Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Fri September 23 2016

Inside The Asbury: A Jersey Shore Jewel

Hotel & Resort | Charu Suri | September 23, 2016

Inside The Asbury: A Jersey Shore Jewel

All photos courtesy of The Asbury

The face of Asbury Park, once dismissed as a sleepy city on the Jersey Shore with a boardwalk, is a changin’.

This city of over 15,000 residents has had a bit of a roller coaster ride, initially designed as a residential resort, attracting families with its Palace Merry-Go-Round, and then attracting a more refined traveler with the construction of the Victorian-style Berkeley Hotel, which now has a marble lobby and five stately ballrooms.

This seaside resort town, which once made you feel like you’ve dipped your toe into the movie “Pleasantville,” now has a newcomer on the scene. The Asbury, the first hotel to open in the city in 50 years, opened its doors in May. Operated both by iStar --a real estate investment trust--and Salt Hotels, The Asbury is a community-driven 110-room brick façade property that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

A long-vacant Salvation Army building, The Asbury was created in the space of two years to become a property that has been consistently at or near capacity since it opened its doors.

“Our goal was to make this into a bungalow-style beach hotel,” said David Bowd, chief executive officer of Salt Hotels. You’ll find a lobby that doubles as a tomato-growing greenhouse, with a marquee wall that acts as an emoji board, firmly reminding us that we are in 2016, not 1916. 

READ MORE: New Jersey’s Tourism Industry Generated $43.4 Billion in 2015

On one side of the lobby is a glittering bar called Soundbooth made up of stacked bathroom tiles, filled with four shelves of every liquor imaginable. You’ll find vinyl LPs, cassette tapes and CDs on a wall next to the bar. I even found an old tape of music by Judy Garland: nostalgic music rules.    

Even though there is valet parking, the atmosphere is not stuffy. The lobby features items that are an ode to the artisanal side of Asbury Park and other New Jersey-based purveyors: you’ll find a grab-and-go counter with delicious juices by Juice Basin, Flying Fish Brewing Co., Purple Glaze Doughnuts and Jersey Girl cookies. If you forgot that sunscreen and set of flip-flops, you can get those as well, in very trendy shades of neon pink or green.

The rooms are a throwback to the 1960s, with black and white photos of beach babes and rock stars hanging above your custom-made bed; the bathrooms have eco-friendly wall-mounted dispensers of upscale products like a Rum Body Wash from New York-based MALIN + GOETZ.

The hotel has a decidedly young vibe to it (you can slow-dance in one of the many grass-rich plazas at Asbury Park and no one will say a word). There’s a decided community feel to the place, and it reminded me of the lobby of the Ace Hotel, which made Bowd chuckle.

“We know the owners of the Ace Hotel and we actually stay in each other’s properties,” he laughs. But he makes a valuable point in that hotels – no matter how glamorous or relaxed the vibe—are designed to bring people together. Hence the conscious decision to incorporate a sand-colored pea gravel designed beer garden off the pool deck and an area in the lobby called “The Pit” which brought me back to my college days, with huge sofas, board games and plenty of books. And the interiors were done by Stonehill & Taylor, known for their adaptive reuse work on Manhattan’s Ace and NoMad.

The Asbury is just one of the many hotels that will shape the area in years to come; iStar has demonstrated that it is in it for the long-haul, having scooped up three more buildings near the Stone Pony that will morph into hotels in the near future.

READ MORE: 6 New Jersey Adventures

The dining scene is worth noting too: Café Volan has not only beautiful foam art and cordatas, but a killer tumblr account. The Twisted Tree Café has a beautiful white and hardwood space and has gluten-free options as well.

Despite the concentration of dilapidated buildings, automotive shops, gas stations and railroad tracks which all look like they belong in a Quentin Tarantino movie, the face of Asbury is changing for the beautiful, for the better.

One of the most beautiful and often overlooked fact about the area is that you can not only hear the soft churn of the ocean, but also take in the gorgeous cluster of the Pine Barrens that start from this area and go all the way down to the shore in Cape May, made famous by John McPhee in his sweeping essay, The Pine Barrens.

Take a second look, stay at the Asbury (which has rates from $125 per night) and relive your “Born to Run” days.

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