“I’m just going to take one quick photo of my car in front of Convention Hall. It will look cool. But I don’t think I’m going to write a post. I’m going to take this weekend off.” -Me, to my wife.
It was a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends. A day spent watching football, cooking, eating, spending time with loved ones, and enjoying the beginning of the holiday season. On Black Friday, my wife and I headed to Asbury Park, New Jersey, for a mini-vacation. Since I had already visited Asbury Park
this summer, there was certainly no need to write another post. Not after I had already thoroughly investigated this historic seaside town. But as we walked around, I found new sites to visit and had new stories to tell. From historic pinball machines to excellent meals to hidden art galleries, Asbury Park still had lots to share with me. And then we discovered a town still full of that old time religion, a 19th century Revivalist community which has held true to its founding mission. And after all of that… I certainly had a post to write.
About an hour and twenty minutes south of New York City is Asbury Park.
To the south of Asbury Park is tiny Ocean Grove, the second stop of our trip.
The “one photo” I planned to take this weekend: my car in front of Asbury Park Convention Hall. And that would be all. Just one photo…
We stayed at The Asbury, a modern resort hotel located two blocks from the beach.
The coolest part of the hotel? The lobby was decorated with shelf after shelf filled with LP records and cassette tapes. There was even a working record player.
Rummaging through the shelves, I found several tapes from my childhood, including Electric Youth by Debbie Gibson, Cracker’s self-titled debut album, and Diamonds and Pearls by Prince.
Our first stop was a walk along the Asbury Park boardwalk.
Our next destination was Silverball Museum, a retro video game and pinball arcade.
Silverball calls itself a “museum,” and the word is correct. The store is filled with pinball machines from the 1960s and 1970s, and each machine has a lengthy description placed on top of the machine which shares the history of the machine along with its functions and what made it unique.
Gottlieb’s Subway game from 1966. Each time you score 100 points, the subway doors open to show commuters in comical poses.
The oldest pinball machine I have ever played… Hayburners by Williams. It was made in 1951. Instead of trying for a high score, your goal to get the horses to cross the finish line. Check out the flippers, too… they flip in the opposite direction to how they work in other games. Fun fact: pinball was banned in New York City from the 1940s until 1976 due to its use in gambling. According to the information card for this machine, there was a version of Hayburners that was created strictly as a gambling machine (called Nags).
By the late 1970s, pinball machines more closely resembled the games I played when I was a kid. This KISS game from 1979 was one of a growing number of celebrity tie-in pinball games.
After the arcade, we went for a walk along the beach. With temperatures in the mid 30’s, we had the entire beach to ourselves!
An Asbury Park icon, the face of Tillie is well-illuminated on the side of The Wonder Bar.
We came across the free art gallery of Danny Clinch, a photographer and director who has gained fame for photographing stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, The Smashing Pumpkins, the Dave Matthews Band, and Bob Dylan.
The photographs were very impressive, especially Clinch’s use of light and shadow.
There is even a small performance space. The gallery director, who chatted with us, invited us to come back the next night for a blues concert.
Tucked away in the side of the gallery is this 1969 Honda Mini Trail motorcycle from Japan. One of Clinch’s friends asked if he could leave it there temporarily. Despite numerous offers, the owner is steadfast that this mint condition bike is not for sale.
Saturday morning, we walked across town to Toast, a highly rated restaurant in Asbury Park.
My wife ordered the Firebird (gluten free) pancakes and I ordered the Firebird (gluten free) Belgian waffle. Both were delicious. The coolest thing? My orange juice was served in a Smucker’s jelly jar.
Sign on the way to the restrooms in Toast. Ahem.
After breakfast, we headed to Convention Hall for the annual Holiday Bazaar that runs every Saturday from Thanksgiving weekend until Christmas.
The tree inside Convention Hall was scheduled to be lit later in the day.
Local vendors sell their art and handmade goods in this small Christmas village. It’s a great way to find unique gifts for your family and friends.
After the bazaar, we decided to check out some of the murals along the boardwalk.
While the artwork has been in place since 2015, the murals do periodically change. Secret Garden by Lauren Napolitano was installed in 2018.
Untitled by the London-based artist Fanakapan remains one of my favorites. Besides the vivid colors, I love the way the boardwalk is reflected in the octopus’s sunglasses.
“Our true enemy… has yet… to reveal himself.” The finale of season two of The Sopranos featured a scene here on the Asbury Park boardwalk.
Opened in 1962, Asbury Lanes is a bowling alley, diner, and concert venue. Asbury Lanes has long been a focal point of the punk music scene.
The shot I was unable to get during the summer, when every parking spot was taken… The Stone Pony, the venue that launched the careers of world famous musicians such as Jon Bon Jovi and most notably… Bruce Springsteen. As a friend remarked when seeing this photo, “Your car was Born to Run.”
We headed south to the town of Ocean Grove for lunch. We ate at Nagle’s Apothecary Cafe, a unique restaurant.
Nagle’s was once the town pharmacy for Ocean Grove. The pharmacy closed in 1980 and it was turned into a diner, but retains many of the artifacts from its time as the town’s dispensary of medicine.
The last page of the lunch menu preserves Nagle’s Pharmacy’s price list.
I had a burger and my wife ordered a hot dog (both delicious), but the highlight was my dessert… an egg cream. A drink that originated in 19th century New York City, the egg cream contains neither egg nor cream. It is a mixture of seltzer water, milk, and chocolate syrup. To quote Arnold Pinter in the TV show Justified, “It tastes like Brooklyn… in a good way.”
The architecture was fascinating. Ocean Grove is reported to have the highest percentage of Victorian buildings of any town in the United States.
Ocean Grove was established in 1869 as a permanent place for Methodist Camp Meetings – yearly open air religious revival meetings.
Built in 1877, Bishop Janes Tabernacle was the first permanent worship building constructed in Ocean Grove. A Tabernacle is the center of the Methodist Camp Meetings, where worship services occur.
With worshippers continuing to flock to Ocean Grove, in 1894 Janes Tabernacle was replaced by the Great Auditorium, capable of holding up to 10,000 worshippers.
The Auditorium was not open for visitors, so this drawing will hopefully suffice. People who have either led worship or attended here include: Billy Graham, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Richard Nixon, Governors James Florio, and Christine Todd Whitman, and public speakers William Jennings Bryan and Booker T. Washington. The venue has also hosted orchestras and bands of John Philip Sousa, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, and the New Jersey Symphony (image provided for fair use via Wikimedia).
The Great Auditorium is surrounded by these small buildings, which hearken back to the very beginnings of Ocean Grove.
These wooden sheds hold kitchens and bathrooms. The flat wooden platforms in front of the sheds are where tents are erected each summer. Worshippers can return to the spirit of the original Camp Meetings of the 19th century, when attendees would live in tents during the revival services. 114 of these tents still exist, and many are passed down through the generations of families.
While much of the historic district is only open during the summer, the Historical Society of Ocean Grove is open year round.
Entrance to the historical society is free and the staff is helpful. We learned about the history of Ocean Grove and the Camp Meetings, a revival movement that grew in popularity in the aftermath of the devastation of the Civil War.
Before postcards and plastic trinkets became popular, you would often bring home spoons from the places you visited. One of the more unique exhibits – a collection of commemorative spoons from Ocean Grove.
The museum had a collection of signs for Ocean Grove’s Blue Laws. Blue Laws were meant, in the view of those in favor, to keep a Sabbath day strictly for religious observance. In Ocean Grove, that meant that on Sundays beaches were closed, cycling was forbidden, and cars were not even allowed to be parked on the city’s streets (vehicles would have to be moved to adjacent towns until 12:01 am on Mondays).
Home again! During a fun weekend trip, the Accord broke the 119,000 mark. Next stop: 120,000!
Despite leaving my camera at home, only having my phone with me, and having done none of the usual planning and preparation that goes into a blog post, I had a wonderful time this weekend. Much of what we saw can be visited for free or a minimal cost. The
Asbury Park Holiday Bazaar runs from this weekend through Sunday, December 23rd and is held in Convention Hall. The Silverball Museum is open year round and charges admission based upon the duration of your stay (we paid $10 for a half hour of playing time, which was well worth it). The Danny Clinch Transparent Gallery is open year round, and entry is free, although you can purchase copies of Danny’s prints and other memorabilia (but not a 1969 Honda Mini Trail Bike!). If you are in the New York or Philadelphia area, or are driving through New Jersey, definitely make a detour to Asbury Park in the off-season!
Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!
‘Til next time.