Close-Up on Hoboken, New Jersey


At Diana’s diner on Jefferson Street, poached eggs and an English muffin don’t come with a mimosa. Coffee? “Sure, sweetheart,” a hefty, tattooed waitress named Penny might say, but not without something of a sneer. She’s made it clear that the young, hungover customers wearing velvet and sporting angular hairstyles aren’t her favorites. But whoever the customer, the bill for brunch is about a quarter of Manhattan prices, and not just due to the lack of cocktails.

Brunching on nothing more than stray dollars? You can do that at Diana’s and establishments of all stripes here. The city as a whole—a bit more than one square mile on the Hudson—is for this reason an irresistible lure for yupsters.

But here, as in other cities where gentrification has set in, a paradox emerges. Diana’s is a neat metonym for a city whose older generations loathe the influx of young, affluent white folks out of sync with the area’s culture, but rich with capital to nurture it. For decades, money has been rolling into the city, starting at the waterfront. But head north and west from the polished charm of Hoboken’s Washington Street and the townhouses and fusion restaurants disappear, replaced by modest housing and basketball courts.

Centuries ago, when Hoboken was a tiny island trimmed by swampland, it was home to the Lenape people, and then infiltrated by Dutch colonials. Soon, the Lenape became dependent on European goods and were pushed out of the area by a 1766 treaty. In 1784, Colonel John Stevens bought Hoboken from a Dutch settler for what was then less than $100,000 and opened the waterfront as a resort for Manhattanites. By the early 20th Century, a population boom filled up and revitalized the city, giving it its current infrastructure, and launching such American staples as Maxwell House and Lipton Tea.

Hoboken also boasts that it is home of the first baseball game, the first beer brewery, the Oreo Cookie, and Frank Sinatra: It is a little city with a big Napoleon complex. Perhaps that’s because the city comes across as that New Jersey brand of bland, but wants to project the truth: If you take a bite, you’ll find it is frosted with sweet age. Even the fast food restaurants on Washington Avenue are built into tall pre-war brick walk-ups. Despite surly waitstaff who undoubtedly see their taxes rising and a neighborhood morphed by gentrification, it is a city that can be kind to old and young, natives and transplants.

Boundaries: Hudson River to the east, the Palisade cliffs to the west.

Transportation: Take the river (on a NY Waterway Ferry to W 38th Street or the World Financial Center) or go under it on a PATH train. The trains are fast (read: loud), well used (crowded) and provide prompt rush-hour service that will get your commuting self to Manhattan’s West Side in less than 20 minutes. However, late at night, predictability wanes, making the F train seem as punctual as a Buckingham guard by comparison. Even the redesigned World Trade Center stop’s new heated platform doesn’t sweeten the deal much.

Main Drags: Washington Street by foot, Observer Highway and Newark Avenue by vehicle. Due to Hoboken’s size and slim streets, having a car can be more of a hindrance than a help in getting around.

Residents: The 2000 Census counted 38,577 residents, who have a median age of 30. Thirty percent have a college education and 11 percent have post-graduate education.

Prices to Rent and Buy: Renting a studio apartment will cost $1,100 to $1,600; one-bedroom: $1,250 to $2,600; two-bedroom: $1,300 to $2800; three-bedroom: $1,800 and up. Homes are more prevalent than condos or co-ops in Hoboken. One-bedrooms go for: $275,000 to $450,000; two-bedrooms: $400,000 to $700,00; three-story brownstones: $1.5 million and up. The average price of a Hoboken home or apartment purchase is $520,433, compared to an average of $187,717 for Hudson County.

What to Check Out: Aside from the sprawling waterfront parks and walkways, Stevens Gate House on Sixth Street is worth a walk-past—it is the remains of a castle built in 1856. So is the Maxwell Coffee plant on Hudson and 11th Street. When there, you’ll also be at the alleged site of the first baseball game played by two full teams (1846)—Maxwell built on the former field. If architecture is your thing, check out the copper-sheathed and gorgeous Lackawanna Railroad and Ferry Terminal on Hudson Place.

Hangouts, Parks, Restaurants: Hoboken’s beer-soaked past (aside from having what is reputed to be America’s first brewery, the deal that sold Hoboken to the director of the Dutch West India Company in 1630 is said to have included a half a barrel of beer) lingers. Feisty Irish Pubs line First Street and some of Washington Street’s swanker restaurants turn into magnets on weekend evenings for early-twentysomethings from all over the state. Smoking and shots are still in vogue in Hoboken bars. So are poorly stocked jukeboxes. Hoboken’s answer to CBGBs is Maxwell’s (1039 Washington St.), a classic venue with consistently good lineup of musical acts. Veer off Washington Street to find Italian nooks that serve inexpensive but amazing meats and pizzas, such as Leo’s Grandevous on Grand. Skateboard at Castle Point Park (along the Hudson south of 10th Street), or walk south through Frank Sinatra Park and to Pier A Park, with its field perfect for summer outdoor movie screenings.

Crime: No murders and three rapes were recorded in 2004. Recorded burglaries number 343, and 185 cars were reported stolen last year.

Politicians: Mayor David Roberts; State Assemblymember Albio Sires; State Senate Majority Leader Bernard Kenny, Rep. Robert Menendez, Sens. John Corzine and Frank Lautenberg. All are Democrats.