Stylish interiors curated by a celebrity interior decorater. Restaurants run by world-famous chefs. Surf lessons outside the lobby door. Are we in Miami? Nope, it's the New New Jersey, where stylish hotels have been quietly making their mark. With two newcomers debuting this summer, the scene is about to get a whole lot hotter.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Asbury Park’s first hotel to open in 50 years is tucked inside a rehabbed Salvation Army, since salvation is exactly what owner and developer David Bowd seems to have in mind. Bowd, a hotel industry veteran who earned his chops working for Ian Schraeger, discovered the dilapidated building over two years ago. “I became really interested in the rejuvenation of Asbury Park,” says the British-born Bowd. “We wanted to design a place that was complementary to the neighborhood and open to everybody.”
The first thing Bowd and his team did was create immediate drama. “From the moment you walk in, it’s very beautiful and interesting,” he says, explaining that the second floor was entirely ripped out to create higher ceilings. Irreverent yet comfortable, The Asbury, which opens in May, isn’t just a showpiece that is beautiful to admire but cold to the touch. “We really hate rules,” he jokes, sharing that some of the unique services were created to make it all very easy for the guest. There is no check-in time, “you let us know when you’re coming,” he says. “Wi-Fi will be free and fast.”
Bowd really delved into the mind of the modern, millennial-mindset guest. “What do I want when I travel? A great bed and bathroom and somewhere I can work. Plus, never underestimate the amount of sockets one needs,” he says. The 110 guest rooms are available in a variety of sizes and include bunk rooms, with bunk beds for eight. Simple, blond wood furnishings and black-and-white photographs of Asbury Park’s rock and roll history lend an upscale dorm room appeal to the accommodations.
Asbury Hall is the hotel’s main event space. Complete with a separate entrance, as well as a prefunction area with a green room, coatrooms and restrooms, this space can be divided as well. Inside, the room accommodates 275, while the outdoor deck handles up to 300. A preferred vendor list will be provided but not mandated. “Don’t you hate it when you’re told something? It’s the future of events,” says Bowd, who adds that Asbury Hall offers something “interesting and different: an amazing blank canvas.”
The Asbury’s two rooftop spaces are sure to set planners abuzz. The seventh-floor roof is a “higher-end sunset lounge lit by candles,” Bowd says. The space can be divided into three areas and accommodates 250 to 275. The Baronet is the ultimate scene-stealer, though. This unique rooftop carpeted in Astroturf and kitted out with white picket fences was imagined as a “carless drive-in.” The projector sits on a classic lifeguard chair, while a giant movie screen is capped off by a piece of Asbury Park history. “The Baronet was an old movie theater around the corner from the hotel and we found the original signage at a local junk shop,” Bowd explains. The Baronet rooftop is designed to be “fun” and is ideal for events that want to create a buzz (the space can handle 250 guests). “It’s perfect for brand launches,” Bowd says.
Bowd’s affection for Asbury Park is evident: “We decided against a restaurant because Asbury Park has so many great places already to eat and go out.” Instead, the hotel has a grab-and-go counter in the lobby with wraps, salads and more. “We made a major commitment here. It’s not just about the hotel; it’s about the neighborhood,” says Bowd, who helped rebuild area roads and parks, as well as update signage. “Asbury Park just makes you more creative.”
Icona Diamond Beach
If you haven’t heard of Diamond Beach, don’t fret. Most lifelong New Jerseyans haven’t. It’s a tiny town nestled between Wildwood Crest and Cape May that you could easily zip through on your way to somewhere else, which is exactly how Eustace Mita, owner of Icona Resorts, found this property. Mita purchased the property, formerly known as Pier 6600, and completely renovated it. “We kept the structure, but otherwise everything else was completely redone,” says Molly Mita, public relations manager.
Eustace Mita, a real estate developer who originally purchased the building with plans to transform it into condos, fell in love with hospitality and Icona Diamond Beach is his first hotel in a growing collection (he purchased Avalon’s Golden Inn, as well as the former Palace Hotel in Cape May, and both will reopen this summer). While Diamond Beach is just 5 miles from Cape May, it’s light years away from the Victorian décor synonymous with that resort town. In stark contrast, Eustace hired HGTV celebrity designer Blanche Garcia to infuse the Icona Diamond Beach with a South Beach, art deco ambiance. All 108 guest rooms and suites at this beachfront property have ocean views, and many boast private balconies. The look is fresh and upbeat—light blue walls create a calming effect, while artful details, such as striking wooden headboards, up the luxe look.
“Icona Resorts models their service on the Ritz-Carlton training and we really strive to deliver a five-star experience,” Molly says. The proof is in the pudding, as Icona Diamond Beach lured Peter Dickinson east. Dickinson hailed from the esteemed Peninsula Beverly Hills and came to Icona one year ago. He oversees the hotel’s two restaurants: the seasonal Bungalow No. 7 Beach Bar and Coastal Blue, open all year. Both can be rented for private events, with Coastal Blue accommodating 70 inside, and Bungalow No. 7 Beach Bar accommodating up to 300. “We do s’mores around the fire pits at Bungalow No. 7, and people really enjoy that,” Molly says.
Additional venues include the year-round Lani Rooftop, which offers 4,500 square feet of heated indoor/outdoor space. Three suites—Aloha, Kai and Ohana—are ideal for intimate meetings or breakout sessions, but it is the 3,000-square-foot Pavilion that truly stands out. This oceanfront tent, complete with custom lighting and wood floors, rests right on the beach. Since Diamond Beach is the only private beach in New Jersey, the ability to host events here is a true feather in any planner’s cap. Open from Memorial Day through October, the Pavilion is suitable for 125 seated and up to 300 for cocktails.
This summer marks the fourth year the hotel has been open, but word has been getting out about this South-Beach-meets-Jersey-Shore hotel. “We are ranked No. 7 in the nation on TripAdvisor,” Molly says. “We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time. We really deliver a Caribbean resort experience in New Jersey.” With surf lessons and poolside massages, Icona Diamond Beach is raising the bar.
It just doesn’t get much better than this. Set right on the waterfront in bustling and vibrant Hoboken, the W frames picture-perfect views of downtown New York City’s skyline. Starwood’s W collection is well known for its modern style and this property is no exception. “We’re considered one of the five New York properties and we are known for our views,” says Lora Green, marketing manager. W’s famous Living Room turned the traditional lobby on its head. “It’s meant to feel like an extension of your home,” Green says. Meet friends for cocktails, catch up on emails ... it’s all part of the Living Room lifestyle.
The hotel features 225 guest rooms and suites. The Bliss Spa is a favorite of leisure and business travelers alike. “We get a lot of CEOs and others who want to treat their colleagues to massages or mani/pedis,” Green says. The restaurant, which has a recently revised menu under the same chef, “offers a top-notch view and location coupled with food indicative of a 4 1/2–star establishment,” says Green. Private dining for 20 to 30 guests can be arranged at the restaurant (or 80 in a semiprivate section), while LULU’s, the trendy bar and night club, also doubles as an event venue. “It’s a really cool space with an outdoor terrace that’s perfect for your atypical meeting,” Green says. “It’s great for a group that doesn’t want a boardroom but may be too small for the ballroom.”
W Hoboken has five breakout spaces, or Studios, that suit eight to 15 people and boast city views, while the 4,140-square-foot Great Room is the hotel’s largest private space and features a skylight for abundant natural light. “I think our proximity to New York City and our location really makes us stand out,” Green says. “You can take a break from your meeting and enjoy a walk along the pier. You’re not stuck in the middle of nowhere.”
The Water Club
The Water Club is the perfect blend: a dash of Las Vegas, a pinch of Manhattan and a little bit of Miami. The 800-room Water Club feels like a boutique hotel despite its size, and while it’s not a new property (it’s been open since 2008), there’s always something happening here. Enjoy the casinos and celebrity chef restaurants of the Borgata, then walk through the upscale shopping atrium to The Water Club, where the mood is casually sophisticated.
“The Water Club is unique because of all of the additional amenities the hotel offers including access to our award-winning Spa Immersion located on the 32nd floor, The Sunroom, a skylit lobby-lounge where guests can relax and socialize, and designer stores including Hugo Boss, Just Cavalli and Antica Murina, all of which are just steps away from the excitement of Borgata,” says Mark Vanderwielen, vice president of hospitality for Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
The 800 rooms and suites share a contemporary Italian design with burled wood furnishings and a soothing mocha-and-cream color scheme. The Water Club is perhaps best known for its pools and spa. From the unique artwork lining the walls after you exit the elevator to the bamboo-lined walkways, the entrance to Immersion Spa sets the tone for something special. There are 16 treatment rooms, but no treatment is complete without a pre- or post-treatment lounge session at the pool. Floor-to-ceiling glass showcases incredible views of Atlantic City from this 32-story-high oasis. The spa pool deck can be rented for private events, though the favorite of many planners is the lobby-level pool complete with tropical foliage. The Water Club hosts many private events here, where a clear plastic covering allows guests to dance atop the sparkling pool.
“With 18,000 square feet of beautiful meeting space, The Water Club is the perfect location to host a conference; no matter how grand or intimate it may be. We have 13 spacious venues, including nine meeting rooms and four boardrooms to go along with a signature in-room dining and banquet menu crafted by acclaimed Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, served by a dedicated banquet and catering team,” says Vanderwielen. Since The Water Club is linked to Borgata but functions as a separate property also, it’s the best of both worlds for those who may have corporate policies restricting casino events.