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Kevin Smith: Jersey's Boy

The food at the L-shaped restaurant -- notable for its slippery pink booths, tiny tabletop jukeboxes (sadly for show only) and waitresses who call ya "honey" -- could shoot your cholesterol through the eatery's silver roof. But it also caters to low-carbers, serving up egg whites and sausage, hold the toast and hash browns. (Smith admitted that he gained 25 pounds after his "Jersey Girl" bomb.)

"For fans [of Smith's oeuvre], there's lots to see and do," he says, after signing a teenager's T-shirt and shaking his hand. "But for non-fans, there are two film festivals; tons of live music at places like the Dublin House and the Rivers Edge Cafe; a theater that shows art-house movies; and the Count Basie Theatre, for acts that aren't quite arena-worthy, like Boz Scaggs or the local production of 'Grease.' They also have this old car show that seems to attract a lot of people, God knows why."


Director Kevin Smith poses with his comic alter-ego at his Red Bank store. (Ming Chen For The Washington Post)

About 10 years ago, Red Bank went through a Dark Period, when many stores were boarded up and visitors were few and frightened (a local buying a "Dogma" DVD at Jack's says the town was a "sewer"). Since then, Mayor Edward J. McKenna has jolted the town out of its slump with a dramatic makeover that's included spit-shined storefronts, a new riverfront park and a $15.7 million work-in-progress performing arts center. It's even shed its old nickname -- "Dead Bank" -- for a much more vital one.

"The curse of Red Bank is that New Jersey Monthly called it the 'hippest town in New Jersey,' " says Smith, as the SUV cruises by buildings with scalloped awnings and recessed lighting. "So, all these New York trends moved in; [the town's visitors guide] even called one store 'Woolworth's Gone Wild.' But to me this town is very Rockwellian. It's got charm; they don't need to chichi it up."

In its slogan's defense, there are some decidedly outre features to Red Bank. It has nearly 70 restaurants (not bad for a population of 2,000), ranging from Ashes Cigar Club (Smith's pick for steaks and smokes) to Carlos O'Connor's (for what Smith calls "kitschy Irish-Mexican"). The Funk & Standard Variety Store -- the aforementioned crazy Woolworth's -- is like a mini-Urban Outfitters, with irreverent T-shirts, retro '80s toys and video games to play while you wait. The Internet Cafe was where Smith discovered the Web, and where he logged on and discovered he had a big "Clerks" fan club online. Besides cake, coffee and Web connections, the cafe features live bands and Christian open mike nights, attracting the "kids just out of high school who don't like to drink," explains Smith, the non-partying father of a little girl who, like her dad, was born in Red Bank.

As for the locals, they look as if they were lifted from a Benetton ad. You've got your Wall Street starch-white types and Cosmo ladies who lunch in blinding jewels. Late night along the river, lanky boys in slackerwear and teenage girls in sky-blue eye shadow and ruffled minis perform their awkward mating fandango. With his owl-eye glasses, arm's length tattoo and black-and-white checkered Vans, Smith blends right in. To be sure, there is no Red Bank type, unless you count everyone.

Nor is there a typical Red Bank tourist.

"Do you know how many people come here from New York? It's so cute. They'll say, 'I came all the way from Staten Island,' " he says. "And I'll say, 'That's great. But see that guy over there? He's from Australia.' "

For those who come to relive Smith's flicks, it's easy to do the Kevin Smith Movie Tour -- which he prefers to call the View Askew Tour, but he's realistic about that. The movie-site seeing, which is heavy on "Chasing Amy," doesn't involve much gas or time: Go to Jack's Music Shoppe, then Mechanic Street ("People stand here and take pictures under the No. 10 [the number of a building in the '87 flick]. It's not the most picturesque scene"), Prown's Department Store (closed, but a sign remains) and the Galleria, which stood in for a train station in "Amy" but actually houses some twee boutiques and the House of Coffee.

There are also a handful of out-of-town locations, the biggest (in stature, not size) being the Quick Stop and RST Video store from "Clerks." The most pleasant is Victory Park in nearby Rumson, from "Chasing Amy."


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