman Rockwell. The whimsical mural, painted especially for the inn, shows a Yankee Doodle who is hampered somewhat by a youngster pulling his pony's tail and a rambunctious crowd of merrymakers. Rockwell used local townspeople as his models, and even cast himself as one of the revelers, the one wearing an eye patch.
The food served in the Tap Room is the kind of tasty, fortifying fare that one would expect of its surroundings. Excellent cuts of meat and a variety of seafood are accompanied by a choice of fresh vegetables and baked potatoes stuffed with herbs and cheese. Waiters come by often with large baskets brimming with warm yeasty white rolls or pumpernickel ones studded with raisins.
After a good night's sleep in one of the inn's modern bedrooms -- most are located in a six-story addition to the 1937 building -- one can breakfast adn contemplate the day's activities in the Greenhouse Restaurant. Lined with the expanse of glass that its name suggests, breakfasters get a clear view of the tempting wares available in the attractive shops of Palmer Square.
Resisting the urge to browse among all the shelves of books, silver items, leather goods, and gift packs of English jams and soaps that caught my eye, I headed across Nassau Street to the university campus. There I found enough architectural interest, historical sights, and stunning artwork to turn my attention away from a potential shopping spree.
Visitors to Princeton should first stop by Stanhope Hall, just to the right of the university's belt-towered Nassau Hall, to either take one of the regularly scheduled guided tours or pick up a map and brochures for a self-guided one. I chose to do both, first taking the regular 45-minute tour to discover the highlights and then going back to enjoy them at more length.