Like your best friend’s living room, the lobby at The Asbury Hotel is comfy and familiar. There are books and board games, squishy sofas and inviting sunny spots to curl up in.
And on a recent morning, there’s a mom playing “Sorry!” with her daughter, a group of co-eds munching on granola with a golden retriever splayed out on the floor in front of them, a barefoot young couple laying across a couch and a group of fit OutCycling bikers in tight blue jerseys that read “Put the fun between your legs.”
This is the new Asbury Park: families, friends, LGBTQ biking enthusiasts and people just looking for a beachy getaway without pretension and cheese. And The Asbury, the first hotel to open in the seaside town in 50 years, is where they’re all going to stay and hang out.
The hotel, which officially opened last month after a soft launch in May, is a giant Valentine to the city that Bruce Springsteen helped build. Impossibly cool and built on the grounds of an old Salvation Army building, the vibe is a little Victorian and a little rock and roll — the same blend of sophistication and grittiness that sets Asbury apart from other Jersey Shore towns.
The graffiti on the lobby walls was done by Asbury-based artist Porkchop, the treats for sale come from Confections of a Rock$tar, a sweet shop on Cookman Ave., and the flower arrangements are delivered daily from a local florist. The community vibe extends to the staff — many of them local — including a spirited greeter referred to as “Jersey Barb.” (If you’ve got a question about Asbury Park, Jersey Barb has the answer, and always with an effervescent smile.)
The neon sign atop the hotel reads “Baronet” — it’s the original sign from the Baronet Theatre that was demolished in 2010, after nearly 100 years of playing movies in Asbury Park. Hoteliers named the rooftop space — used for outdoor yoga, lounging on bean bag chairs and an open-air movie screening cinema where films are projected on the 20-foot wall — after the historic theater.
“Salvation” is the rooftop in-house club, named, of course, for the property’s previous incarnation. The nod to tradition is like Asbury itself — a renaissance in full swing, rebirth at every corner.
The hotel, with its pool and adorable poolside lounging (think swinging benches and comfy ottomans), mini beer garden with a converted VW wagon turned into a kegerator, lawn games and nightly live music with miniature stadium-style seating, is not without fault. The rooms are small, some barely big enough for a couple, a suitcase and a 6-pack — although others are big enough for a teepee, a sleeping arrangement that had my toddler counting down the hours till bedtime! (Of the 110 rooms, 10 are bunk-style and can accommodate up to 8 people.)
The amenities are sparse — and the shampoo, conditioner and body wash aren’t always replenished — but the design is clean, modern and inviting. The chief complaint is the noise: the constant thumping, bumping and vibrating that comes down from Salvation can make it very hard to fall asleep.
Music lovers will appreciate the song lyrics — everyone from Biggie and Bruce, to Prince, who appears twice — emblazoned on the walls of each hotel floor. There’s even a record player and loads of vintage vinyl in the lobby that guests are encouraged to use, because Asbury Park is all about the music. The Stone Pony, the 43-year-old music venue that launched the careers of Springsteen and Bon Jovi, is just blocks away, and currently hosting a Summer Stage lineup (stoneponyonline.com) that includes Blues Traveler/The Wallflowers and Willie Nelson.
There’s no restaurant at the hotel, although check-in doubles as The Counter, a quick and easy place to grab a coffee, fresh juice, sandwich or bagel. And there’s a hot dog cart by the pool. But the town doesn’t lack for food options, and it’s just a 5-minute stroll to the boardwalk.
MOGO Korean Fusion Tacos (850 Ocean Ave.) is the beachfront outpost of the inventive Cookman Ave. joint. The best part? You can grab a couple and take them right onto the sand. Langosta Lounge (1000 Ocean Ave.), also on the boardwalk, features an eclectic and tasty mix of dishes inspired by trips to Asia. Snag a table outside for a steady dose of people-watching with dinner.
No trip to Asbury is complete without a stop at Talula’s (550 Cookman Ave.) for delicious gourmet pizza. Vegetarians won’t be disappointed with the “Temple 111,” made with vegan cashew ricotta, housemade vegan pepperoni and kale. And if you’re traveling with kids, Toast (516 Cookman Ave.) is both a parent and child-approved brunch spot with plenty of pancakes and waffles to satisfy even the tiniest critic.
Shopping in Asbury is a mix of vintage treasures, local art and some nicely curated finds from local retailers. Storehouse (1100 Ocean Ave.) features a rotating mix of local designers and interesting brands to entice beachgoers looking for something beyond the requisite Springsteen T-shirt. Prices can be high, but hey, looking is free. For reimagined vintage T’s, check out the selection at 3rd and Ocean, where the owner gets creative with scissors. Just off the main drag of Cookman Ave., Glide Surf Co. (520 Bangs Ave.) offers up exceptional Lithuanian linen dresses and imported Turkish towels and beautiful block print scarves from India. Across the street, Sweet Joey’s (523 Bangs Ave.) serves up vintage rocker T’s, plaid shirts and leather jackets, each item cool and previously loved.
But when the stores are closed and dinner is done, Asbury Park’s charm will always be the idea of what once was and the promise of what’s to come. There’s construction underway with more than $1 billion being pumped in for various condo and hotel projects.
And last year, the vacant beaux-arts building on the South end of the boardwalk, that once housed a carousel and casino, became a public art project. Porkchop and other artists painted murals on the inside and the outside of the building, breathing new life with their art, the abandoned structure now marked as part of the Asbury renaissance.
If you go…
Stay: The Asbury, 210 5th Ave., 732-774-7100; theasburyhotel.com. Rooms range from $125-$695 a night.