I have a theory that I only go “out” for New Year’s Eve once every five years. Meaning, I was due for an event this year. So relatively last minute, and because Gustavo’s been visiting so I wanted to show him even more of my favorite state, we decided to ring in 2019 in Asbury Park, NJ.
The first time I went to Asbury, I was probably about 14 years old and working on a photography project. In a phase that many of us go through, I was enamored by its semi-abandoned buildings right next to the beach. It was full of old school charm, history, and decay. Over time, it’s changed quite a bit. Particularly after Hurricane Sandy, the landscape of the boardwalk changed completely, but it still maintained its identity as an “alternative” beach town.
Where we stayed
The Empress Hotel sits one block away from the Asbury Park boardwalk and is one of the central parts of the LGBTQ tourism. (There’s a fantastic rainbow crosswalk leading from the end of the boardwalk to the hotel.) It’s home to Paradise, another LGBTQ staple – I vividly remember wanting to see Cyndi Lauper when she performed there back when I was probably still too young to even get into the venue.
We managed to snag one of the last rooms for a two-night stay. For me, it felt very much like a beach hotel and it reminded me a lot of the summers I used to spend down the Shore with my mother and grandmother. The room was just a little bit kitschy and, thankfully, super warm and cozy on such a rainy NYE.
What we did
Once we got into Asbury Park, we took a stroll on the boardwalk in search of some food. Most stuff was closed because of the holiday and the season. We stumbled across the Robinson Ale House, right next to the Asbury Park Convention Center. We had some delicious parmesan pretzel sticks and a cheese plate, plus some local beers. At night, we tested the pizza at Stella Marina.
A little bit later on NYE, we got to the Stone Pony for their 90’s throwback party. They had a bunch of cover bands performing songs from the Cranberries, Neutral Milk Hotel, Wu-Tang, and more. I’ve been to the Stone Pony a few times and love it for the vast music history it represents. I enjoyed staring at the autographs and art on the walls almost as much as the music itself.
That said, around 11pm, we decided to call it quits and head back to the hotel for a more relaxed “ringing in the new year.” We popped some champagne and watched the ball drop before turning in at around… 12:01.
The next day, we drove up to Red Bank to check out the new Toast, a local series of restaurants here in NJ. They focus on breakfast and brunch, with some delicious scrambles and even gluten free waffles. I gorged on the toasted cinnamon buns (and some of my mom’s waffle). For dinner, we went over to my favorite, Kaya’s Kitchen in Belmar. I’ve been eating there since I was about 13 years old – so, a long time.
I felt like I ate everything on the menu. We ordered buffalo wings, “chicken” nuggets, stroganoff, seitan steak, cannoli, and a Boston creme donut. I don’t know how it all fit. (At least, it fit painfully. But it was worth it.)
Where we worked out
Before heading back home on the 2nd, we stopped at Long Branch Crossfit in, well, Long Branch. (Ironically, it’s located right next to a Brazilian market and restaurant.) The space was cozy, with a cute little reception area that had big armchairs and a picnic bench. We joined one of the early Crossfit classes, which allowed you to choose either a barbell-centered workout or a Crossfit “lite” type workout with dumbbells.
Both were hard!
Of course, both of us opted for the barbell workout, which included a series of 400m rows, ground-to-overhead (135/95lb), and push-ups. The coaches, and the other students, were all really friendly and made us feel like part of the community right away. I’d really like to go back there and definitely would recommend checking it out if you’re in the area.