Today’s Jersey City guide comes to us from Kristen Scalia of Kanibal Home. As the owner of Kanibal Home, Kristen stocks the store with roatating collections of refurbished vintage furniture, found objects, new home décor, apparel and gift items. Kristen first fell in love with downtown Jersey City’s regal brownstones and quaint parks after moving to the city after college. Today she shares with us some of the many splendors this eceletic city has to offer. Thanks for such a wonderful update to your original guide, Kristen! —Stephanie
Read the full guide after the jump…
all photos by Michelle Slack
As the second largest city in the state, Jersey City is a bit of a phoenix. From the ashes of decaying factories and crumbling industrial parks, warehouses and rail yards sprout artists’ lofts and farmers’ markets, new businesses and development projects.
Over the last several years Jersey City has experienced a renaissance. Whether it’s the proximity to New York City, abundance of historic properties or newly renovated parks and walkways, the area is going through a revival that is attracting new citizens as well as cementing the city as home for many long-time residents.
Because of its size and varied topography, Jersey City is often broken up into areas – The Heights, West Side, Journal Square, McGinley Square, Historic Downtown, The Waterfront, Liberty State Park, Bergen Lafayette, Hackensack River Waterfront, and Greenville – with each area having its own neighborhoods. This guide will highlight spots in the Historic Downtown section, which is easily accessible by the PATH train (Grove Street stop) and a short walk away from several water ferries to New York City.
The Historic Downtown neighborhood is a burgeoning community rich with history. It’s punctuated by scenic parks, elegant old low-rise buildings and brownstones. In the last several years the area directly around the Grove Street PATH station has undergone a good deal of development and commercial growth as well, melding both new and old structures into the framework that’s making up the updated downtown area.
As a resident and small business owner, I’ve had the ability to watch the city grow and change in new and inspiring ways. Please note that these are just my favorite haunts in the Historic Downtown area (with a few extras thrown in) and that this list does not encompass all of the amazing options that Jersey City has to offer.
Be sure to check out this Google Map with all of the below listings!
Historic Downtown is generally considered to be the part of town west of Marin Boulevard with the Waterfront to the east. Anchoring the downtown area are two Victorian-era parks, Van Vorst Park and Hamilton Park. Most of the sought after apartments in downtown are in nineteenth-century brownstones situated on quaint, tree-lined blocks between – and around – these two parks. A commercial district runs the length of Newark Avenue and Grove Street where most of the retail stores, restaurants and nightlife have traditionally established roots. However, with the influx of new residents and the need for options, new businesses have been growing along the outlining streets as well, including Jersey Avenue, Hamilton Square next to Hamilton Park, within the Liberty Harbor developments on and around Grand Street as well as along Washington Street and throughout the sinewy streets that wind through the Paulus Hook neighborhood.
The Grove Street area is often referred to as the heart of the Historic Downtown section and – along with Newark Avenue – serves as the area’s main commercial thoroughfare.
FOOD + DRINK
Park & Sixth Restaurant and Bar gained acclaim for its sandwiches at its original location in neighboring Hoboken. However it steadily attracted a following in Jersey City for its cold beers, eclectic décor, and spin on comfort food. Select a dark beer, a side of brussel sprout hash and The Beast burger and settle in for a satisfying night with friends.
La Conguita bills itself as casual Latin restaurant, but there’s nothing low key about the decidedly Cuban flavors that punctuate the dishes at this inexpensive corner spot.
A recent addition to downtown’s food scene, Orale Mexican Kitchen is becoming best known for its dressed-up Mexican fare, diverse and flavorful tacos, and extensive tequila offerings.
Sava Polish Diner offers authentic Polish cuisine with many of their options – like homemade pierogies and all of the restaurant’s salads and side dishes – costing fewer than five dollars.
Known around town for its lunch specials and fast service, Ibby’s Falafel has been a mainstay on Grove Street since 1996.
Beechwood Café & Bakery Whether it’s a cup of coffee to-go, a spot to check email and sip a tea, or a destination to enjoy a meal, Beechwood Café is the spot on Grove Street to warm up, sit down or catch-up with friends.
Marco & Pepe Restaurant In the summer you’ll be hard pressed to find a seat outside for brunch, but the French toast (made with croissants) and mimosas are worth the wait. Stopping by for dinner? Don’t even think about passing up the macaroni & cheese. Made with aged gruyere, mushrooms, bacon, mascarpone and aged goat cheese its a little bite of heaven.
Directly across from City Hall, The Merchant is housed in an old bank and the vault can still be seen on the main dining floor. The Merchant remains a downtown staple if you’re looking for a good meal and a cold drink.
Razza Pizza Artigianale The name says it all: eat here for the pizza. However the restaurant – nestled inside what was once the lobby of The Majestic Theater – honors both the process and product that goes into making a stellar meal, which means that the oven-fired meatballs, house made ricotta crostini and salads made with seasonal greens, are all stars in themselves.
Taqueria Downtown Authentic, fresh Mexican food for a price that will leave both your stomach and wallet satisfied. For $2.50 try each of the tacos offered and, thanks to a newly acquired liquor license, patrons can now enjoy a crisp cerveza along with a meal.
Other Grove Street favorites are the Pakistani and Indian dishes at Shadman Restaurant, the Thai and Japanese options at More, and anything off of the Sichuan menu at Grand Sichuan. In addition to the restaurants, the Grove Street PATH area is also home to a number of outrageous food trucks that have recently driven into town.
Another Man’s Treasure embodies what makes Jersey City so special: the thrill of the hunt. This is the first place I send my own customers because I know they’ll be treated to a friendly reception and a variety of hand-picked vintage treasures that will rival any major New York City vintage shop. And although the quality you’ll be getting is high, the prices won’t be. They also have an appointment-only showroom located in The Village section of town.
The team behind Grove Street Bicycles exemplifies what running a small businesses in town entails: In addition to selling gear, servicing bikes and offering storage, the shop also organizes group rides and meet-ups, consults on ways to make the city a safer place for riders, and actively participates in various charities.
A scaled back version of its now defunct original West Village location, Mxyplyzyk brings a dash of quirk, a pop of color and a lot of creativity to the gift-giving process.
Exposed brick and high ceilings are the backdrop to Tia’s Place, where shoppers will find a range of trendy apparel, costume jewelry and everything from shoes to lingerie and double-sided fashion tape.
Aspasia’s Boutique stocks a range of designers in a cozy space. You can count on there always being a pretty dress in the window to entice pedestrians in off the street.
A new addition to the Grove Street shopping experience, Feena Boutique is a concept shop offering Portuguese influenced gift items and accessories. Downstairs and next door is also the newly opened JC Made, operated by the same family. The shop stocks an array of art, vintage home goods and apparel all curated or created by local Jersey City artists.
Kanibal Home is a lifestyle shop comprised of refurbished furniture, found objects, new home décor, apparel, accessories and estate jewelry. You’ll find me here seven days of week holding down the fort, re-merchandising displays or hosting craft classes and events.
From yarn to needles, 2 Stix & a String sells more than the materials needed to make a sumptuous scarf or sweater; rather, they offer several different classes – for the beginner to the pro – and the possibilities to create are endless.
Several times a week there are events held in the Grove Street PATH plaza including – but not limited to – Groove on Grove, a free weekly music series; a farmers’ market that runs May through December; and Creative Grove, an artist and designer craft market.
VAN VORST PARK
Van Vorst Park is a highly sought after residential neighborhood best known for its stunning nineteenth-century row houses and brownstones with many of the streets in the area named after American Revolution military figures. The park of the same name is meticulously maintained by a group of volunteers that regularly hosts famers’ markets, concerts and craft fairs.
FOOD + DRINK
Although Brownstone Diner & Pancake Factory was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” for its pancakes, this family-owned diner is dishing out way more than just breakfast food. Actually, the expansive menu covers pretty much every animal, vegetable or drink you can imagine.
Named after an 80,000-seat arena built expressly for a 1921 Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier championship fight, Thirty Acres transformed the storefront – and arguably the street – with the opening of its restaurant. The restaurant, which recently acquired a liquor license, highlights seasonal ingredients by combining them with unique flavors and textures to create delicious, yet unexpected dishes.
Specializing in vegan cuisine, Subia’s Organic Café is the place to pick up lunch, smoothies or the ingredients for a new vegan or vegetarian dish you’ve wanted to try.
Don’t let the weekend lines that wrap around the building scare you away, Wonder Bagels is worth the wait. Or, even better, stop by on a weekday when there’s barely a line and scoop up an everything whole wheat bagel that’s crispy on the outside and airy on the inside (if you’re like me, ask for it with cheese, Taylor Ham and egg whites).
With brands like Tokyo Milk and Orla Kiely, ViVi Girl makes the most of a slim space, using vintage-inspired apparel and accessories in bright colors to attract a loyal customer base. Along with its neighbor Beekman Lane, a vintage home goods shop, they make up the shopping destination for this area.
Envisioned as a way to build community and celebrate a beautiful space, Films in Van Vorst Park is a free summer film series featuring vintage as well as contemporary movies. Situated off to the side of the gazebo, the organization also offers free popcorn during screenings and encourages packing a picnic and bringing blankets to enjoy the al fresco viewings.
Jersey City Free Public Library has five regional branches and a bookmobile with the main library residing on Jersey Avenue. The library hosts exhibitions, free events and is home to the New Jersey Room, which houses historical archives and photos. The Beaux-Arts structure was designed by the New York architectural firm of Brite and Bacon, which went on to also design the Lincoln Memorial.
The Greek Revival building known as the Barrow Mansion has had many reincarnations, but it currently serves as an office, performance and meeting space. In the basement, hidden in what was once a pistol range, is a late-1800’s two-lane bowling alley that’s still in working order.
Catering to a younger crowd, Tiny Greenhouse offers a nature-friendly art studio to entertain the boom of new families that have been moving – and growing – into the area.
The neighborhood stretches from the Sixth Street Embankment in the north to Christopher Columbus Drive in the south between Coles Street and Grove Street. Newark Avenue has traditionally been its main street.
FOOD + DRINK
Half asleep on a Saturday morning, you may not know what you want but you know where you need to go: Choc O Pain French Bakery & Café. Whether it’s a latte, chocolate croissant or a slice of a ham and cheese quiche, you’ll be sure to leave this bakery feeling a little livelier and a whole lot happier.
JuiceWell The name says it all. This newly opened brick-and-mortar counterpart to the company’s website serves up bottled juice and smoothies as a cleansing method or an everyday fruit and veggie boost.
Dark wood décor, elevated comfort food, a great bar and roof deck, Skinner’s Loft has a little something for everyone. In the warmer months enjoy brunch upstairs on the roof. The intimate space decorated with fresh herbs and rusting metal furniture makes you feel like you’re tucked away enjoying a Bloody Mary at a friend’s house.
Serving as a bar, restaurant and gallery space, there’s always something going on at LITM (an acronym for Love Is The Message). Some of the bar’s best offerings are its seasonal cocktails, like its Spiced Apple Old Fashioned or S’Mores Martini.
Roman Nose is one of downtown’s newest Italian-food destination spots, serving up thin crust pizza, fettucine cacao e pepe and hearty made-from-scratch soups just like mom would prepare.
Newark Avenue has recently gotten two New York staples with the addition of Two Boots, which named a pizza after Jersey City with its Boss Hague creation, and Barcade, Brooklyn’s dual concept arcade and bar that opened a Jersey City outpost in 2011.
Creamy, cool and satisfying with flavors that refresh and fascinate, Torico Ice Cream combines a tried-and-true approach to ice cream-making with simple, yet interesting ingredients. At this mom-and-pop shop you will be equally delighted digging into a bowl of chocolate peanut butter as you would be grabbing a cone of avocado, pumpkin, jackfruit or lychee ice cream.
With an influx of people comes an increase in pets. Luckily Jersey City has several dog parks, but it also has K9dergarten. Offering doggy daycare, boarding, spa services and a dog boutique, it’s a one-stop shop that also has a charity component – they house the adoptable dogs for Jersey City’s rescue agency See Spot Rescued (available for meet-and-greets by appointment only).
Clothing thrift boutique E. Tittlemouse & Co. stocks its shelves with a range of contemporary brands and designer labels and prides itself on providing quality goods at incredible prices.
Tachair Bookshoppe sells new and used books and hosts a range of events from book clubs to concerts. They will soon be joined in the independently owned bookstore category by the eagerly anticipated opening of Word Bookstore.
Running along the border of Harismus Cove and Hamilton Park is the Sixth Street Embankment. This half-mile-long elevated historic railroad embankment is currently abandoned and overgrown with foliage, but is in the planning stages to be renovated into a public park in the mode of Manhattan’s spectacularly successful High Line.
Loosely linked to Van Vorst Park by Jersey Avenue, Hamilton Park is surrounded by nineteenth-century brownstones and in 2010 underwent a multi-million dollar renovation that added new Victorian-looking lampposts, walkways, dog runs and updated playgrounds. The park regularly hosts farmers’ markets, craft fairs and festivals.
FOOD + DRINK
Whether it’s $1 oyster night or trivia night, there’s always something to look forward to at The Hamilton Inn, where the reclaimed wood walls and vintage finishings are just as enticing as its Bacon Blood Mary or French Onion Soup Dumplings.
New Thanh Haoi Vietnamese Restaurant, formerly Nha Trang Place, is an unfussy option where the food arrives fast and hot with pricing for two usually fewer than twenty dollars. Try the summer rolls, an avocado milkshake and the Pho Thai.
An Italian restaurant situated just off the park, GP’s Restaurant is a welcome addition to Hamilton Square, which is a converted hospital that now houses several businesses at the ground level with residential lofts above.
Want to grab a sandwich for an impromptu picnic? Then swing by Basic, a café at the corner of the park. Looking for something a little sweeter for your sweetie? Sophie Sophia, located in Hamilton Square, specializes in custom cakes and cupcakes however the storefront has recently migrated over to an appointment-only schedule.
With the success of their authentic French bistro, Madame Claude Café, the owners recently opened a dedicated wine shop in Hamilton Square. In addition to an impressive selection of wine, liquor and beer, Madame Claude Wine Shop offers a selection of gourmet sausages, pates and cheeses as well as hosting events and wine tastings.
With an additional location on Montgomery Street, Hound About Town has not only cornered the market on pet food and supplies, but they also ingeniously jumped into the baby market by splitting the Hamilton Square location of the shop in half to house Hazel Baby, the human baby counterpart to their popular pet store.
Inspired by general stores that were once found across America, Smith & Chang General Goods is a department store specializing in local and vintage merchandise, from bags and eyewear to furniture and fine art.
Art House Productions is a driving force behind the arts movement in Jersey City. They host everything from acting classes and art exhibitions to comedy shows and film screenings. They’re also responsible for free art events around Jersey City, including the incredibly popular JC Fridays.
On Sundays stop by the newly established 6th Borough Market for handmade gift items, food, activities for kids, and more.
Bordered by Hamilton Park and Harismus Cove, for many years this area was considered the city’s “Little Italy” neighborhood.
FOOD + DRINK
Off the beaten path at the end of a residential block, Madame Claude Cafe will tantalize your taste buds with dishes like sweet and savory crepes and succulent les moules frites. The décor is equally as charming, but cozy with limited seating, so if you’re set on having a night out at this cozy French cafe I would suggest arriving early.
Second Street Bakery Homemade mozzarella, fresh bread and quality cold cuts have kept this unassuming storefront in business for quite some time. Specializing in stuffed breads and sandwiches, this small Italian deli has a line out the door around lunch time and empty shelves by 2:00pm.
Wine bars are nice and lounges are just fine, but every once in a while a dive bar with great music and drink specials hits the spot. Welcome to Lucky 7 Tavern, where taped up pictures, band stickers and random memorabilia adorn the walls. On weekends there’s often a band playing in the front, darts in the back, and an impromptu dance party taking place wherever there’s room.
The Lamp Post Bar & Grill is the kind of place that when it’s busy, it’s packed (especially on nights with live music), but when it’s calm … well then it’s the type of spot where you can cozy up to the bar, order food, and comfortably enjoy a drink.
The Barge Inn A vestige of the old days of downtown Jersey City, this unassuming corner restaurant is perfect when you’re looking for a change of pace that doesn’t require altering your taste buds. The fixtures are a bit retro, but the all-you-can-eat pasta special on Thursdays (and a few glasses of wine) quickly push the dated décor to the background.
If you ask any Jersey City resident who has the best wings in town, you’ll probably hear the name White Star Bar. Actually, the whole menu is delicious. Traditional bar food done right, White Star recently opened a second location called White Star Bar at Harbor near the Paulus Hook neighborhood.
Two places to shop for art in very different incarnations are Hudson County Art Supply and Jersey City Tattoo Co. You can see art from both of these shops all around town, whether on wall murals or walking canvases.
The sweetness of scotch and a pipe-scented candle fragrance the air as the man behind some of the most impeccably dressed people in town stretches out in a side chair and asks you how you’ve been. This is the custom tailoring experience at DeCarlos Bespoke, where time slows to allow for quality craftsmanship and customer service.
Tables and crates of new and vintage records line the floor of what was once a pharmacy at Iris Records. From the obscure to the popular, if it was pressed into vinyl it will eventually find its way here.
Jersey City Art School has recently opened several locations around downtown providing classes, studios and events to the artists and art-lovers of Jersey City.
This strip of real estate is known for its quiet, family-friendly residential living. A growing number of restaurants and small shops reside along its main vein, Washington Street.
FOOD + DRINK
Satis derives its name from the Latin word for “enough” and the root for the word “satisfied”. However it’s wise to save room for dessert at this fine dining establishment where the quality of the food – from bacon wrapped cabrales stuffed dates to house-made ricotta gnocchi with braised escarole – is complemented by a vintage, yet modern decorative vibe. A newly added wine bar next door is perfect for a low-key cocktail and light nibbling.
Light Horse Tavern serves modern American cuisine in a loft-like space with high ceilings and dark wood décor. Jersey City natives often sit around the bar, sharing stories of years past, and the conversation is sometimes as flavorful as the food.
Start your week at Bistro La Source, where Mussel Mondays promises all-you-can-eat mussels for $10.
With a range of small plates and daily specials, Amelia’s Bistro can satisfy any craving but it’s the lobster hash on the brunch menu that’s really worth swinging by to try.
A local Italian eatery that’s BYOB and serves up large heaping plates of pasta, Presto’s has a way of making its customers feel like their enjoying a meal at home without the inconvenience of having to do the dishes afterward.
With bins of candy – both old-fashioned favorites and new creative concoctions – How Sweet It Is has something for every sweet lover from dried fruit and trail mix to custom confection platters.
Camille Cesari’s Loveprint is an accessories store that specializes in creating custom jewelry from fingerprints. By taking an impression in soft wax and then casting it in sterling silver or gold, the fingerprint of a loved one can be worn as a token on a custom-made necklace or bracelet.
POWERHOUSE ARTS DISTRICT
This historic warehouse district takes its name from the unused generating station Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse, which is currently undergoing an extensive stabilization effort with the hopes of one day being developed into a commerce and arts hub.
A leading photography and digital video rental studio, Parlay Studios is a production facility housed in an old warehouse offering a variety of spaces for professional and private events.
Part café, art gallery and multi-media space, the Warehouse Café brews a strong up of coffee in a decidedly relaxed loft space.
Whether you’re looking to get (back) in shape, add diversity to your workout or constructively relieve stress, CKO Kickboxing is sure to be your new favorite resource.
Not located in the downtown boundary in the traditional sense (but close enough), the following locations and resources are Jersey City gems worth noting.
Living like the locals is as easy as searching the Airbnb website and choosing one of the many personalized accommodations. For a more conventional stay in downtown, there are two options closer to the waterfront area: the Hyatt Regency, which features gorgeous views of the Hudson River, and the Westin hotel. NYC-JC Guest Suites is a boutique apartment concept that lets you customize your stay by selecting from a range of options, from skyscraper to brownstone suites.
FOOD + DRINK
Zeppelin Hall Restaurant & Biergarten offers something entirely different for Jersey City. With indoor and outdoor seating for hundreds, I’ve often overheard customers commenting on a warm summer night that it seems like “all of Jersey City is here”. With 144 beer taps, giant mugs and thirty-foot tables for communal seating, it’s a great addition to the growing neighborhood. Recently opened by the same owners is Surf City Megabar & Restaurant, a similarly styled bar that offers indoor and outdoor seating along the waterway with views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
For their beauty and historical relevance, make sure to visit the Landmark Loew’s Theater, a movie palace with classic theatrical detailing that first opened its doors in 1929, and Liberty State Park, a large park with bike trails, a nature preserve, a defunct railway station and ferries to Statue of Liberty National Monument and Liberty Island.
Jersey City is the culturally diverse community it is because of the artists that inhabit and contribute to the area. For chamber music in unconventional settings, check out Con Vivo’s calendar of appearances. For dance, Nimbus Dance Works offers performances and classes. For fine art, Mana Contemporary is an art management and storage facility that also houses collections and hosts events. And for craft fairs around the city, No Yo Mama’s is an event planning company that specializes in anything and everything handmade and crafty.
For additional information about the downtown area, make sure to pick up the free quarterly magazine JCI, which is the print offspring of the Jersey City Independent online, a local resource that covers arts, culture and lifestyle in Jersey City. Wired JC and JC List are both forum-based websites with submitted local content.
Being such a diverse neighborhood, Jersey City is currently home to a group of recognizable local characters, but it was also once home to the following notable members of the arts community:
- Martha Stewart (media personality, author, magazine publisher, craft maven)
- Nathan Lane (Broadway and film actor)
- Christina Milian (actress and musician)
- Michelle Rodriguez (actress and screenwriter, moved to Jersey City at the age of 11)
- Robert Bell (musician and founder of “Kool and the Gang”, grew up in Jersey City)
- Akon (musician, grew up in Jersey City during his high school years)