Friday, March 12, 2010

Design*Sponge: Jersey City - City Guide

Over the last couple months I've been working on a few very special projects and one of them finally came to fruition this week. The lovely Grace over at Design*Sponge published my city guide for Jersey City on her blog (you can read the article directly here).

This means a lot to me for several reasons: 1) Design*Sponge is hands down one of my favorite blogs and I obsessively refresh my browser all day to check on their posts, 2) Design*Sponge was the FIRST blog to ever write about Kanibal Home when I launched the website three years ago, and 3) I love Jersey City and I would like to see it get some positive press once in awhile!

That said, here's my downtown overview. Feel free to leave a list of your fave spots in the comments section.


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 young families. I was so enchanted by its rows of brownstones and quaint parks that I moved into the downtown area five years ago and a little less than one year ago gave up my midtown job (and 401K) to open a boutique right down the block from the Grove Street Path station.

Jersey City is made up of several neighborhoods – Exchange Place, Paulus Hook, Harsimus Cove, Van Vorst Park, Hamilton Park, Greenville, the Heights, etc. – but I’m going to operate under the general “downtown” blanket with a couple extras mixed in.

Please note that these are just my favorite haunts. One of the best things about Jersey City is that everyone has a special spot and the city is always growing and changing in new and inspiring ways.

Fun fact: Downtown Jersey City is easily accessible from New York City by the Path train (Grove Street stop), mom-and-pop shops are in abundance and the majority of the local downtown business owners are women.


Marco & Pepe

289 Grove Street, 201.860.9688

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 it’s a little bite of heaven.

The Merchant Bar & Restaurant

279 Grove Street, 201.200.0202

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. Recently the owners opened a second restaurant, The Embankment, but The Merchant remains a downtown staple if you’re looking for a good meal and a cold drink. The burgers never disappoint, but my favorite is actually the larger-than-life Cobb salad.

Bar Majestic

275 Grove Street, 201.451.4400

If you’re looking for a dark wine bar with comfy seating, good music and a friendly wait staff, then this is your spot. In the warmer months they offer a good amount of outdoor seating and host parties for Cinco de Mayo and Oktoberfest.

Medina Al Hamara

287 Grove Street, 201.435.4900

Don’t be turned away from the drab decorating, Medina serves up some of the best Indian food in the downtown area. Not afraid of spice and flavor, this little corner restaurant can feed a party of four for $20 with leftovers to spare. Try the chicken biryani, the daal of the day and a slice of naan and call it a night.

Taqueria Downtown

236 Grove Street, 201.333.3220

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, but remember to follow los diez mandamientos. After tasting Taqueria Downtown’s food you’ll forget that you even liked fajitas and sour cream in the first place.

Zeppelin Hall Restaurant & Biergarten

88 Liberty View Drive, 201.721.8888

The new kid in town, Zeppelin 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.

Brownstone Diner & Pancake Factory

426 Jersey Avenue, 201.433.0471

Although it 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.

Made with Love Organic Bakery & Café

530 Jersey Avenue, 201.451.5199

Using the finest organic and fair-trade ingredients, including local organic farm products, this newcomer has quickly become a local favorite for everything from baked goods to live jazz shows and cooking classes. One thing is for sure, everything that comes out of this kitchen is made with some serious love and a commitment to sustainable living and organic eating.

Feed Your Soul

520 Jersey Avenue, 201.204.0720

Baked with the finest ingredients, Feed Your Soul turns out outrageous, oven-fresh cookies. Whether you’re grabbing a snack or sending a present, this shop packages their cookies with a creative sophistication and built-in charitable component that’s aesthetically pleasing, socially responsible and simply delicious.

Torico’s Homemade Ice Cream Parlor

20 Erie Street, 201.432.9458

Creamy, cool and satisfying with flavors that refresh and fascinate, Torico’s 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.

Madame Claude Cafe

364 ½ 4th Street, 201.876.8800

Off the beaten path at the end of a residential block, this French bistro will tantalize your taste buds with dishes like sweet and savory crepes and succulent les moules frites (mussels with French fries). The décor is equally as charming, but cozy with limited seating, so if you’re set on having a seat I would suggest arriving early on nights and weekends.

Second Street Bakery

402 2nd Street, 201.420.1793

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.

Nha Trang Place

249 Newark Avenue, 201.239.1988

Nha Trang Place is an unfussy Vietnamese option where the food arrives fast and hot with recession friendly pricing. I recommend the spring rolls and Pho, but if you’re in the mood for something a little nicer than pop right down the street to another fantastic Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Café (188 Newark Avenue, 201.332.8711).


140 Newark Avenue, 201.536.5557

With movie nights, food specials and art exhibitions, there’s always something going on at LITM (an acronym for Love Is The Message). In the winter definitely stop by and sip one of their signature hot toddies.

Skinner’s Loft

146 Newark Avenue, 201.915.0600

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 I recommend having brunch upstairs on the roof deck. It’s an intimate space decorated with fresh herbs and rusting metal furniture that makes you feel like you’re tucked away enjoying a Bloody Mary at a friend’s house.

Laico’s Restaurant

67 Terhune Avenue, 201.434.4115

Sandwiched in the middle of a residential block, this Italian spot is a local favorite and a newcomer’s dream. While Jersey City isn’t lacking in its range of food choices, it’s nice to sometimes sit down and know that you are getting a consistent, home-cooked meal without any flourishes or frills. Laico’s provides comforting pasta dishes, succulent meats and a nice, simple wine list.

Café La Rustique

611 Jersey Avenue, 201.222.6886

If this is your first time eating at this brick oven pizza place, skip by everything and go straight for the margherita pizza. Fresh mozzarella, chunky tomatoes, large pieces of fresh basil and a crush that’s at once crispy and tender … my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Lucky 7 Tavern

322 2nd Street, 201.418.8585

Wine bars are nice and lounges are just fine, but every once in awhile I just want a hole-in-the-wall bar with great music and drink specials. Welcome to Lucky 7 Tavern. Taped up pictures, band stickers and random memorabilia adorn the walls, old-school booths offer seating and a dart board in the back is usually getting some serious action. Personally, this is one of my favorite spots to grab a drink in Jersey City.

White Star Bar

230 Brunswick Street, 201.653.9234

If you ask any Jersey City resident who has the best wings in town, 9 out of 10 times they’ll tell you White Star Bar. Actually, the whole menu is delicious. Traditional bar food done right, White Star Bar’s unofficial slogan pretty much sums this place up: “Good Food, Bad Judgement is always the end result at the White Star Bar.”

GOOD EATS & LIBATIONS EXTRA: If the above wasn’t enough for you, here are a few more places that shouldn’t be overlooked - Light Horse Tavern (199 Washington Street, 201.946.2018), Lamp Post Bar & Grille (382 2nd Street, 201.222.1331), Basic Food & Beverage (231 8th Street, 201.656.5900) and Beechwood Café & Market (290 Grove Street, 201.985.2811). Plus there’s a number of outrageous food trucks that have recently driven into town.


Kanibal Home

213 Montgomery Street, 551.200.9386

Opened less than a year ago, Kanibal Home is where you’ll find me seven days a week (unless I’m out hunting for new items). The shop has a range of refurbished furniture, found objects, general oddities, vintage dishware and plenty of new home goods, apparel and gift items. Stop by and say hi – I promise we don’t bite.

Another Man’s Treasure Vintage Shop

353 Grove Street, 201.860.9990

When I’m not at my shop, you’ll find me shopping here. It’s the first place I send my 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. I recently picked up a great pair of leather boots for $35.

Tia’s Place

277 Grove Street, 201.451.9358

Two floors of beautifully arranged clothing and accessories fill this luxury shop. On the ground floor you’ll find a range of clothing pieces, shoes and bags and, upon traveling up the large wooden staircase in the middle of the store, you’ll find an assortment of lovely evening gowns, lingerie and personal accessories – everything from jewelry to double sided tape.

Aspasia’s Boutique

302 Grove Street, 201.432.7600

Similar to Tia’s in style, but located across the street and a smidgeon of the size, is Aspasia’s Boutique. They stock a range of designers and have a nice selection of everything from clothing to jewelry and accessories.

Stockinette Knitting Café

581 Jersey Avenue, 201.792.5648

As with many of the shops in Jersey City, Stockinette Knitting Café satisfies an array of tastes. With a fantastic collection of yarns, the knitting enthusiast would feel right at home, but they also have a delicious coffee and pastry bar for the customer who’s looking for somewhere quiet to sit with a book or laptop. In the warmer months they also have an adorable garden where you can sit, knit, sip, read or just enjoy the fresh air.

Jack’s Toy Shop

528 Jersey Avenue, 201.332.8697

If you’re a toy enthusiast or someone looking for that perfect children’s gift, then this is your place to shop. In this specialty toy shop you’ll always find hand-picked items with a focus on green, unique or hard-to-find arranged alongside tried and true favorites.

SHOPPING EXTRA: Definitely stop by DEEN located in the Powerhouse Arts District (140 Bay Street, 201.963.3336) and Hello Again Vintage (120A Bowers Street, 551.998.1475).


Jersey City Museum

350 Montgomery Street, 201.413.0303

Looking for something to do? Then head over to the Jersey City Museum. Lovingly assembled with a focus on contemporary artists, the Jersey City Museum hosts a range of events every month in addition to its rotating exhibitions, educational initiatives and public programs.

58 Gallery

58 Coles Street

This isn’t your typical gallery, but it is the place to see some of the best shows – art and music alike. Located down a residential block, you’ll know when you’ve gotten to the right place when you look up and see the sneakers swinging from the power lines.

Lex Leonard Gallery

143 (Suite 2) Christopher Columbus Drive

The Lex Leonard Gallery takes up 1400 square feet on the second floor of a mixed use building where you’ll often find bands practicing on the ground floor and a party going on somewhere upstairs. Showcasing contemporary visual and performance artists, the gallery also houses the workshops of four local artists.

Art House Productions

Not so much an actual place as it is a vision, Art House Productions is a driving force behind the arts movement in Jersey City. They host everything from a weekly TV show to acting classes and art exhibitions, comedy shows and film screenings. They’re also responsible for free art events around Jersey City, including the incredibly popular JC Fridays.

NEW Magazine

Recently acquired by the Jersey City Independent, the magazine covers arts, culture and lifestyle in Jersey City with a mix of long-form magazine-style reporting, appealing visual design and shorter informational pieces. Most importantly, if you are looking for an expanded guide, the back of the magazine acts as a city guide with updated information on many of Jersey City’s boutiques, restaurants, bars and art venues.

ARTS EXTRA: Two other great art locations is the recently opened JC Art School (326 5th Street), which offers various art classes and lectures and 660 Grand Street, an art collective that’s hard to define – it’s one part art, two parts party and a dash of skate (there’s a ramp built into the loft space).

Also worth noting is the Landmark Loew’s Theater (54 Journal Concourse Square West, 201.798.6055) and Liberty State Park for their beauty and historical relevance.


Walker’s Apothecary

68 Mercer Street, 201.333.0500

Tucked inside what used to be the carriage house of the neighboring brownstone, Walker’s Apothecary specializes in everything related to personal pampering, including – but not limited to – massage, waxing, manicures, pedicures and facials.

Skin Organix

297 Grove Street, 201.946.9000

A one-stop shop for organic beauty products, Skin Organix is filled with everything from body scrubs and creams to acne solutions. You can even schedule all natural on-site facials.

Antheia Floral Design

218 Montgomery Street, 201.309.9959

I was unsure where to stick this listing, in the Arts category or Pampering, because – on one hand – the arrangements from this shop are so pretty they’re worth spoiling yourself with, but – on the other hand – their artistry in arranging flowers in everything from tin cans to vintage tin boxes and ceramic urns takes on a kind of living sculpture definition.

PAMPERING EXTRA: Looking for a great haircut? I highly recommend Shampoo JC (107 Christopher Columbus Drive, 201.395.0045) and Studio 17 Beauty Salon (346 2nd Street, 201.610.1515).

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