Our Favorite Downtowns: Asbury Park

Asbury Park’s downtown has a fun and funky vibe, with a rock ’n‘ roll heritage second to none.

Watermark in Asbury Park
At Watermark in Asbury Park, the view sprawls—the patrons, too.
Photo by J.R. Delia.

Many who invested early in the rebirth of Asbury Park know the pain of dashed hopes. For years, they waited for the tourists to come, and year after year, just when it seemed the city was finally turning a corner, another store would close, a restaurant would fail and the recovery would fizzle.

But in recent years, the Asbury Park renaissance finally has taken hold—on the boardwalk, at the music clubs, and in the downtown area around Cookman Avenue, a short walk from the beach. Fifteen years ago, the downtown was essentially boarded up. But developers began to renovate, eventually attracting the retail and dining businesses that are now driving the recovery.

“People who came here five years ago think this happened overnight,” says Pat Schiavino, a developer and gallery owner in town. “If you were here struggling for business, you know it’s taken forever.”

Asbury Park’s downtown has a fun and funky vibe, with an indie movie house, plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants, and a rock ’n‘ roll heritage second to none.

WHERE TO EAT: The Brickwall Tavern is widely credited with firing up the Cookman Avenue dining scene. Its developer, the Smith group, has since opened the popular Porta (for Neapolitan pizza), Pascal & Sabine (for fine French food) and Happiness Bar & Grill (for Asian treats). Moonstruck has reliable Continental fare and a front porch for cocktails. Taka offers a unique spin on sushi and a stunning bar with floor-to-ceiling windows. Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten, a European-style beer hall, has communal tables and a roof deck. Mogo Korean Fusion Tacos was such a hit on the boardwalk that the owners opened a larger space downtown.

WHERE TO SHOP: All the shops are locally owned and eclectic. Go to Sweet Joey’s for custom-made jeans. Hot Sand offers glass-blowing demonstrations. Robert Legere Design Center and Salt Design Co. provide unique housewares and design inspiration. Foolish Ginger and Interwoven are modern clothing boutiques. The Antique Emporium is a multi-dealer shop.

DON’T MISS: Indie films at the ShowRoom, Cookie Butter ice cream at Cookman Creamery, or the freshly fried doughnuts at Purple Glaze, a few streets off the main drag but worth the walk.

THEN AGAIN: The long blocks between the boardwalk and downtown remain a wasteland of undeveloped lots.

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