Portions of this article have been updated.
Charlie Benanti, owner of Benanti’s deli (16 West 22nd Street), is said to make the best homemade mozzarella in Bayonne, and is a mean boccie ball player to boot. He’ll give you a big warm “How you doin’?” when you come in, but if he lost his last match, don’t mention it, or he’ll stop speaking to you. Boccie ball is one of Bayonne’s unofficial treasures (there’s one outdoor and two indoor courts), and so is community. In a city where the cultural center is the local library and political deals are made at an old-fashioned sweet shop called Jooche’s (186 Avenue B), people thrive on a mild commute, a safe neighborhood, and an easy familiarity with the woman who pours their coffee or the man who resoles their shoes.
Population: Next door to Jersey City and across the water from Staten Island, Bayonne remains “an urban area with a small-town feel,” as Michael O’Connor, executive director of the Bayonne Economic Development Corporation, puts it. Residents like David Jiji, part owner of Networking Internet Cafe, say that this isn’t just spin: “Everyone seems to know everyone”—no small accomplishment for a city of 61,000. The city’s largest ethnic groups are Italian, Polish, Irish, and Hispanic, but Asian and Middle Eastern (particularly Egyptian) immigration is also on the rise.
Boundaries: Bayonne is surrounded on three sides by water, making activities like boating and fishing easily accessible. Boundaries are the Kill Van Kull to the south, Upper New York Bay to the east, Newark Bay to the west, and to the north, the jagged line of the now filled-in Morris Canal.
Transportation: Take the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail from East 34th or East 45th streets in Bayonne; transfer to the PATH at Pavonia-Newport (45 minutes to an hour to downtown Manhattan).
Average Price to Rent: Studio/one-bedroom, $750 and up ($750 to $850); two-bedroom, $950 to $1100 ($850 to $1000); three-bedroom, $1200 to $1300 ($1000 to $1500).
Average Price to Buy: One-family house, $200,00 to $ 380,00 ($180,000 to $360,000); two-family house, $300, 000 to $500,000 ($200,000 to $400,000).
Main Drag: A stroll down pedestrian-friendly Broadway reveals primarily mom-and-pop establishments—some new, but many dating at least to the 1950s judging by their storefronts (“Style and Wear in Every Pair,” boasts the marquee over Hyman’s Shoes, 480 Avenue C).
Local Music: For CDs, try Midtown Records (774 Broadway).
Green Space: Bayonne boasts over 15 parks and rec areas. DiDomenico Park (West 16th Street) offers an Olympic pool, basketball and handball courts, a boat launch, a playground, and an amphitheater used for summer concerts. Dennis P. Collins Park (West 1st Street) is home to the outdoor boccie ball court, a skate park, bike park, and the city’s little-league fields.
Local Landmarks: The Bayonne Bridge, connecting Bayonne and Staten Island, is one of the world’s longest steel arch bridges.
Cultural Institutions: The Free Public Library and Cultural Center of Bayonne (697 Avenue C) regularly hosts exhibits and live musical performances.
Famous Residents: Actors Frank Langella and Sandra Dee were born in Bayonne. A local favorite son is boxer Chuck Wepner, “the Bayonne Bleeder,” reported to be the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky character. Wepner went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali in 1975.
Best Restaurants: Cafe Bello (1044 Avenue C) is considered Bayonne’s best restaurant, serving moderately priced Italian in a casual setting. Chez Marie (10 East 22nd Street) serves the city’s best coffee, as well as sandwiches and sweets, in a charmingly unhip setting decorated with floral tea sets and heart-shaped boxes (the only thing missing is a needlepoint “Home Sweet Home” sign). Kapp’s (589 Broadway) has the best hot wings in town (“I went there every week for wings when I was pregnant,” volunteered one resident).
Best Bars/Clubs: The Big Apple Lounge and Restaurant (412-414 Broadway) is a good sports bar and a favorite local hangout. George’s Pub ‘n’ Grub (245-249 Avenue E) is the only place in town to regularly feature live bands, Friday and Saturday nights (a recent headliner was Slippery When Wet, a Bon Jovi tribute band).
Politicians: Mayor Joseph V. Doria, council-members Anthony Chiappone, Maria Karczewski, Vincent Lo Re, Jr., John Halecky, and Theodore D. Connolly. All are chosen in a nonpartisan election.
Crime Stats: The New Jersey State Police reported for Bayonne City 3 murders, 5 rapes, 89 robberies, 86 aggravated assaults, 19 burglaries, and 6 motor vehicle thefts in 2004. (The Bayonne Police Department reported three murders, two rapes, 74 robberies, 222 burglaries, and 121 felonious assaults in 2001).