Asbury Park has been a beacon of eclectic, New Jersey–style creative energy for the past 50 years, seen lately in quirky events like the Zombie Walk or Promenade of Mermaids, the vibrant live music scene and the newer, vivid outdoor murals. But from its inception in 1871, founder James Bradley always intended for it to be a resort town. And with resort in its roots, the local government launched a plan in 2002 to revitalize the area, which had fallen into chronic disrepair and disappointment in recent decades. That slow-moving plan hit a milestone in July when the high-end Asbury Ocean Club Hotel opened its doors to local boy Bruce Springsteen’s “Promised Land.” It’s the clearest step toward high-end accommodations that my hometown has seen since the days of Billie Holiday and Count Basie, when the area introduced the Convention Hall, the casino, shopping, movies, theater, and music clubs along Springwood Avenue, and reshaped the city’s culture.
What it’s Like
On a recent Friday afternoon, families, couples, and friends scattered themselves around the hotel’s private common area, indulging in caviar — caviar! — charcuterie, and fresh seafood from the raw bar as a pianist and the ocean breeze provided a soundtrack to the day. The hotel stands 17 stories, with 54 rooms, wraparound terraces, spa, large outdoor pool area, fitness center, three bars, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, and music room. It’s the type of place that needs to offer stellar views, and it does: The ocean stretches for miles from the outdoor terrace, creating a serene, calm space. Standard room rates start at $340.
What to Watch
In what is a familiar story, the hotel’s exclusivity has brought renewed pressure on the Powers That Be to balance the needs of the existing community with new waterfront developments, which the city aims to do through a rule that would mandate 20% of new developments be reserved for affordable housing and restrictions on Airbnbs. Thirty percent of Asbury Park’s roughly 15,000 residents live below the poverty line.
Local artist Jenn Hampton is one of the leaders who’ve helped to shape Asbury Park’s artsy aesthetic as it stands today. She’s the curator of Parlor Gallery and Wooden Walls Project. Her work is all over the city: 32 murals, two sculptures, and a public art installation. Her goal with the Wooden Walls Project is to provide public art in areas that were boarded up after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the Jersey Shore, hoping to establish a feeling of safety to visitors. She said the town is always a “work in progress,” though she said the location for the resort hotel was odd. “Building a private club — that they’re entitled to — on a piece of property that used to be a segregated pool, is a weird way of showing that your community spirit is intact. You have 33 acres; build it somewhere else.”
If the usual online review sites are any indication of the initial reception, and they usually are, the hotel is off to a decent start. One New York City native called the spot a “gem” on TripAdvisor, adding, “Their setup is that you can sit or experience any common area of the hotel and they’ll find you and service any needs. The servers were very accommodating.” But the “only challenge was that they sometimes didn’t come around to the area we sat, so we had to seek them out instead. Not a huge deal, but something to tighten up as they settle in.”