Adapting to the times, while retaining its essential character, is the key to success for any business. The owners of Princeton’s Ivy Inn have understood this, and continued to make additions, improvements, and innovations, which have all contributed to a long-time thriving business.
The establishment has been owned by the McClusky/Ryan families since 1966, and recently, Princeton resident Geoff Aton has joined the owner/operating team, including Michelle (“Mickey”) Ryan and Richard (“Richey”) Ryan. Ms. Ryan’s daughter, Kelly Ryan, handles the marketing and social media aspect of the business.
My brother Richard (“Dickey”) McClusky bought the Inn in 1966,” says Ms. Ryan. “It was originally located next door, where Small World Coffee is now, but in 1973, Dickey was able to purchase the site of the ‘Flying A’ gas station, located at 248 Nassau Street, and after renovations were completed in 1975, the Ivy Inn, as you know it today, opened its doors.”
Originally known as a “shot and beer joint,” the Ivy catered to working men and women, explains Ms. Ryan. “Dickey was known for his great generosity and always tried to keep prices as reasonable as possible. He was also an avid sports fan, and for 30 years sponsored countless team throughout Mercer County.”
After Mr. McClusky’s death in 1996, Ms. Ryan became owner of the Ivy. Busy with a full-time position at Princeton Hospital, she looked to her son Richey for help in running the Inn. “He was at Franklin Marshall College at the time, but he came on board, transferred to Rider College to get his degree, while working full-time at the Ivy,” she explains.
As time went on, Mr. Ryan introduced innovations and new ideas to the already very popular establishment. He put in a pool table early on, which has been an extremely popular addition. “The only pool table in the area,” notes Mr. Aton.
During the next 15 years, the Ivy continued to grow and attract an even more diverse clientele. It took on a new face with the introduction of live entertainment, Karaoke, and “Quizzos” trivia night.
The Ivy Inn was also host to numerous fund-raisers and donated $75,000 to area charities, including the Sunshine Foundation, St. Baldrick’s, Toys for Tots, and Angel Wings, among others.
The introduction of the popular dart board provided a feeling of an English pub, while a 120-inch TV screen and six other HD TVs invited sports fans to watch their favorite teams in action. Free WiFi attracted those with internet requirements.
Another big hit is the juke box, which offers a great selection of TouchTunes. “We have more than 3000 songs from every era of popular music,” says Ms. Ryan. “People love it, and when it is playing, they often get up and dance!”
The latest innovation, the introduction of pub-type informal food, is one of the most exciting changes, note the partners. “This was really Geoff’s idea,” points out Ms. Ryan, “and it is terrific. The customers are very happy about the addition of food.”
“I’m a foodie,” says Mr. Aton, who has been a fan of the Ivy since he came to Princeton in 2007. “My career was in finance in Philadelphia and New York, but I have a family and two young sons. I wanted to be able to spend more time with them.
“I felt the Ivy would be an ideal place to offer informal food for lunch and dinner. It was a perfect match with the bar setting. The Ivy has always been known for reasonable prices, and we will definitely continue that. It’s hard to go out to dinner in Princeton with a family of four and spend under $100. We have that very much in mind. You really can’t go to another establishment in Princeton for a quality meal at the prices we have. And everything is fresh, with daily deliveries.”
The first order of business was to install and set up a kitchen and hire a chef. “We have a wonderful chef, Jackie Baldassari,” says Mr. Aton. “She is highly respected, and our kitchen staff, including Caesar Quijivix, is outstanding.”
Customers will find an appealing pub-style menu, with appetizers, salads, and sandwiches. A soup of the day is available, and appetizers include Caesar salad, Buffalo chicken wings, macaroni and cheese, chicken tenders, thin crust pizza, and mozzarella sticks. Sides include tater tots, cole slaw, beet salad, Boardwalk and sweet potato French fries, are available.
The sandwiches have been extremely popular, and customers are singing their praises. “This is ‘Wow’ — one of the best sandwiches I have ever had,” one happy customer was heard to say. It was the organic boneless breast of Bell & Evans chicken, with Black Forest ham, gruyere cheese, and mustard sauce on a roll.
Another favorite is the signature burger with ancho chile mayonnaise and choice of American, cheddar, gruyere, mozzarella, provolone, or Swiss cheese.
“This has been a big hit,” says Mr. Aton. “We have very high quality beef, and we have made a great blend of meat for the hamburger. Everyone wants to order this.”
Other favorites include grilled cheese with gruyere, tomato and bacon; the traditional BLT, but with ancho chile mayonnaise (both served on thick cut bread), the rib-eye steak sandwich, the vegan crabcake, and the famous Reuben (hot or cold) on rye.
Of course, libations are a mainstay at the Ivy, but these, too, have undergone changes, as customers tastes have expanded. For example, points out Mr. Aton, “In the beginning, there were two choices of beer, now there are 40. There used to be one vodka and one kind of gin; now there are several choices. People have many more options now.
“We are also upgrading and expanding the wine with more varieties, but our prices are still very reasonable. We have a house red and a house white for $4.50, and others with a top price of $7.50. Our cocktails, including martinis and cosmopolitians, are $7.00.
Our motto has always been ‘At the Ivy Inn, every hour is happy hour.’”
The owners also emphasize that they are very strict about enforcing valid IDs and appropriate drinking behavior.
“All ages enjoy coming here,” points out Ms. Ryan. “They all know that they will be welcomed and valued. This is a place where people can come and be themselves, relax, be honest, without any pretense. At lunch and dinner, we get all ages, including people with families. From 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., it’s the younger crowd coming in for drinks.
“We have always felt we are part of a diverse family here. Not just my own family — but the staff and the customers. It’s a true family atmosphere here. It’s just a nice place to be.”
Giving back to the community has always been a priority of the Ivy Inn, and Mr. Aton appreciates that quality. An unsuccessful Republican candidate for the new Princeton Council in the November election, he looks forward to continuing to contribute to the community.
“For me, getting involved in politics was an opportunity to give back. And you really see that at the Ivy. When you’re around the Ryan family, you see they are very giving, constantly having fund-raisers and helping out. And they do it just because it is right. This is a unique, diverse place, a place with history and character.”
The Ivy Inn can seat 50, including 18 at the bar and more at the booth and table areas. In addition, the renovated outdoor patio offers eight tables, and will be available in the spring. Private parties are also an option, as is catering service.
Live music is featured on Friday and Saturday, Karaoke on Wednesday and Thursday, and Quizzos trivia on Tuesday.
The Inn is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday noon to midnight. Lunch is offered from 11, and dinner is served until 9:30 p.m. (609) 921-8555. Website: www.ivyinnprince