NJ.com- Nicie Jules and Rafia Jackson went to the new Asbury Hotel in Asbury Park for cocktails on Thursday night and were pleasantly surprised.
Their first drink, the bartender told them, was on the house because the city's newest large-scale hotel in five decades was celebrating its official opening that night.
While that put a nice touch to their evening, the friends from Neptune had already decided to eventually book a stay at the newest hot spot in a once struggling seaside resort now in the midst of a renaissance.
"It's our first visit here and it's absolutely lovely," said Jules, a dental assistant. "I'm just amazed to see the big turn-around."
The animal-friendly hotel, which had its soft opening on Memorial Day weekend, is a reincarnation of a Salvation Army building that was once a retirement spot for the ranking officers of the Catholic charitable organization.
Fifty million dollars later, development company iStar and partner hotelier David Bowd opened what they say was a building purposely designed to be the antithesis of elegance
The Asbury Hotel opened two weeks ago to little fanfare but got its spotlight Friday with a visit from Gov. Chris Christie
"It's about being part of the community," Bowd said at Thursday's launch party. "A hotel that is truly embedded in the community is truly the most interesting hotel."
That's why the hotel, with its mix of price points, aims to attract a mix of guests, he said.
And that's why most of the amenities of the hotel are also offered to non-guests. That includes the lobby bar (called the Sound Booth), rooftop yoga, the lobby concession counter, the outdoor food truck and beer garden and movie nights.
Bowd's Salt School put 110 Asbury Park residents through hospitality training and 60 of them were hired for various positions in the hotel, he said.
The Asbury, a block from the beach, boasts that its 110 rooms are "simple, clean and functional." With rooms categorized as queen, king, family and suites, the hotel has rates starting at $125.
For those on a budget, there are two rooms with octo-bunks, where guests can stay hostel-style – or a group of friends or relatives can reserve all eight bunks – for $50 a night per bed.
Eight other rooms are of a similar composition, but with four bunks each.
The hallways of the five floors of rooms are narrow and dark, but they open to bright and airy rooms plainly decorated a lot of wood and plastic furniture reminiscent of IKEA.
Lisa Carrieri of Monroe, who joined her friend Michelle Fanelli for a weekend getaway, said that last summer she took her twin daughters, now 16, to Wildwood, but they weren't fans of the kitschy hotels there.
"They're going to love this," Carrieri, a former human resources executive for a New York public relations firm, said of the Asbury. "It's nice, it's trendy and it's close to the beach. It reminds me of a Manhattan hotel.
But with so much interest in the newest addition to Asbury Park's oceanside, reservations are at a premium – it's booked every weekend through September.
That doesn't bother Jules and Jackson, the Neptune friends, who watched as the Asbury Hotel was completed over more than two years. They said they can wait until off season.