For many current undergraduate students, the stone building across from the McCarter Theatre has gone unnoticed until this August, when it opened its doors as The Dinky Bar & Kitchen. The building had been used as the waiting room for NJ Transit’s Princeton University Station, commonly referred to as “The Dinky,” since 1918. In 2013, The Dinky was moved 460 feet south as part of the University’s Art & Transit project. Although many students know of this change, little is known about the emblematic and historical significance that the Dinky had in the University.
The “Princeton Branch of New Jersey Transit” or the “Dinky,” as it is commonly referred to by Princetonians, connects Princeton Station to Princeton Junction. It is actually the shortest scheduled commuter rail line in the United States. The original train made its first trip in 1865, which covered just three miles in 20 minutes. Originally, the station was located right below the steps of Blair Hall, but in 1918, following noise and smoke complaints from students in the dorms, it was moved to where The Dinky Bar & Kitchen is now located.
The Dinky is where one of the few “crime scenes” in Princeton's history took place. On the day of Houseparties in 1963, three seniors of Cap & Gown Club came to the station on horseback, fired off a couple of shots, stopped the train, and picked up four girls from the train. Once the students took the girls back to Prospect Avenue, they explained that it was all a prank. Although it is hard to imagine the University tolerating an action like this today, there actually was no disciplinary action against the students, other than general shock and disapproval from the administration. Moreover, the University made sure to keep the students’ identities hidden from the press. Even though nothing was actually “robbed,” the incident was later referred to as “The Great Dinky Robbery” and was the last of similar train incidents in U.S. history.
In 2011, a petition by the locals was signed against the project of moving the Dinky 460 feet south. The petition stated, "the current location is welcoming to the public and easily accessible. The proposed plan would change this by taking the station out of the public square and moving it to the campus garage area, away from the street and separated from the town center. The petition also stated that “the Dinky was a beloved landmark of Princeton," and urged the University to "honor this history, tradition, and legacy.” These concerns definitely played a role as The Dinky Bar & Kitchen was being designed, since the interior decor makes an effort to remain attached to the historical significance of the building.
The industrial style of a train station and the historical links with the original purpose of the building is maintained in the Dinky Bar. In fact, parts of the original structure, such as the wooden wall panels and the metal chandeliers are preserved. The board that used to show the train schedules is now used to display the menu and even the leather chairs with metal pins resemble old train seats.
The Dinky Bar & Kitchen is owned by Fenwick Hospitality Group, the same group that owns Agricola Eatery on Witherspoon Street.
The first words that appear on the Dinky Bar’s website as the description are: “A Casual Bar in Princeton, NJ.” The restaurant features communal bar tables and soft jazz music that plays in the background. According to waitress Madison Negron, the new restaurant is a preferred place for locals to have a drink or finger food, before or after a show at the McCarter Theatre.
However, University students may be turned away by prices that are high for the typical student budget, keeping it from becoming one of the cafés on or around campus used as casual meeting or study spots. Moreover, it is also not a conducive environment for sitting down and writing a paper for hours. It does, however, provide an easy escape from the Orange Bubble for students when they want to treat themselves every once in a while.
“I went there to celebrate with a friend when she got her first paycheck from her on-campus job, and I got a new job,” Mitashee Das ’19 said.
According Negron, though the Dinky Bar is located on campus, and at most a ten-minute walk from any dorm building, it is one of the few places where the number of locals exceeds the number of Princeton students at any given time.
Although it has a big bar section, The Dinky Bar & Kitchen also offers a range of small dinner plates and cheese platters, which makes it accessible for students of all ages. A waitress listed the “Crispy Sesame Chicken Wings” and the “Grilled Fish Tacos” among the most preferred items on the menu. The prices of plates range between $11 and $21.
Upon her second visit to The Dinky Bar & Kitchen, Audrey Ou ’19 said, “I find the ambience to be like NYC, really different to the other places that are available on Nassau. It's kind of like a busy bar area that is nice to go to. For the food I like the choices of meat — I think the chicken wings are decadent. Easily shareable portions make it wonderful for a catchup with friends.”
The repurposed Dinky station of the past century is now connecting Princeton students and community members to the outside of the Orange Bubble not by an actual train, but by a quick dinner experience.