August 24, 2004


When it comes to Hoboken for me, it all comes back to the waterfront.

Hoboken was the setting of the 1954 Hollywood classic “On the Waterfront”- which, by complete coincidence, happened to roar to life on my television the very first time I plugged it in after I moved to Hoboken in May of 2001.

Past Sinatra Drive is the Hudson River, and in between the two are two parks: Pier A Park and Sinatra Park. From those parks the whole of Manhattan island is visible- look right, and see the Bayonne Bridge that connects New Jersey to Staten Island; look left, and see the George Washington Bridge that connects New Jersey to Upper Manhattan. Look between, and see everything in between.

I don’t remember the first time I saw Pier A, but what I’m sure the first thing I noticed was the World Trade Center, the shadow of which on summer afternoons fell directly on the park- where I sat and read nearly Saturday of that summer.

That shadow would remain for the rest of my days in Hoboken, even long after the Trade Center itself was gone.


After three years, three jobs, three different sets of roommates in two apartments, and 30 pounds lost, regained, and lost again, I decamped from Hoboken at the end of July, returning to live in Manhattan. This is the story of my three years there, not so much an official history as a chronicle of my most powerful and enduring memories and critiques.

I arrived in Hoboken that May, fresh off a difficult breakup and even more difficult job loss, set to get my life back in order. The place seemed up my alley, after all- as it was the birthplace of two seminal American icons: baseball (the first game was played there in 1846), and Frank Sinatra (born in 1915).

I found an awesome apartment with two great roommates, and partied a lot that summer, despite being out of work during the depths of that year’s recession. When summer ended I resolved to get back into shape and part of that was resuming my long-forgotten jogging habit, especially since I had a stretch of beautiful riverfront to run along. I even named a target date for the start of my new workout regimen- September 1, 2001.


Away from the river, Hoboken consists mainly of three things: delis, bars, and realtors.

Traditionally an Italian working class town, Hoboken has retained much of its cultural tradition: There are many great Italian restaurants, as well as bakeries and delis -one, the greatly named Luca Brasi’s, makes the best mozzarella I’ve ever had; another was owned by my first landlords, and I would hand them my rent check while they made a sandwich. Various well-known Italian-American actors hang around town regularly, including Danny Aiello and numerous “Sopranos” cast members. And all of these places feature Frank Sinatra’s likeness prominently, including one restaurant, Leo’s, which features it exclusively.

And no, to answer the obvious question, I’m not sure exactly how much mob activity still goes on in the Hoboken- I’m sure there is some, and my old roommate was convinced that a barber shop we went to was mobbed-up. But I never did see any first-hand evidence one way or the other.

But Hoboken today consists of merely one ethnic group- yuppie. Indeed, when the Hoboken Reporter newspaper featured as its cover story one week last year a demographic history of the Mile Square City, its original headline- “Italians, Irish, Jews, Hispanics, And…” was completed in magic marker on the top copy of a stack in an ATM vestibule with the correct completion of the sentence: “yuppies.” There are, in fact, so many of them that the developers and realtors are in overdrive putting together new buildings; couples are often seen drooling over the photographs of such places in the realtors’ windows, a practice that Gawker’s Elizabeth Spiers dubbed “real estate porn.”

The Hoboken yuppie community is an almost entirely white mixture of types and Wall Streeters with way too much money for their age (the old joke goes that Hoboken is like a college, where the fraternities are Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, etc.) Both camps seemed to produce a special breed of asshole previously thought unimaginable- just listen to their cell phone arguments about the Yankees, beer, and sharehouses. Or watch their bar fights from your living room across the street (as my roommate and I once did). Or listen to their barroom dialogue- walking down Washington Street one Wednesday night at around 6 PM I saw three frat-ish men amble out of the Mile Square bar, and heard one of them turn to the others and wistfully remark that, “you know, I should’ve offered that waitress $100 if she’d let me stick my tongue up her ass.”

And then there are the women. The type who would probably appreciate the above comment. Former Hoboken resident Sheila properly described “Hoboken bar girls” thus:

Hoboken is the kind of place where, on a Friday night, if you walk down Washington Street, you are bombarded with the mating rituals of early 20-somethings who are drunk. Girls who all look alike (like all the girls on "The Bachelor") strutting down the street in their regulation-black, all shrieking on their cell phones, saying things like, "Well, we waited for you at the Black Bear … where ARE you?" In grating voices, where everything, even statements of fact, come out as questions.

It’s apropos, of course, that the most recent male star of “The Bachelor,” Giants quarterback Jesse Palmer, himself lives in Hoboken.

It continued all the way to the end: two days before I moved out, I was watching John Kerry’s convention acceptance speech with my friends when several of them were pulled away from the speech and onto the balcony for several minutes by the sight of a drunk girl across the street trying to parallel-park. The drama ended when she hit the car in front of her and then sped away.

That’s the problem with Hoboken: the ubiquitous bars create an extension-of-frat-days “social life,” but aside from the occasional Italian festivals, there’s really no neighborhood cultural life whatsoever. There’s the music landmark Maxwell’s, but not really a Hoboken musical “scene.” There is practically no artistic community or racial diversity or gay culture to speak of, and all there is of political activism is the machine-like, indictment-heavy Hudson County Democratic Organization. So much fun as I had, I never quite fit in with this scene- I’ve never been one to base my social life around “hitting the bars,” and I’m especially not keen on making friends that way.


After two years, I moved from my first apartment above an Italian deli to one above an Indian restaurant- the smell of which, I’m convinced to this day, bought me a $200 discount in rent. But 505 Washington was quite a place- transport the same apartment to Manhattan, and add a couple of zeroes to the rent price- and I was happy there, hosting numerous parties and living the quintessential Hoboken existence.

And perhaps best of all, the new place was merely two blocks away from the river, and in between stands the world’s greatest Little League field- one in which right field contains a large apartment building that resembles the warehouse at Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and left field is the Hudson and Manhattan skyline. If Barry Bonds ever batted at that field, one of his home runs might strike the West Side Highway.


Living in Hoboken also helped me land a job, also in Hoboken, with a news service covering the energy industry- which is why, unlike most people I know, I had to work during the blackout. I often had to be in the office in the wee wee hours, leading to my often wandering the near-empty streets of the Mile Square city in the middle of the night. That job led to another job, in Manhattan, and that’s why I left- living in Hoboken had run its course, and I was ready to once again tackle Manhattan full-time.


Decades from now, long after I’ve forgotten everything else that’s written here, I’ll primarily remember Hoboken as the place where I spent September 11. Out of work at the time, I woke up at 9:00 to call the post office (my ’01 Bush tax rebate hadn’t arrived yet), and found the phone line dead. Then I somehow was able to log on to my e-mail, and had an e-mail from my friend Dena saying that two planes had hit the World Trade Center- where her mother worked- but that her mom was fine, as she’d taken the day off to go shopping for Passover.

After watching on TV for a few hours I went outside, where Hoboken was seemingly overrun with people; just about everyone in all the surrounding suburbs had assembled there to catch a ferry to the city- an instance that would be repeated, albeit under much less tragic circumstances, at the time of the blackout two years later. As smoke from the Towers drifted above us, I stopped into the bar Hennessey’s, where about 50 people sat silently watching CNN.

The pier was roped off with police tape for the next few days, but I finally went back to the river the following Friday, to see the unbelievable sight of the World Trade Center missing from the skyline, and all the lights off in Lower Manhattan. There were candles, flowers, and pictures of the missing all around the corner of Pier A, and a large American flag hung off the side.

I probably came back to that spot at least twice every week for the year after that. On weekend afternoons, or late at night, when I couldn’t sleep and felt like taking a walk or a jog. On every Fourth of July (where three different sets of fireworks, from different directions, are always visible), and on every 9/11 anniversary, to see the beautiful Towers in Light memorial. And on the day of the blackout in August 2003, when I saw a rare sight of the sun setting on a totally darkened Manhattan- and hoped (in vain, alas) that all the lights would come back on at once, which would have been the most amazing sight imaginable.

If you know me and visited me in Hoboken while I lived there, I probably took you to the Pier. LilB came to visit the weekend prior to September 11, where we sat outside at one of the restaurants near the PATH train and I pointed out the Towers from there. Indeed, we’ve since taken to calling the train “the PATH of the righteous man,” as it was indeed beset, on one side anyway, by the iniquities of the selfish and tyranny of evil men.

My last night in Hoboken, at about 4 in the morning- two hours before the movers were scheduled to arrive to carry my belongings to Manhattan- I took one last stroll along the pier. Smoking a cigar, I passed two men and a woman, standing in the corner that faced downtown Manhattan, where that huge flag used to be, and- as happens nearly every time I see people at that corner- they told their 9/11 story.

In this instance, the two men were construction workers, on the New Jersey side, who heard a plane passing overheard and noticed that is was flying kind of low, but didn’t notice at first. For as long as Pier A is standing, such conversations will surely continue.

There are lots of places in Hoboken that I’ll always remember from my time there- all the dinners with my friends and dates with women at Tutta Pasta and Leo’s Grandevous and the Frozen Monkey Cafe. The now-defunct bar Miss Kitty’s, which was so known for its beautiful women that my friend Peter once IM’d me on the Tuesday after a visit there to ask, “why aren’t you at Miss Kitty’s?” The great record store Tunes, the collapsing Clam Broth House, and the Starbucks with the smiling Puerto Rican girl whose name I never did gather the courage to ask.

But of all the important places, the pier was always my favorite place in Hoboken, which may be true even if a cataclysmic world event hadn’t taken place across it while I lived there. And it will continue to hold a place in my heart, even now that I’m living on the other side of it.

But though my new Manhattan apartment is only three blocks from Riverside Park and the very same Hudson River, I’m not quite sure I’ll develop quite the same affinity- after all, the view of New Jersey from New York isn’t nearly as breathtaking as the other way around.

Posted by Stephen Silver at August 24, 2004 12:52 AM