USA. Hoboken, New Jersey: Just like its endless pubs and bars, Hoboken reveals itself to be layered, addictive, and intoxicating. This small town, just one square mile in area, has the distinction of being the site for the first brewery of America, founded in 1642, and still holds the distinction of appearing in the Guinness Book of Records for the maximum number of bars per sq. mile.
My first view of the town came through the early morning mist and a light drizzle as I was enjoying my visit to the USA, glued to the window of the bus from Port Authority, NYC. Just a 10-12 minute bus drive away from Manhattan, New York City, Hoboken has the flavour of a small town.
This was my first morning in the USA after a marathon flight from India; the jetlag was still on, but the scenic beauty of Hoboken left me staring at the brownstones on the streets, fascinated. It had a very homely, open atmosphere, and a nice human scale.
Getting down at the Washington Street and 7th Street junction, I let myself carried away with the tidal wave of students moving across for the morning class at Stevens Institute of Technology, a famous educational institute in New Jersey. Carrying my luggage, I weaved my way past hundreds of them, trying hard to stay focused on the beautiful houses and greenery around me, feeling the clean fresh wind hitting my face occasionally. The magnificent view of the NYC skyline was also disturbing my attention as I walked on the pavements going up against the small elevation.
In the evening after the refreshing afternoon sleep, I chose to go out and look for food as well as get acquainted with the town. And in the process piled into a street-side brick-lined pizzeria, Ginos’ Pizzeria to join locals in the daily rituals of savouring freshly brewed hot coffee and a big slice of Cheese Pizza from the wood-fired oven. The smoky, dimly lit pizzeria was a good starting point for me to begin my journey in this untraditional town whose narrow streets were home to overflowing small shops, pubs, all-day outdoor cafés populated by local artists, writers, and students.
“Hoboken is a young-spirited, dynamic town,” said Gino, the owner at the pizzeria. He went on to add, this is a small town on the Hudson River just across Manhattan, and gave me tips to explore the town. The best way to know this party town rich in bars and clubs is by foot; it’s just one square mile in area. And true to every word of his, I found Hoboken radiating a small town’s vibe of youthful energy complete with hip restaurants, cool bars, and funky shops.
The echoes of America’s centuries-old history are felt most easily in Hoboken’s leafy residential streets. Experiencing Hoboken is like truly experiencing the American experience. The town celebrates the imprints of various cultures from around the world. The town has welcomed the Dutch, the Germans, the Italians, the Hispanics, the Asian Indians, and others whose traditions clearly show on the community here. There are few places on earth whereas many cultural contrasts live in such unison as Hoboken.
Hoboken shows off its pride of the past when it was a wealthy suburb through its architecturally populated blocks of Victorian, brownstones, an exquisite railroad terminal, countless historic churches, and smattering of mansions. It is a town immersed in its colours, sounds, smells, and tastes, a heady concoction of east and west, old world and new world, and cutting-edge designs. This also is the town where the legendary Frank Sinatra was born. Washington Street, the main street here is sprinkled with upscale merchants, restaurants and also discount stores, and faded luncheonettes.
Along with a swell of various outlets catering to apparels, shoes, and street food, vintage shops, tattoo studios and concept stores, the exotic chains of a variety of restaurants serve Cuban, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Thai cuisines along with the huge range of lounges and bars in just one square mile at this famous town, fondly called “Bartown” by New Yorkers and the locals.
True representation of the age old American culture
Hoboken is a town that is dynamic and vibrant, one that still embraces the past but has also evolved into a dynamic residential, cultural, commercial, educational, and tourist destination.
Unknown places like this in the USA are true representations of the age-old American culture which evolved because of the migration of ethnicities and cultures from all around the world. Over the years Hoboken has become a metaphor for rapid gentrification. Reality offices line Washington Street, hundreds of houses have been renovated, old railroads have become expensive condominiums, and old-time bakeries and markets selling live chickens and rabbits coexist somewhat uneasily with patisseries and shiny new restaurants.
More about the town’s gritty flavours can be experienced in an immortalised film, “On the Waterfront” by Elia Kazan.