By JIM WILLIS
The first thing you notice about the freshened-upped Murphy’s Tavern in Rumson is the new sign that hangs outside the bar. Right out front it reads, proudly, “Since Prohibition,” a nod back to the basement bar’s past as a neighborhood speakeasy.
With the help of some family and friends, owners Robb McMahon and Heather Vena spent the past week putting a Prohibition-era refresh on the bar they took over nine years ago.
“We were tired of looking at the same four wall,s and finally put our own thumbprint on the place,” says Vena.
The pair wholly embraced the speakeasy past of the bar with the renovations.
“The speakeasy trend is popular right now,” says Vena. “We took down all of the clutter off the walls and painted them a period-appropriate color.”
Other changes include pulling down all the TVs save for a single TV behind the bar.
“We didn’t want to have five TVs with five different sporting events,” says McMahon.
“You can find that anywhere,” adds Vena. “We want to be unique to ourselves and to our history.”
Regulars who have a logged their time at the shuffleboard table will be glad to see a new scorekeeper installed to replace the old, broken one.
The changes go deeper than just a new paintjob. With the new decor comes a greater focus on hand-crafted cocktails that do the space justice.
“We used to showcase vodkas behind the bar,” says Vena, pointing to shelf that now holds an array of amber booze such as rye and bourbon. “It used to be ‘Can I have a bubblegum vodka and Red Bull?’ Now we have young girls who come in and order a Makers Mark on the rocks. I think that’s very cool, and I’m always impressed by that.”
The pair spent some time visiting former speakeasies in Manhattan and poring through cocktail books to come up with their new Prohibition-era menu of whistle-wetters, including a rye-based Manhattan and a classic Sidecar. Even the glassware used to serve the cocktails has been updated to look like something Daisy Buchanan might have used.
“We’d like to try to encourage people to take time to sip a nice hand-crafted cocktail,” says Vena. “You don’t need to guzzle something out of a pint glass.”
The state of cocktails on the Green is hit or miss. PieHole recently ordered a Manhattan at a Red Bank bar from a sullen waif who spent two minutes looking for an orange to muddle, clearly confusing my Manhattan order for an Old Fashioned.
McMahon traces the inconsistent service to a lack of career bartenders. McMahon and Vena have almost 50 years of bartending experience between them. Combine that with their new cocktail menu – and their special additions, like bourbon-soaked cherries and homemade flavored syrups – and we’re now a lot more optimistic about the state of the cocktail on the Green.
PieHole will post a few more photos of the interior updates on our Facebook page.