Our Favorite Downtowns: Jersey City

The state's second most populated city is experiencing a cultural revival. Trendy restaurants, hip events and cool shops abound.

Corner of Newark Ave and Erie Street in Jersey City.
Corner of Newark Ave and Erie Street.
Illustration by Greg Betza

Anthony ”Dancing Tony” Susco has lived in Jersey City for 20 years. As the organizer of a pair of the city’s best-known cultural events, Groove on Grove, a free downtown block party and music series every summer Friday, and Ghost of Uncle Joe’s, the annual Halloween party at the Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery, he’s a familiar figure around town. Lately, Dancing Tony has observed that his city—New Jersey’s second most populous, with 265,000 residents—is in the midst of a painful but promising adolescence.

“It’s almost like the kind of growth spurt where your voice is changing and you get this uncomfortable moustache starting to come in,” he explains. “Every other street, there’s some construction happening. There’s so much new stuff nobody can keep up with it.”

That is not to say Jersey City is a Wild West of urban development. Mayor Steve Fulop and the Historic Downtown Special Improvement District are keeping an eye on things. Fulop says franchises and chain stores have been capped at 30 percent of total businesses. The intention: “To highlight the great restaurants and artistic businesses we’re known for,” Fulop says.

The revived downtown area—where dining and shopping options seem to increase daily—radiates out from the Grove Street PATH station and east to the historic Hudson riverfront neighborhood, Paulus Hook.

WHERE TO EAT: Restaurants are both the drivers and the evidence of JC’s downtown development. Hot spots like Talde and Porta are jammed on weekends. Barcade packs in the local craft-beer lovers. Buzzworthy newcomers include Raval for tapas and fancy cocktails; Razza for artisanal pizza; LITM and Light Horse Tavern for New American; and Orale for Mexican. Battello, on the riverfront, has bold Italian dishes and seafood to match the views of Manhattan.

WHERE TO SHOP: E. Tittlemouse & Co. and Another Man’s Treasure for vintage clothing; Tia’s Place for women’s clothing and home accessories; Word for books; and Iris Records for vinyl.

DON’T MISS: Mana Contemporary, the massive new art center, is a bus or cab ride west of downtown in the Heights. Stay tuned for news of the first concerts coming to White Eagle Hall, a new venue with space for 800, booked by Todd Abramson, a former owner of Maxwell’s in Hoboken.

THEN AGAIN: Fulop stresses that public transportation is the way to get around in Jersey City. Dancing Tony rides a moped because “parking is never easy.” The city has all the attendant downsides of urban bustle, from vagrants to overindulgers. For instance, “I used to associate people throwing up on
my feet at 2 am with Williamsburg,” says Dancing Tony. “Sometimes you see that here now.”

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