Bruce Springsteen’s 1973 debut album, "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.," put his hometown on the national map, but years of neglect—and a huge hit by Hurricane Sandy—left the city shuttered and all but forgotten. Now with the opening of the Asbury Hotel, the area is being hailed as NYC's coolest city escape. Does it live up to the hype?
Anda Andrei, Ian Schrager’s design guru for 29 years, is showing no signs of slowing down. We’ve already waxed poetic about her latest stamp on Manhattan: the Holiday Inn turned 11 Howard hotel in fashionable SoHo. Now, all are turning their eyes to Asbury Park, a Jersey Shore town 90 minutes outside the city, where the transformation of a derelict Salvation Army building into the area’s first hotel in 50 years has stirred the once-hip weekend retreat back to life.
What do you get when you mix Andrei’s aesthetic of simplistic luxury with that of renowned Salt Hotels innovator, David Bowd? An old-fashioned notion of what a seaside getaway should be – one that fully embraces the kind of beach-bum lifestyle depicted in classic surf movies, and where a diverse set of locals and visitors come together under one roof. At least, that's what I found on a recent weekend visit to the Asbury, New Jersey's most exciting hotel opening in years.
Entering the lobby, I was immediately struck by the space's laid-back, surfer chic vibe. At its epicenter, a rectangle of cushy lounge chairs surround a sunken living room, stocked with board games and flip-through books on movies and music. At every turn, there's something to entertain, from Pinball machines and a corner with funky amphitheater-like seating to Soundbooth, the adjacent lobby bar and hangout complete with a pool table, a library of vintage cassettes and vinyl records, and nightly musical acts (a nod to Asbury Park’s past) that have included everyone from Meatloaf to Welsh Choir Groups and the Weeknd. As for the crowd, it's a mix of NY hipsters, overly tanned Jersey weekenders and gaggles of blond-haired girls 'gramming away. So don't come here seeking peace and quiet. The Asbury is all about the scene.
The beachy aesthetic continues upstairs: 110 guest rooms, airy and spacious, channel retro bungalows with patterned tile floors, area rugs, and natural light that streams in from oversized windows. Hanging black-and-white surf and music photography along with classic music posters liven up the otherwise whitewashed walls, giving each space a fresh, modern feel.
The Asbury moonlights as a kind of grown-up summer camp, so you'll never lack for things to do. I stopped by the lobby’s marquee to check up on the day’s activities, which included everything from sunrise yoga on the roof and soon-to-launch surf classes to a roster of local musicians taking the stage in Soundbooth that night. Have a film fan in the family? There are regular movie screenings at Baronet, a 4,300-square-foot rooftop space with stellar views of the Atlantic Ocean. In the afternoon, I found the cool crowd swinging in hanging beds and hammocks by the pool, which often hosts parties featuring local DJs. But that's not to say there's no nightlife here: after hours, dolled-up crowds head up to Salvation, the lantern-lit rooftop bar where more guest DJs play in the sky box.
The hotel's biggest perk, however, might be its address: the beach is only a block-and-a-half walk away. Though, let's be clear, it's jam packed in high season-- this is the Jersey Shore, after all. Beach passes can be picked up at The Counter, a 24/7 grab-and-go kitchen where guests and locals can pick up coffee, juices, and made-to-order sandwiches. If you'd rather hang around awhile, the Beergarden serves up a wide selection of local and craft beers as well as bites from rotating food trucks. That there’s no full restaurant on site is not an oversight—hotelier David Bowd wanted guests to venture off property in order to experience the rest of Asbury Park's rising culinary scene. (Trust me, it's worth making time for.) There’s even a shuttle service that will scoot you over to the main restaurant area on Cook Street.
The hotel's opening marks the beginning of the area's reawakening. (There are already plans to introduce a residential high-rise as part of the new town waterfront.) And while the crowds may have already descended, the Asbury Hotel — with its lazy, sun-drenched mood by day and party scene at night — still sets a new standard for a weekend stay by the Jersey Shore.