Hoboken, N.J.: Start Spreading The News

Sunbathers on Pier A in Hoboken can wave to their Manhattan neighbors and watch ships on the Hudson.
Sunbathers on Pier A in Hoboken can wave to their Manhattan neighbors and watch ships on the Hudson. (By Rachelle Bowden)
By John Deiner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 25, 2006

You can call Hoboken, N.J., a suburb of New York City if you'd like -- but those may be your last words.

True, this compact mile-square city on the west bank of the Hudson is bulging with white-collared twentysomethings who've fled Manhattan for the cheaper housing across the river. And there's no denying that seeing the lights of Broadway from a Garden State promenade can't compare with being in Times Square. Greenwich Village vs. Washington Street? No contest.

But this is a proud town, people, and suggesting it's anything other than a Jersey original puts you on dangerous ground.

For the past two decades, Hoboken -- star of 1954's "On the Waterfront," birthplace of the zipper and the ice cream cone, victim of a vicious economic downswing in the 1970s -- has been busy reinventing itself. Frank Sinatra was born here, but if he saw it now, he'd probably want to stop spreading the news about "New York, New York." These days, it's more "The Way You Look Tonight." Parks and walking trails have replaced rotting piers, while new construction and renovated brownstones have led to an influx of bars and restaurants. Condos glisten, fountains burble, money is spent.

Hoboken has, in short order, become a contendah.

Today it's a city of simple pleasures, worthy of a quick visit if you can tear yourself away from the Big Apple. Frank-ophiles can follow in their idol's loafers on a walking tour, while stores like Wee Beasties (for pampered tots) and Good Kleen Fun (home of the $6 bath fizzy) peddle doodads to inveterate shoppers. Barhounds may want to sidle up to the rail at Texas Arizona or the Black Bear for people-watching and a pilsner.

Come nightfall, pizza parlors and sushi joints compete for empty stomachs with gastronomic stars such as Amanda's and Frankie & Johnnie's. Couples can get a carafe of a fine boxed vintage (Red or white? Does it really matter?) or order up $10 martinis bathed in a neon glow. Club music mingles with Dean Martin, and the later it gets, the louder it becomes.

Still, it ain't Manhattan. But that's okay. If New York is the tuxedo of American cities, Hoboken is a stylish pair of weathered Levi's -- with a Ragu stain on the thigh.

* * *

It's the start of a long evening. That other city's skyline is powering up as a full moon works its way across the sky. It'd be a great night for a carriage ride in Central Park, but it's time for dinner . . . in Hoboken.

The waiter at Leo's Grandevous, an Italian cubbyhole a few blocks from the hub of activity along Washington Street, is ready with an answer almost before the question is asked.

"Shrimp Sinatra? It's a mix of artichokes, shrimp and mushrooms, served over pasta. It'll get your night going," he says. Leo's walls are plastered with photos of the Chairman of the Board, and a shrine has been erected over the bar. That's supposedly Frank's favorite stool lying on its side above the cash register.

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