Frank Sinatra’s hometown of Hoboken is a short jaunt across the Hudson River from midtown Manhattan.
It’s almost impossible to visit Hoboken – the charming New Jersey city on the shores of the Hudson – without stumbling across some sort of tribute to the legendary crooner Frank Sinatra.
As you stroll the historically working-class 1.28 square mile, you’ll find a street, a park and a post office named after ol’ Blue Eyes, as well as memorabilia on the walls of numerous restaurants and a street plaque in his honour.
Hoboken, New Jersey, is, after all, the birthplace of Francis Albert Sinatra. He was born in this storied and mythical city on December 12, 1915.
There’s a skate park on Frank Sinatra drive with a bird’s-eye view of the Empire State Building
Before Sinatra moved out on his path to stardom, he sang in the saloons, the social clubs and ballrooms of old Hoboken.
They’re all gone now, but scratch the surface and you’ll discover the city’s fondness for Sinatra is as strong as ever.
At 415 Monroe Street, where Sinatra was born, a bronze star embedded in the sidewalk (pictured below) is the only reminder of his childhood home.
The four-storey tenement building, which had been derelict for many years, burned down in 1967 and the city demolished the building the following year.
On Newark Street, a short walk from the ferry terminal, you’ll see the old offices of the Jersey Observer newspaper where the teenage Sinatra earned $12 a week as a copyboy.
A little further north is Leo’s Grandevous: an Italian restaurant straight out of Goodfellas. The walls are covered with Sinatra memorabilia and the chair he sat in is reserved in his memory.
Nearby, between 4th and 5th Streets, you’ll find Frank Sinatra Memorial Park. And there’s also a skate park on Frank Sinatra Drive, on the banks of the Hudson River, with a bird’s-eye view of the Empire State Building.
Although Sinatra was undoubtedly Hoboken’s most famous native, the city has the distinction of being notable for many other reasons as well.
Did you know, for instance, that the humble clothes zipper, bubble wrap and even the ice cream cone have their origins in Hoboken?
The 1954 drama On the Waterfront was shot almost entirely on location in Hoboken and featured appearances by real dock workers and policemen. The film raked in eight Oscars, including a Best Actor prize for star Marlon Brando.
More recently, Hoboken was in the news for all wrong reasons. In 2012, it was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, one of the worst Atlantic superstorms ever. Locals say Hoboken “filled up like a bathtub” with the storm causing catastrophic damage across the city.
But Hoboken is a resilient town. It’s in its DNA.
In the 1970s, an impoverished city struggled with racial tensions and crumbling infrastructure and was a victim of a vicious economic downswing.
Its renaissance began in the early 1980s thanks to a government-sponsored revitalisation project, with the town’s decaying infrastructure and historic brownstones upgraded.
Fast forward four decades and the waterfront, where ocean liners were once built, is now home to bars, cafes and restaurants with million-dollar views. Nearby, teenagers jostle on the soccer pitch and go through their moves at the skateboard park.
A few blocks in, on the main drag of Washington Street, you’ll find old neighbourhood restaurants alongside trendy new ones, as well as hardware stores, dry cleaners and dine-in bakeries.
On the quiet backstreets, rows of brownstones stand alongside modern apartments that steal cinematic vistas of the Manhattan skyline. All of which explains why Washington Street is flush with real estate agencies.
It’s not just young professionals and families who are attracted to Hoboken’s lifestyle. Increasingly, bargain-minded tourists are turning their back on Manhattan’s soaring hotel room rates and heading across the river in search of a more affordable stay.
The city currently only has one notable hotel – the 223-room W Hoboken at River St. But it could soon have a shiny new competitor if the city approves plans for a new Hilton Hotel on the waterfront.
The appeal of Hoboken is that it offers the brownstone charm of the West Village without the price tag (although that’s gradually changing), and it’s just a short ferry or PATH train ride to Manhattan.
The city is already fifth-densest in the country, with around 50,000 residents stuffed into little more than a single square mile.
These days, Hoboken is an enchanting neighbourhood for both work and play. Whether you’re taking a day trip or staying for a few days, there’s plenty to see and do.
WHAT TO DO IN HOBOKEN
> Learn about Hoboken’s storied past at the Hoboken Historical Museum at 1301 Hudson St. Pick up walking tour maps of historic sites and points of interest;
> Visit the birthplace of Frank Sinatra. A brick arch and bronze star in sidewalk at 415 Monroe Street marks the location of Frank Sinatra’s birthplace, although the original building no longer stands;
> Stroll along charming Washington Street, named one of the nation’s Top 10 Great Streets in 2010, and explore its world-class restaurants, delis, bakeries and bars;
> Keep an eye out for Carlo’s City Hall Bake Shop (95 Washington St) which is featured on the TV show Cake Boss. But if you plan on visiting the store, be warned, it’s hugely popular with tourists. It can be empty one minute and over run by tourists the next as tour buses come and go;
> Stroll along Sinatra Drive or take your jogging shoes. Take note of the charming brownstone buildings on one side, and the breathtaking Manhattan skyline on the other, with views of the Financial District and Midtown Manhattan.
> Relax in one of the dozens of parks or kick a ball around. The waterfront Pier A Park has a large lawn and a gazebo, while there is a soccer field and outdoor amphitheatre at Sinatra Park. Pier C Park has a fishing pier, promenade and water play area.
WHERE TO EAT IN HOBOKEN
Washington Street is blessed with wide sidewalks to accommodate the foot traffic generated by its cafés, bars, restaurants and shops.
It’s actually had an extensive makeover in recent months, with new traffic lights, wider footpaths and improved lighting aimed at making Hoboken’s main street more visitor friendly. It’s not due to be completed until Spring 2018, so if you do visit you should expect a few disruptions.
When it comes to food, Frank Sinatra’s hometown has plenty of authentic Italian fare, including Anthony David’s and Trattoria Saporito; artisanal pizza shop Dozzino at 534 Adams St; and delis like Vito’s, Biancamano’s and Fiore’s, which is famous for its roast beef sandwich drenched in gravy and stuck together with homemade mozzarella.
Here are just a few of our favourite Hoboken eateries:
If you like wine bars and small share plates, then you’ll love Bin 14. Just don’t expect any dessert – it doesn’t do sweets. The restaurant offers a tapas concept with Italian and French origins, including pâté with cornichons, cherries and hazelnuts; fried risotto with fontina and salsa Verde, and crispy sweet breads with pancetta. There’s also à la carte cheese and meats and specialty pizzas to accompany your vino. The restaurant has three dinner seatings (6:30, 7:45 and 9pm) and reservations are recommended.
Where: 1314 Washington St.
The original La Isla Restaurant at 104 Washington Street has been an institution in downtown Hoboken since 1970, serving up traditional Cuban food. The restaurant has an old school diner vibe with a counter that runs almost the length of the restaurant. There are also a few smaller tables for groups.
Where: 104 Washington St.
This bistro-style restaurant is reportedly the oldest continually operating bar and restaurant in Hoboken. It’s a great spot for brunch (particularly outside in the warmer months) and serves great Mimosas, Bellini’s, Bloody Mary’s and champagne to accompany your eggs benedict. They also do French toast, sirloin salad and an amazing BLT-style focaccia, only with chicken, bacon, tomato and avocado.
Where: 1001 Washington St.
We were really disappointed when we discovered the cult lobster shack had shuttered its Hoboken shopfront at 207 Washington St after just two years. Luckily, you can find the Luke’s Lobster food truck at Hoboken’s Pier 13 on Thursday and Saturdays. There are still 30-something stores scattered across the US from Boston to Las Vegas – including a dozen sites in Manhattan from the Financial District to the Upper West Side. There are even six locations to discover in Japan.
How To Get To Hoboken
Complete your own self-guided Sinatra Walking Tour of Hoboken by following the map below.