"fresh take on the European Brasserie, where good, simple food, strong drink, and those passing through come together to create a rich, sensory experience of precocious exuberance," one of Top 100 Neighborhood Gem Restaurants in US, OpenTable.com; 4.5 of 5 stars, Certificate of Excellence, TripAdviser.com - Langosta Lounge Caribbean fusion restaurant with nightly live music on boardwalk
Popular breakfast, lunch place for pancakes, omelettes, sandwiches
- .Moonstruck originally in Ocean Grove, relocated 2002 to Asbury in order to gain liquor license, Mediterranean grill, seafood, beef, 4.5 of 5 stars, Certificate of Excellence 2019, TripAdviser.com
- The Stone Pony rock music bar site for early performances by Springsteen, Bon Giovi, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes; in the summer, cramped interior is supplemented by a large outdoor stadium performance stage with capacity up to 2,500.
- The Wonder Bar rock bar which also hosted Springsteen and others; indoor/outdoor capacity of 2,000 and large dance floor, as well as a popular Doggie Yappy Hour
- Asbury Lanes re-opened in 2017 in a vintage bowling alley near The Stone Pony now incorporating state-of-art lanes, a 50s-style 40-seat diner, as well as stage and dance floor with a capacity of over 700
Asbury Park boardwalk in view looking north to Convention Hall in background in circa 1930s postcard. Image: NewJerseyAlmanac.com
Swan boat on Wesley Lake in circa 1940s post card. Image: NewJerseyAlmanac.com
Current version of Swan boat on Wesley Lake. Image: Janice Gross
A day trip to Asbury Park could also be combined with a side trip to Ocean Grove, its adjacent neighbor to the south, walkable on the boardwalk through Asbury Park's Casino or on the bridge over Wesley Lake bordering the two communities. .
Founded shortly after the Civil War as outgrowths of the Methodist camp meeting movement, in subsequent years each town would take divergent paths, with Asbury Park promoting itself as a tourist-friendly resort with entertainment and amusements while Ocean Grove maintaining its mission as a faith-based community shunning popular distractions offered by its neighbor. Asbury Park's founding dates to the1871 purchase by James A. Bradley--a converted Methodist and wealthy New York broom manufacturer who had first been attracted to Ocean Grove--of 500 acres of beachfront he later incorporated and named for Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury. While Bradley pursued his new faith by barring alcohol and gambling from the town, he encouraged development and visitors, albeit imposing strict racial segregation forcing blacks to live away from the beach on the west side of town. From the late 19th century, Asbury Park evolved as a leading New Jersey resort, attracting thousands to its boardwalk amusements, including a ferris wheel, carousels, children's rides and miniature golf courses. Special events such as its annual Fourth of July fireworks display, Easter Parade and Baby Parade also brought large crowds. * History of Asbury Park, Asbury Park Historical Society
The Asbury Ocean Club opened July 2019 as a hotel-condominium complex. Image: NewJerseyAlmanac.com
After a long decline commencing after World War II as air travel made other resorts in the south and west more accessible, the city reached its low point in July 1970 with weeklong riots and disorders sparked by racial tensions. An ill-fated 1980s beachfront development project (which at one point included investment from the singer Johnny Cash) proceeded to demolish many boardwalk buildings, attractions and amusements, such as a string of miniature golf courses which had made the city a center for national tournaments, but then collapsed in the developer's bankruptcy, leaving empty lots and spaces on the boardwalk and Ocean Avenue while the city pursued protracted legal actions to recover rights to the properties.
When that litigation was finally resolved, another master developer selected by the city defaulted on a $70 million loan in 2009, with the development rights to major locations on the boardwalk later succeeding to the city's current developer, Madison Marquette, a national real estate investment and development firm. Two new hotels--the Asbury Ocean Club opened in July 2019 as an upscale hotel and condominium complex across the street from the boardwalk and the 110-room Asbury Hotel opened in 2016 as the city's first new hotel in more than 50 years, converted from a former Salvation Army retirement home. Another project, Asbury Lanes, re-opened in 2017 in a vintage bowling alley now incorporating state-of-art lanes, a 50s-style 40-seat diner, and a stage and dance floor with a capacity of over 700.
To some extent, optimism over the recovery continues to build on Asbury's role in the past and current evolution of popular music; rock bars like The Stone Pony and the Wonder Bar survived through the low point of the city's post-riot decades as the sites for launching the early careers of Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Bon Jovi and others. The city, like Ocean Grove, also has benefited from new residents, investment and tourism from the gay and lesbian community. In 2019, the beaches in Asbury Park and Ocean Grove were cited as the best "Gay-Friendly" beaches in the state by New Jersey Monthly and for several years Asbury Park has hosted the state's largest Gay Pride Celebration. Even during the city's years of decline, the Empress Hotel near the Casino has long been popular with the LGBQT community and hosts its active Paradise Night Club.
Nonetheless, the city's recovery remains uneven, with persistent high poverty and crime rates, and schools ranking near the state's lowest in student performance. Compared to other beachfront towns like Seaside Heights or Wildwood, Asbury Park's boardwalk extending from the Casino on the southern end to the Convention Hall seems sparse in attractions, with some empty spaces fronting the boardwalk, a remnant of the past failed redevelopment projects. The Casino, once considered as a potential set for the HBO-series "Boardwalk Empire," remains a vacant, rusted shell which was closed for walkthroughs in April 2023 due to structural problems despite past promises of its restoration. * Asbury Park, N.J.: A Seaside Community Reborn, 5/15/2019, NY Times * Asbury, iStar dispute; don't draw the line in sand over boardwallk: Editorial, 11/13/2018, APP.com
Rusted facade of Casino. Image: NewJerseyAlmanac.om
-Asbury Park Beach & Boardwalk Most day trips to Asbury Park include a walk on the boardwalk (less than a mile in length), with most restaurants, shops and amusements located between the Convention Hall at the north end reaching to the deteriorated Casino at the southern border with Ocean Grove.
Asbury Park bardwalk and beach with Convention Hall in background. Image: NewJerseyAlmanac.om
With beach restoration projects following major storms like Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Asbury Park's beach is now in excellent shape, providing a broad expanse of sand and easy access from the boardwalk. In 2018, the website Thrillist included Asbury's beach in its list of "The Underrated American Beaches You Need to Hit this Summer," writing that it had "sand as scenic as anywhere on the shore."
One boardwalk stop worth a visit is the Silverball Museum Arcade (named "Best NJ Attraction" 2017 by 10Best.com) to play on its over 300 pinball, Skee Ball, Air Hockey and other classic arcade games (one hour pass $12.50; half day pass $15; all-day pass $25). Another special site is the Madam Marie's tiny fortune-telling booth operated by Marie Castello from 1932 until she died at age 93 in 2008, where a teen-aged Bruce Springsteen would sing for whatever money passers-by would leave; Springsteen included Marie in his song “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” in the line “Did you hear the cops finally busted Madam Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do.” The booth survives, now run by Marie's granddaughter.
Dining and drinking choices on or near the boardwalk include Stella Marina (Italian, Diners Choice Award 2018, OpenTable.com); Robinson Ale House (one of several restaurants owned by Tim McLoone, located in former Howard Johnson's on boardwalk next to Convention Hall, also more upscale dining upstairs with live entertainment, and cover charges, in Tim McLoone's Supper Club).
Asbury Park Convention Hall. Image: NewJerseyAlmanac.com
Toward the boardwalk's northern end where the cruise ship SS Morro Castle beached herself in 1934 after a devastating fire offshore (note monument outside Robinson Ale House), is the Asbury Park Convention Hall, built in the late 1920s with its eastern section extending on pillars over the ocean. Its interior has two separate theaters: a 3,600-seat theater featuring touring and local rock groups, comedians and others, (generally below the level of the of the 1960s and '70s concerts of such stars as James Brown, Elton John, Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, others); and the 1,600-seat Paramount Theatre, originally built as a movie theater but which is now used primarily for special events and rentals to groups, including its past use as rehearsal space for Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band prior to their global tours, (with Springsteen also attending August 2019 world premiere of movie 'Blinded by the Light' at the Paramount). The central arcade of the Convention Hall includes restaurants, food stands including sushi and ice cream and a mix of t-shirt and souvenir shops. Across Ocean Avenue from the Convention Hall is Bradley Park, with its statue of city founder James Bradley, and nearby is the Asbury Hotel, the iStar project renovated from the former Salvation Army retirement home that includes the rooftop Baronet movie theater open from spring to early fall.
Crowds on beach and boardwalk viewing wreck of SS Morro Castle on beach south of Convention Hall. Image: AtlasObscura.com
- Music Complementing the music legacy of the Convention Hall are a mix of older and newly-opened bars and concert venues. A short walk off the boardwalk is The Stone Pony, the iconic rock music bar which was the site for early performances by Springsteen, Bon Giovi, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes; in the summer, the bar's cramped interior is supplemented by a large outdoor stadium performance stage with capacity up to 2,500.. Another venerable rock music bar is The Wonder Bar, once a popular hot dog counter in the 1950s, later to become a rock bar which also hosted Springsteen and others; it now features an indoor/outdoor capacity of 2,000 and large dance floor, as well as a popular Doggie Yappy Hour allowing small dogs in an outside fenced-in space with a Dog Run. A more recent addition to the live music scene is the renovated Asbury Lanes, another iStar project which re-opened in 2017 in a vintage bowling alley near The Stone Pony now incorporating state-of-art lanes, a 50s-style 40-seat diner, as well as stage and dance floor with a capacity of over 700. Another new facility is House of Independents, with capacity of 275 stadium-style seats on two levels and up to 500 without seats. On Main Street, The Saint--named by critics as one of the top five rock clubs in New Jersey--is a concert showcase with a capacity of 150 and state of art acoustic system, and which hosts the annual Asbury Music Awards recognizing the best talent of new and well-known, local, national, and international acts. * Best Music Venues in Asbury Park, New Jersey, 2/26/2018, theCultureTrip.com
House of Independents. Image: NewJerseyAlmanac.com
Asbury's central business district, mostly within a triangle enclosed on Cookman, Grand and Mattison avenues, includes the Steinbach Building, which was once the well-known Steinbach Department Store founded in the late 19th century and operated until its closing in 1979; the five-story structure is now renovated with ground-floor restaurants and shops and upper-floor rental apartments. One of the most interesting downtown stops is at Hot Sand, a walk-in glassblowing studio where visitors can try their hand under guidance of a glassblower at creating drinking glasses, holiday ornaments, ash trays or other objects. Another offbeat stop is Paranormal Books & Curiosities focusing on paranormal books and gifts with an occult museum and experiences, including seances, book signings, guest filmmakers, ghost hunting classes and tours. The Antique Emporium of Asbury Park is a collective of independent artists, craftsmen and others offering art, antiques, furniture, vintage clothing and collectibles Other options include Parlor Gallery (artist directed studio curates 10-12 contemporary art exhibitions annually); Red Moon, (gift shop of original home and lifestyle items created by artists, craftspeople); Glide Surf Co. and a handful of vintage shops. * Steinbach: Whatever happened to the Jersey Shore's go-to department store?, 8/15/2019, APP.com
The Steinbach Building, once Asbury Park's leading department store, has been renovated with restaurants on its ground floor and condominiums on its upper levels/ Image: NewJerseyAlmanac.com
- Dining and drinking
In addition to its attraction as a center for popular music, Asbury has also gained attention for new dining and drinking options. In December 2022, NJ.com ranked The Heirloom at The Saint Laurent as the state's best restaurant in its list of .New Jersey’s 25 best restaurants of 2022. The R Bar, which opened in 2021, also has been cited for its Cajun New Orleans menu and innovative cocktails. Other dining and drinking options in the downtown area include Pascal & Sabine ("fresh take on the European Brasserie, where good, simple food, strong drink, and those passing through come together to create a rich, sensory experience of precocious exuberance," one of Top 100 Neighborhood Gem Restaurants in US, OpenTable.com; 4.5 of 5 stars, Certificate of Excellence 2019, TripAdviser.com); Brando's Citi Cucina (on Main Street, describes menu as "soulful Italian," pasta, seafood, chops, 4.5 of 5 stars, Certificate of Excellence 2019, TripAdviser.com); Talula's (hearth-baked pizza with communal tables, also salads, sandwiches, Saturday & Sunday brunch; named one of 33 Best Pizzerias in America, 6/3/2016,Thrillist.com); and Barrio Costero ("Mexican food in a way that is hip, colorful and, most of all, bursting with bold, harmonious flavors," NJMonthly.com). Near each other on Lake Avenue facing Ocean Grove across Wesley lake are Moonstruck (originally in Ocean Grove, relocated 2002 to Asbury in order to gain liquor license, Mediterranean grill, seafood, beef, 4.5 of 5 stars, Certificate of Excellence 2019, TripAdviser.com); and the Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten (modeled on German beer hall, communal tables in 9,000-square foot outdoor rooftop and 6,000 square foot indoor hall, over 40 draft beers); The Bonney Read, chowder house in former Steinbach's department store building that offers locally-sourced seafood cooked in open kitchen with dishes of fresh-caught fish and chowders and raw bar with rotating selection of oysters and clams offered raw, hot, or in the rough.. * The 17 Best Restaurants in Asbury Park, New Jersey, 4/22/2022,Thrillist.com
Boardwalk patio at Stella Marina Restaurant. Image: NewJerseyAlmanac.com
Asbury Park has been one of the more creative New Jersey towns in developing and promoting special events, although some were cancelled or curtailed during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. In addition to its traditional July 4 fireworks celebration (note Springsteen song "4th of July, Asbury Park 'Sandy'"), newer events include its Music & Film Festival in April, featuring live performances and talks by actors and musicians connected to Asbury like Danny deVito and Springsteen; Gay Pride Celebration in June, which marks the contributions of the community's significant gay population; Sea.Hear.Now Festival in September, a two-day music, surfer, arts and food festival with 3 beach stages; and Zombie Walk in October, with costumed creatures now drawing thousands of participants and spectators.