No matter what LGBT community you happen to find yourself in throughout the country, the moment you say you are “from Asbury Park“, something seems to change completely. From the beaches of Ogunquit, Maine to the streets of Boystown in Chicago, the moment you mention that you are from the LGBT haven on the Jersey Shore, the conversation shifts. People want to hear about it, want to know when the best time to visit is, where to grab a beachside cocktail, take it some of the amazing vintage shopping and of course, hit the famed nightlife throughout the community.
The LGBT community and their history is part of the fabric of Asbury Park. From The M&K to The Odyssey to Down The Street, this community helped maintain Asbury Park through some of it’s darkest times, and when it came roaring back several decades ago (more on that later) the LGBT community became the framework and the example that has shaped the town into the wonderfully diverse & eclectic community that it has evolved into. Garden State Equality is located right in the heart of Asbury Park’s Main Street corridor. The diversity and positive change in our community is literally, located at the heart of the town.
It goes without saying that things have been dark recently. However, Asbury Park is no stranger to dark times. In an eerie nod to history, riots in 1970 throttled Asbury Park, taking it several decades to finally emerge again as a seaside destination for both residents and visitors. The pandemic however, has caused a momentary pause for the community, during their most prosperous and populated time throughout the year; the summer beach season. The residents though, as they have done during the both aforementioned riots and Hurricane Sandy, are banding together to breathe life back into their community.
Asbury Park resident Jill Potter went into the pandemic prepped with food and with a new rescue pup to train. While Netflix and Hulu were “company”, she kept a small quarantine group that allowed for socially distant socialization. She’s also dived into learning and exploring her love of cooking with Indian and Mexican vegan meals being the latest on her menu.
Asbury Park resident and Georgies employee Carlo Anthony offers the sobering reality of those that are missing their chosen family during these times, but some inspiration at the same time. He stresses that “continuous communication with his Asbury Park family has been crucial for my spirit”. Many feel a sense of solitude the moment we are suddenly ripped away from the people we call our chosen family, and Anthony recognizes that. He stresses that “we are not alone and nothing can break us. We have to keep swimming against the current, keep breathing, and stay strong”.
Founding member of ballroom inspired group Milian Mafia Jared Milian stressed the ways that he has stayed in touch with his chosen family, but that “Skype calls and socially distant get togethers are not the same”. As for Asbury Park, he seems be speaking for so much of the LGBT community right now; “summer is bittersweet because being gay in New Jersey is almost synonymous with spending time in Asbury Park”. He goes on to say “the roar of excitement of the return of Paradise Tea Dance will be a sound we remember forever”.
Things are changing in Asbury Park. Today is the first day of June, known worldwide as Pride month. The rainbow flags are flying once again, the people are starting to fill the eclectic downtown shopping area, and the boardwalk and the beaches are being filled with (mostly) socially distance respecting people. Most of the restaurants are offering take out options for food (and some for cocktails) so people are filling the streets and able to finally enjoy soak up some of that quintessential Jersey Shore sun.
Paradise is preparing for their imminent reopening. While Jersey Pride has been rescheduled for October 11th, Paradise continues being a trailblazer in the community, holding their first Virtual Pride Zoom Party. DJ’s direct from the Paradise roster are on board, with everyone from Tyler Valentine, Steven Jay, Mikey Mo, and Steve Sidewalk spinning throughout the day, with pop-up drag performances occurring throughout the event.
The other LGBT businesses in town are preparing for their oh so imminent reopening as well. The management at Georgies has spent the quarantine giving the space a freshening up, and the patrons of the bar where “everyone knows your name” will have a bit of different look when the doors reopen.
The Hotel Tides has been preparing for their own reopening, with this “chic chest la vie” boutique hotel currently offering their signature bottled sangria for purchase as they prepare to reopen.
Shep Pettibone is widely known to be the man who had a vision for both Asbury Park and Paradise, and who helped put it firmly on the map as an LGBT destination. As a leader in the community and a legend in the music industry, he shared his own thoughts on the LGBT community of Asbury Park with me exclusively;
“When I bought the Empress Hotel property, it was entirely for investment purposes. The week after purchasing it, I thought “if I put an amazing sound system and fierce lighting, they will come” (praying for the gay community)! I wanted the LGBT community to be in the same place we once were, much like the M&K on Cookman Avenue in the 1970’s. I was told it wouldn’t work-I said yes it will. I worked my ass off and built “Paradise” inside the Empress Hotel. Some might remember the “North Beach” bar helmed by Lisa Clark who had happy hour; it’s now the lobby bar. One by one, boys and girls were dancing on the main dance floor together at Paradise. 2020 might be the year of “nada”-but I cannot wait until we are all together again. I love you all!
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