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Baby It's Cold Outside

But it's warm by the fire at these cozy spots, ideal for raising a toast and a toddy.

Posted November 15, 2011 by Tammy La Gorce

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Rat's Restaurant
Restore feeling to fingers and toes at these welcoming spots: Rat's Restaurant in Hamilton.
Cathy Miller/Courtesy of Rats Restaurant.

Bernards Inn
Bernards Inn.
Courtesy of the Bernards Inn.

Should winter show its hand early this season, plenty of New Jersey inns, taverns and other outposts offer a ray of hope for cold and weary travelers in the form of a hot cocktail and a blazing fire to sip it by. Standbys like toddies and Irish coffees may be enough to pull you in from the frost, but don’t discount the cleverness of today’s mixologists—with ingredients from dark crème de cacao to spicy chai tea up their (woolen) sleeves, they’re determined to warm you to the idea of a hot drink. Why break the ice when you can melt it? Here’s a selection of perfect places to warm up this winter:

The Bernards Inn
“The fireplace in our lobby sets the tone,” says general manager Diane Carr. That warmth extends to the 104-year-old inn’s great room—also outfitted with a rustic fireplace—where white tablecloths add to the elegance of a changing seasonal menu; enjoy a hot buttered rum there with dessert. Steps away is the fire-less but equally warm Library Bar, where you can try the La Dolce Vita cocktail (Nocello and Amaretto liqueurs with coffee, topped with whipped cream and candied pecans) in an atmosphere with “lots of dark wood touches that definitely make you feel warm and cozy,” says Carr. (27 Mine Brook Road, Bernardsville; 908-766-0002;

The Black Horse Tavern
There’s fireside seating in the formal tavern, but you can dive right into hot drinks and small plates by a second fireplace in the more casual downstairs pub. Both the tavern and the pub will offer special hot drinks in December. The warm apple cider with cinnamon and flavored rum exudes a powerful perfume. Pair it with the pub’s potato pancakes and homemade applesauce. (1 West Main Street, Mendham; 973-543-7300;

The Brown Room at Congress Hall Hotel
In the Brown Room guests gather in front of a wide-open fireplace to unwind. In winter, moveable couches and chairs invite curling up with a blanket and something warm to sip—hot mulled cider with rum, maybe, or the Kentucky Cherry Cocktail with Bulleit Bourbon, Amarena cherries and a hint of vanilla. Hors d’oeuvres that pair well, according to spokeswoman Maggie Porges, include grilled flatbread margherita style, house-made guacamole and crispy fried calamari with truffle aioli. (251 Beach Avenue, Cape May; 609-884-8421)

The Fox & Hound Tavern
The Fox & Hound, at the historic Lebanon Hotel, welcomes drinks-only customers in two separate rooms that invite hand-warming on steaming mugs. Whether you choose the tavern or the pub, you’re apt to be close enough to the fire to feel it. As for hot toddies, “I do a drink called Mother’s Milk with bourbon and steamed milk and spices, and I make a great cider and rum,” says general manager Margaret Lemise. The latter pairs well with the menu’s fish and chips, she says, but most often Fox & Hound’s hot drinks bring out a customer’s sweet tooth. “People will have a coffee drink and our white chocolate cheesecake on a cold night. We have the perfect atmosphere for that,” she says. (69 Main Street, Lebanon; 908-437-1300;

The Grain House Restaurant’s Coppertop Pub
A long copper bar and coppertop tables back up the name of the Coppertop Pub, which serves custom-brewed Coppertop Ale. In winter, when a fire roars in the wide hearth, customers often switch to the menu’s selection of “Warm & Fuzzy Coffee Drinks,” including the Dublin, with Baileys Irish Cream, and the After Dark, with Grand Marnier and Tia Maria. Cider concoctions are also December favorites. They include the Autumn Leaf, made with Apple Jack, cider and a cinnamon stick, and Royal Cider, made with Crown Royal and cider. (225 Highway 202, Basking Ridge; 908-221-1150;

The Ho-Ho-Kus Inn & Tavern
The clubby Library Bar is outfitted with a card table and upholstered chairs for fireside winding down. Last year, the inn introduced its outdoor Bluestone Patio, which offers warm libations in addition to fresh air: “Not only does it have a fireplace and portable heaters, we also have a basket of fleece blankets we offer people,” says co-owner Laurie Hamm. The Peppermint Patty—hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps—arrives on the menu alongside other specialty hot concoctions. Last year the inn offered hot cinnamon buns with maple-pecan drizzle. Sippers aren’t limited to sweets. Bar-menu selections include chili, soups and hot pretzels. (1 East Franklin Turnpike, Ho-Ho-Kus; 201-445-4115;

The Wine Cellar at Lambertville Station
Lambertville Station is a hotel on the banks of the Delaware River. Its downstairs Wine Cellar, with exposed stone walls and original beam work dating to the 1800s, is not just for wine. “People do have wine there”—including local selections from Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes—“but we have a variety of other drinks, including specialty hot chocolates and hot toddies. We also do what’s called a Snowflake in winter, and that’s Frangelica and steamed milk,” says general manager Jim Hall. The focal point of the Wine Cellar, says Hall, is its fireplace, around which chairs and sofas are situated living- room style for relaxing with friends nibbling light fare such as petite crab cakes and specialty flatbreads. (11 Bridge Street, Lambertville; 609-397-8300;

Laurita Winery
Sometimes a liberally poured glass of wine, especially a full-bodied red, can take the chill off a winter’s eve as effectively as a hot cocktail. At least that’s the theory at Laurita Winery. The 250-acre property entices winter guests with its own wine by the glass or bottle, as well as “two huge fireplaces, where people can sit listening to music or each other’s dreams,” according to the Inn at Laurita Winery’s innkeeper, Diana Lee Black. She recommends a glass of Laurita’s Norton—“the perfect antidote to a blustery winter day or evening.” Food is handled by Branches Catering in West Long Branch; they bring in sandwiches, soup and cheese plates to complement the wines. (35 Archertown Road, New Egypt; 609-758-8000;

The Pluckemin Inn
Warm cocktails drift onto the menu in December like intricate snowflakes, each with its own inventive ingredients. Somerset Cider is made with Maker’s Mark bourbon, cherry liqueur, and house-infused spice syrup scented with cinnamon, allspice, vanilla and hot apple cider. One thing that never changes is the tavern’s always-blazing fireplace, “There’s no table right in front,” says director of operations Tal Itzhaki. “Wherever you are in the room, you can feel the heat.” (Route 206 South and Pluckemin Way, Bedminster; 908-658-9292;

Nauvoo Grill Club
 “Everybody says, ‘This reminds me so much of Aspen!’ when they walk in,” says Joanne Doe, one of the managers. “It’s very ski-lodgey.” That makes Nauvoo especially conducive to hot chocolate and coffee drinks, like the perennial favorite Irish coffee, by the fire in the downstairs lounge. (A pair of upstairs rooms, also outfitted with fireplaces and comfortable Mission-style furniture, are for private parties.) Seasonal cocktails like the peppermint martini also help remind customers what month they’re in. (121 Fair Haven Road, Fair Haven; 732-747-8777;

Rat’s Restaurant at Grounds for Sculpture
“Rat’s has a super-cozy lounge, complete with a Moroccan pillow bed guests can lounge in beside the fireplace,” says Coby Green-Rifkin, Grounds for Sculpture's marketing director. It also has a seasonal menu of handcrafted signature cocktails, including Ratty’s hard apple cider with Captain Morgan spiced rum. Hors d’oeuvres veer toward the inventive and unexpected: raisin-pecan bread with warm gorgonzola sauce, for example, and bacon-popped popcorn with chives and showered bleu cheese. In addition to a bar-side fireplace, there are fireplaces in two other, more formal dining rooms. Outdoor thawing is an option here, too: Starting in December, fire pits and heat lamps burn invitingly on the patio. (16 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton; 609-584-7800;

Stockton Inn
The 301-year-old Stockton Inn—whose tavern, opened in 1796, may be the oldest in New Jersey—has built a reputation on coziness. Its three quaint Mural Rooms, with imposing stone fireplaces and Depression-era painted wall murals, invite romantic fireside dining (or cocktail sipping). For groups who like to huddle against the cold in a less intimate, more open setting, event planner Sandy McGinnis recommends the Garden Patio. “It’s covered, and it stays open all winter long. There’s a fire pit out there, and heaters, and sometimes we roast marshmallows.” Those go well with the coffee drinks owner Fred Strackhouse says regulars return for every winter. Also, “we come up with an interesting martini using seasonal ingredients” in December, he says. (1 Main Street, Stockton; 609-397-1250;

Watermark, on the Asbury Park boardwalk, has a fire that blazes year-round. It’s part of Watermark’s earth-fire-water-air concept (the decor of the 8,000-square-foot cocktail lounge is based on the four elements). That is not to say Watermark is more about style than substance. “My mixologist is ahead of the curve,” says owner Russell Lewis. “She’ll be bringing in some very progressive drinks this winter. This year I think she’s going to be doing something with hot chai tea.” A hot spiced Pom punch with pomegranate juice, cider, orange juice, ginger beer and cinnamon is already on the menu. (800 Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park; 732-455-3447;

The Yankee Doodle Tap Room
If the 13-foot-wide Norman Rockwell mural behind the bar does not merit a visit on its own, the inscription on the hearth might: “Rest Traveller, Rest, and Banish Thoughts of Care; Drink to Thy Friends and Recommend Them Here.” The quote was pulled from an old English inn and dates to 1937, when Nassau Inn, which houses the Yankee Doodle, was rebuilt on Palmer Square. Winter visitors who cozy up to the bar for the Yorkie—hot chocolate, peppermint schnapps, Rumple Minze and dark crème de cacao topped with whipped cream, one of several winter-special hot drinks—can also catch the game. Five large screens show sports year-round. (10 Palmer Square East, Princeton; 609-921-7500;

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We also enjoy our own local Italian restaurant, Carpaccio’s on Route 28 in Middlesex Borough. Nice cozy atmosphere, fireplace in the dining room, and decent food. They usually have a 2-for-1 coupon in the Entertainment Book, and getting your meal for half-price is always a bonus.

Posted by: Minx McCloud, Middlesex | Dec 02, 2011 20:19:34 PM |

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