Celebrating Asbury Park's Resilience

Celebrating Asbury Park's Resilience

Journeys into Hidden America - A Narrative from on the Road

To be honest, I never had much of an attachment to Asbury Park. Too loud, too tacky, too much attitude. Too much of the Jersey I did not care for (I am from New Jersey). I was not much into scary amusement rides. Nor did those rockers who made the Stone Pony and the area famous do much for me.

I had heard how once Asbury Park was a place to go -  In its heyday it had a carousel and amusement park, swan boats, and some great seaside architecture on the East Coast. But Asbury Park began to decline after the Garden State Parkway was built in the 1950s, tourists opting  less crowded beaches farther south (see L.B.I.).

But recently I kept reading of a renaissance, a new  chapter for Asbury Park in the headlines - headlines very different from the riots of 1967 - last time I remember being there.

So, last Summer our family took a stroll from quaint Ocean Grove (a future posting) through the old Asbury Park Casino Hall building and onto the Boardwalk in Asbury Park.

It was a Saturday night and the place was hopping. Alive with a diverse crowd - culturally, and from the look of things socio-economically - quite a welcome site for the Jersey Shore is known for its niche beaches that distinguish beach and community clientele from one location to another.

It was a Boardwalk clearly in transition - having made some significant strides in the right direction.

That evening we went looking for a bite to eat. But because some family members were past starving we had to settle for generic boardwalk food.

A more recent visit brought us back to town and to see some of the magic that has taken hold just away from the Boardwalk. We had spent a beach day to the south and were in search for a dinner. It is then that we stumbled upon Cookman Avenue.

It is on this small stretch that the revitilization and reinvention can be seen in full force. We came during the late afdtrenoon beforre the place heated up. But already the crowd was varied - young, old, families, romantic couples, those seeking romance - from basic and undersated to glitz those making statements. It was all there side by side.

So too were the food offerings - from basic fare to cutting edge experimental - burger sto ethnic fusion to experimental.

And the place had its own feel. Part art deco classic main street. Part L.A.. Part Soho. And, a bit of the Hamptons. The city meets the shore but not too much fotr this definitively un-Hamptons person.

A lot has been happening there. The old Steinbach department store on  has been renovated for residential and commercial tenants, including a busy Old Man Rafferty’s restaurant.

Asbury Park is attracting not just eaters and partiers but artists as well.“It seems like there’s a more savvy art collector moving here now or visiting. We’ve been getting a lot of Manhattan, Hoboken, Jersey City and Brooklyn people,” says Jill Ricci, an artist turned gallery owner in town. “There’s definitely a buzz.” she related in a recent article in NJ Monthly.

And then there is The Silverball Museum’s video games, arcade games and pinball machines date from the 1930s to the present.

Years ago Asbury Park was a prime destination. Then it wasn't. It is again. There are still issues - it is well on the way. Bravo to those who helped make it happen for a job well done.