Asbury Park mixes the draw of the beach and a grand history and adds innovative dining and music spots.
WHILE towns along the Jersey Shore reinvented themselves during the boom of the aughts, sprouting boutique hotels and upscale restaurants, Asbury Park retained a refreshing, rare Americana charm. Restaurants — and boutique hotels — arrived, but they have had to share the Boardwalk with nostalgic attractions like a pinball museum and a psychic. And a majestic urban ghost presides over it all: the Boardwalk ends at the magnificent shell of a 1920s-era casino and carousel house.
If Asbury Park’s history of bust and rebirth offers a lesson, it’s that hard luck inspires good times.
“There’s nothing like it in the world,” said Marilyn Schlossbach, a co-owner of the three-year-old Langosta Lounge (1000 Ocean Avenue; 732-455-3275 ; langostalounge.com), a beachfront restaurant featuring “vacation cuisine” like Haliimaile rigatoni: shrimp, scallops and asparagus served in a cilantro, macadamia nut pesto.
Such pride is abundant in Asbury Park, which emerged from decades of economic hardship five years ago and blossomed into a progressive community that preserved what Ms. Schlossbach calls its “peculiar quirkiness.”
The last 18 months have been particularly transformative for one formerly forlorn area. Enlivened by a group of entrepreneurs mostly in their late 20s and early 30s, Bangs Avenue has become a hip extension of Asbury Park’s robust cultural and culinary scene.
“Last year at this time there was nobody,” Paul Cali said recently as he motioned toward the bustle of Bangs Avenue. “Now it’s a neighborhood.” Mr. Cali, 30, is the co-owner of Cafe Volan (510 Bangs Avenue; 732-455-3399 ; cafevolan.com), a relaxed, airy cafe a stroll from the ocean. In addition to brewing coffee with rich, sophisticated textures, Cafe Volan, which opened a year ago, has become a social centerpiece for the newly invigorated street.
Blue Hawaii, a vintage clothing shop, Wood Shop Skateboards, and ReBearth Artist Boutique have all recently opened, and none of the shop owners is older than 40.
Across the street from Cafe Volan is Sweet Joey’s (523 Bangs Avenue; 732-455-3183 ; sweetjoeys.com), a bespoke denim shop that also offers vintage clothes. Joey Pisch, 31, opened the shop in May 2011, where he works alongside his father, Vlado, the house tailor. “My father started making jeans in the ’70s for his friends,” Mr. Pisch said of his father’s life in Communist Czechoslovakia, “because Western jeans cost a month’s wages.” Vlad jeans, as they’re called, run around $300.
Like the rest of Asbury Park, the Bangs Avenue scene is welcoming and unassuming, but the Colonel’s Kissing Booth (516 Summerfield Avenue; 732-455-3500 ) sets new standards of friendliness. Its small, well-executed menu features brunch standards — omelets, burgers — and its owner, Shiah Blau, 25, seems equally energized by his food and his community. “Once you get here, you feel at home,” Mr. Blau said of his restaurant and his hometown. And you can’t help but feel at home there since the staff consists of Mr. Blau, his mother, his two sisters, and his best friend.
Of course, Asbury Park is known for music and its famous former resident Bruce Springsteen. Both the historic Stone Pony and Asbury Lanes, a perfect blend of music venue and well-scuffed bowling alley, still host bands, and the town was recently overtaken by the Asbury-born Bamboozle Festival’s 90,000 fans, many of whom showed up for local heroes Bon Jovi. The Press Room (610 Bangs Avenue; 732-455-5945 ; thepressroomap.com), an intimate, sleek rock venue owned by the locals Alicia and Trip Brooks, just opened this year but has already secured a position in the town’s genealogy. In February, Mr. Springsteen played a surprise show there, and the photos for his “Wrecking Ball” album were shot at the club.
“It’s a town that looks to keep the people that care about it,” Ms. Schlossbach of the Langosta Lounge said.
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