ABOVE PHOTO: Stone Pony (Renee S. Gordon)
By Renee S. Gordon
The thing about icons is that we somehow expect them to be arrested in time and evoke our feelings in the same way forever. They do not disappoint and they certainly do not succumb to the lure of changing times. This can prove daunting for artists, structures and, most of all, cities. Asbury Park, New Jersey has managed to strike the perfect balance between memory and modernization, retro and revitalization, and is a wonderful destination for families, group or solo getaways, beach lovers and music aficionados. Visitors can select from a host of activities as well as spend nights “hanging out” in a plethora of music venues. Asbury Park provides the opportunity to experience a unique beach destination and to “rock on” even if you never rocked before. (#asburyparknow)
James Bradley, a broom tycoon, purchased 500 oceanside acres in 1871 for $90,000 and named the tract after America’s first Methodist Episcopal Church, Francis Asbury. Asbury was designed around a boardwalk and incorporated green spaces, churches and a commercial area. The city thrived, with additions such as amusements, theaters and a carousel from the late Victorian Era until the 60s as a recreation destination. Music emerged as an important lure, and the historical roots run deep and wide with John P. Sousa, Billie Holiday, Bon Jovi, Count Basie and Bruce Springsteen. Area options increased and people chose other places than Asbury for vacation and the city, like many at the time, became less attractive to visitors.
Asbury Park is currently undergoing an epic renewal. Many beautiful Victorian structures have been repurposed and contribute, along with the modern edifices, to make the city an architectural gem. After strolling the boardwalk and watching the waves lap the shore, step into the world of Asbury Park and benefit from historic sites, great dining and outstanding live music performances.
On September 8, 1934 the cruise ship SS Morro, sailing between Havana, Cuba and New York City, caught fire and eventually beached near Asbury’s Convention Hall. More than 130 passengers and crew died prompting maritime reforms, use of flame-retardant materials, meticulous evacuation drills and automatic fire doors, still enforced. A monument to the catastrophe is located near the Convention Center.
Stephen Crane, author of “The Red Badge of Courage” resided here, from 1883 until 1892, and attended Asbury Park Public School. The house can be viewed from the exterior only.
Two of the quirkier sites are Tillie, painted originally by Leslie Thomas, the smiling male logo of Asbury Park and Madam Marie’s Psychic Booth. Tillie dates from the early 1900s and is located at Ocean and Second Avenues. Marie told fortunes from her blue boardwalk booth from 1932 to 2005. Her “Temple of Knowledge” was a traditional stop for performers, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, while in Asbury. As a busker, Springsteen often performed in front of Marie’s. The stall is operated today by her granddaughter.
Silverball Museum Arcade is designated one of the country’s best. The museum preserves and presents past pinball and video games with more than 600 games on display. The on-site café offers all the standard boardwalk foods from hot dogs to Dippin’ Dots. (www.silverballmuseum.com/asbury-park)
You have seen Danny Clinch’s photographs in places including album covers, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. Now you can have a more personal experience at the Danny Clinch Transparent Gallery at the Asbury Hotel. This creative space features, exhibitions, music and art sales and live performances in an inviting atmosphere.
The Stone Pony opened in 1974. The rest is legendary. As one of the most famous music venues in the world, it is most closely associated with Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt. The club’s unofficial theme song is “Havin’ A Party” and truer words were never spoken. You can purchase tickets online. (www.stoneponyonline.com)
You can party on at the nearby Asbury Lanes. This bowling alley/diner/music venue is an entertainment mecca. The state-of-the-art sound system jettisons all the offered activities with both DJ and live performances to the stratosphere. (www.asburylanes.com)
Porta Asbury Park replaced the renowned Student Prince, site of the first meeting of Springsteen and Clarence Clemons, the Big Man. Porta is recognized as having the area’s best pizza. Seating is at picnic tables, to foster the party atmosphere, and the live music is awesome. (pizzaporta.com/asbury-park)
The Asbury Distilling Company offers tours, tastings and superior quality handcrafted spirits you can imbibe from a bar with views of the distilling process. This award-winning distillery is the first and only craft distillery in Asbury since prohibition. #asburydistillery
Cubacån Restaurant and Bar on the boardwalk is a fine dining establishment with great service and the décor and ambiance of Old Havana. The menu consists of traditional dishes with a modern twist and their signature mojitos. Try the street corn! (www.cubacanrestaurant.com)
Modine’s creates southern Low Country cuisine with modern influences using locally sourced ingredients. It is a wonderful southern refresher in a northern city. (www.modineasbury.com)
Cardinal Provisions is famous for its brunch. The chefs put a delicious spin on breakfast staples and the portions are mind-boggling. They are also open for lunch and dinner. (www.crdnal.com)
Asbury Ocean Club will be a luxury accommodation option this fall with units currently on sale. They offer condominiums and 54 boutique hotel rooms on 17-stories overlooking the ocean. The residences are designed with 10-ft. ceilings, Hansgrohe kitchen and bath fixtures, wrap around terraces, ocean panoramas and offer personalized concierge service, fitness facilities and an outdoor shower. (www.asburyoceanclub.com)
The remodeled Asbury Hotel once housed the Salvation Army and is a perfect example of blending Asbury’s history and constantly evolving music and arts culture. The 110-guest rooms accommodate all travelers with everything from suites to bunk beds. Amenities include custom made mattresses, upscale linens and designer bath products. Artwork in the public spaces reflects the music heritage and the welcoming lobby offers comfortable seating, games, newspapers and the Soundbooth Bar. Live music, sunrise yoga and the Asbury Pool are great additions to the experience. (www.theasburyhotel.com)
Asbury Park has numerous scheduled festivals. The list is available online. (www.visitnj.org/nj/events)
Find your bliss in Asbury Park.