Best Bars: North Jersey

These North Jersey bars boast great atmospheres, cool cocktails and plenty of personality. They're worth a visit.

A cocktail from South House in Jersey City.
A cocktail from South House in Jersey City.
Photo by Laura Moss

Cloverleaf

Caldwell
This unpretentious, family-run neighborhood tavern (established in 1933) is also a bona fide sports bar and a top destination for beer lovers thanks to its expert selection of craft brews. It’s run by Ryan Dorchak, grandson of founder George Jr. The bar area, though cramped and often crowded, is always friendly. The menu is highlighted by outstanding burgers. Land a table in the noisy bar area or opt for the quieter dining rooms or patio.—KS
395 Bloomfield Avenue,  973-226-9812.

Cranford Hotel

Cranford
Though it hasn’t been a hotel in about 40 years, the Cranford Hotel retains not only its original name, but its 1882 building and classic style. There are a wood bar, brick-walled dining room with fireplace, and small tables on a glassed-in porch overlooking a patio, where tables are set in warm weather. Hard by the train station and near the Parkway, the Cranford makes a convivial meeting spot. With a Ginger Mist (prosecco, ginger syrup, grapefruit juice) in hand, go down-home with a pulled-pork sandwich or upscale with scallops on quinoa-black bean salad in orange-pomegranate sauce.—AC
1 South Union Avenue, 908-276-2121.

Pilsener Haus

Hoboken
Grab a seat at one of the long, wooden, communal tables and lift a stein to your tablemates. What you will experience is Gemütlichkeit (roughly, guh-muet-lik-kite), German for “warm friendliness.” The long draft list is rife with imports, including fresh-from-the-Czech-Republic kegged Pilsner Urquell, not so easy to find. The grill produces comfort foods from grilled chicken to brats of all sorts to warm pretzels big enough to share. Pilsener Haus opened in 2011 after transforming an old warehouse on the city’s north side into Mittel Europa, circa 1911. It’s particularly fun during annual Oktoberfest celebrations.—JH
1422 Grand Street, 201-683-5465.

Ho-Ho-Kus Inn 

Ho-Ho-Kus
Tastefully renovated by its owners, this 1796 building with later additions features two bars. The Tavern, replete with old wood and a stone fireplace, is cozy, making date nights feel more intimate. The Library, despite just one small bookcase, feels like a proper reading room, with its plush armchairs, floor lamps and plaid rug. Both are time-honored retreats in tony northern Bergen County. The inn has won Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence every year since 2012; but if you want to open a special bottle from your own cellar, the inn waives corkage fees with purchase of an entrée on its BYO Mondays. Steaks and chops are wise choices here.—JH
1 East Franklin Turnpike, 201-445-4115.

Taphouse 15

Jefferson
Sandwiched on an island between the north and south lanes of busy Route 15, this handsome gastropub has earned a steady food-and-drinks crowd since opening in late 2015. The cocktail list runs 19 deep, and craft beer abounds. Scotch lovers can choose among 11 single malts and blends, or opt for a flight of three different Balvenie offerings. Share a wood-fired pizza at the bar, or dig deeper into the Asian- and Latin-influenced menu.—KS
75 Route 15 South, 862-437-1300.

Dullboy

Jersey City
Maybe it’s the typewriters attached to the faded brick walls, but a writer or avid reader will immediately feel comfortable here. Music is usually kept low so conversation can flourish or a book be read. Classic cocktails for $11 are potent. Specialties like the Myrna, with tequila and coffee liqueur, should not be missed. Same goes for the BLT tacos. The bar’s name is not an homage to the psychotically typed proverb in the movie The Shining, but the book pages wallpapered in the lone restroom and the books nailed to the walls remind one that all work and no play…well, you know.—JH
364 Grove Street, 201-795-1628.

Fox & Crow

Jersey City
Since opening in 2015, this intimate bar and creative burger spot in the up-and-coming Heights neighborhood has revived the Hudson County tradition of live music by eclectic acts. Here it’s called “Live in the Parlor” and includes performers from solo jazz flute to jam bands, acoustic folk and alternative rock. Drinks are similarly diverse, from Pimms Cups to alcoholic root beer floats, seasonal mint julips and alcoholic ginger beer. Fox & Crow—easy to spot on a residential block thanks to its neon-pastel illustrated façade—attracts music lovers from all around the area.—JH
594 Palisade Avenue, 201-984-2775.

Pint

Jersey City
Legend has it that mayor Frank “Boss” Hague once owned this pub, one of Hudson County’s longest running, during Prohibition. Politics have remained ingrained in the cubbyhole-sized storefront that has had different names and became Pint in 2009. A gay bar where straights feel perfectly welcome, Pint serves more than 50 American craft beers, many local, and fishbowl cocktails, each topped with a small, costumed rubber ducky. It regularly holds fundraisers for hate-crime victims and other worthy causes. Owner Wolf Sterling last year dropped Yuengling (and its distributor) after the brewery declared public support for Donald Trump. There’s fun, too, with a raucous weekly trivia night and a patron-driven, app-based music bot that makes you wish there were room to dance.—JH
34 Wayne Street, 201-367-1222.

South House

Jersey City
In warm weather, the rocking chairs on the sidewalk in front of Newark Avenue’s most popular spot conjure a vibe of slow sipping and long conversation. But pass through the plant-strewn atrium and you enter the opposite of serenity. A cadre of agile bartenders in perpetual motion shake up drinks to upbeat music (live two Thursdays a month). Servers duck and weave through the happy crowd to deliver hedonic eats like Frito pie, fried catfish and casseroles to packed tables. Many of the cocktails get an Austin, Texas-inspired twist with hip ingredients like Aztec chocolate bitters and sriracha sea salt. Framed photographs of rock and blues legends by Dick Waterman (one of the few non-performers in the Blues Hall of Fame) hang on the walls. Downstairs you can further unwind with a game of pool, shuffleboard, foosball or darts.—JH
149 Newark Avenue, 201-209-1316.

Egan & Sons

Montclair
One might credit Egan & Sons with jump-starting the town’s Walnut Street scene. When Chris and Sharon Egan, then husband and wife, opened this Dublin-style pub in 2005, there were two bakeries on the block and a corner luncheonette. Today, all are thriving, along with four new restaurants. Displaying artwork by contemporary Irish and local artists and serving some of its wide range of beers in frozen pint glasses, Egan & Sons won hearts from day one. It’s a great place to unwind, catch a game and fuel up on house specialties like boneless wings and fish and chips. House beers under the Egan name are brewed at Cricket Hill in Fairfield.—JH
118 Walnut Street, 973-744-1413.

De Novo

Montclair
On the platform of the Upper Montclair train station, this Euro-style pub exudes the suavity that American rail travel often lacks. The focal point is the bar along one wall, from which tables fan out. Dangling Edison bulbs, a mosaic of wine corks decorating sections of ceiling, and chandeliers from which silverware dangles add a wink to the welcome. An eclectic menu featuring 12 pastas gives plenty of bang for the buck. The attentive bar staff quickly whip up expert cocktails and generous pitchers of sangria, making De Novo a regular stop for commuters and anyone in search of a fresh start, which is how owner Demetri Malki translates his restaurant’s name.—JH
275 Bellevue Avenue, 973-893-5008.

Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen

Morristown
Jockey Hollow, an NJM Top 25 restaurant, runs three different menus in four distinct spaces of the renovated 1918 Vail Mansion. The lower level Rathskeller is an event space that on weekends comes into its own as a German beer hall replete with schnitzel, wurst, live music and eau de vie. For artful cocktails, adventurous beers and a deep wine list, the handsomely wood-paneled, high-ceilinged Vail Bar on the main floor is the place to be. The bartenders are virtuosos, the raw bar and menu stellar, the crowd urbane and outgoing. The Vail Bar will fulfill your every Gatsbyesque whim.—JH
110 South Street, 973-644-3180.

SM23

Morristown
The word lounge suggests relaxation. SM23 (the initials of owner Shaun Mehtani and his age when he opened it) achieves that. Dark and sumptuous, sexy and modern, it’s a casbah for conversation and inventive cocktails. Attached by vestibule to Mehtani’s Ming II (Asian fusion) and Mehndi (Indian) restaurants, SM23 offers a range of exotic small plates. A DJ spins tunes on weekends. Regulars love signatures like the martini with lychee and lemongrass syrup or the Tokyo, with vodka, lemon juice, sauvignon blanc, Midori and Chambord. For its new coffee and apricot cocktail, see Libations, P. 85.—JH
3 Speedwell Avenue, 973-871-2323.

Cowan’s Public

Nutley
This 1920s storefront opened as a bar in 1934 and went through several owners and names, most memorably the Nutley Pub, before becoming Cowan’s in 2015. The space has been artfully dialed back to look as it might have in the glow of Repeal, including vintage magazine covers and Jersey-themed knickknacks. Scotch fanciers will relish the Penicillin, made with Monkey Shoulder (a blend of three famous single malts), ginger, honey and lemon. With 16 taps of craft beer and a tasty, limited menu, Cowan’s is drawing devotees from many area towns.—JH
229 Centre Street, 973-542-8151.

Dog & Cask

Rochelle Park
Homebrewers largely fueled the American beer renaissance. This bar on a drab stretch of highway hosts homebrew nights, inviting local do-it-yourselfers (and those just looking to learn) to pour and talk about their creations. Open to all, serving hip edibles (grilled octopus, duck confit grilled cheese) with draft wine, strong cocktails and local beer, Dog & Cask is building a community.—JH
55 Route 17 South, 201-845-5101.

Stage House

Scotch Plains
A sports bar, with scads of screens, good food, a savvy beer list and an outdoor bar, Stage House is most notable for its dining room and tavern. Literally. The former occupies a stone structure erected in 1737; construction of the latter began in the late 1600’s, making Stage House one of Jersey’s last remaining Revolutionary War publick houses.—JK
366 Park Avenue, 908-322-4224.

Ariane Kitchen & Bar

Verona
Beige, high-backed stools against grey walls, pale wood accents and exposed brick make this modernist gathering spot visually inviting. From the bar, backed with white subway tile, come snappy cocktails like the sublimely subtle and smoky Winston Wolf, made with Scotch and mescal; and the Scarlet Royale, a whimsical riff on pink lemonade made with cherry vodka and prosecco. Owners Ariane and Michael Duarte’s previous restaurant, CulinAriane in Montclair, made its rep on ambitious food. Here, hearty (and tall) burgers as well as treats like fried oysters uphold that tradition on a more casual level.—JH
706 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-744-0533.

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