Penelope was living in Bahrain and working as a flight attendant for Gulf Air when she took a vacation to New York and met a guy—from Jersey City. “I ended up crashing on this guy’s couch. Then I ended up marrying this guy. Then I ended up divorcing this guy,” she says. Ingrid, who grew up between New Brunswick and Taiwan, settled here after graduating from Rutgers. On the day she moved in, her bike was stolen. Later that month, someone broke into her car, took it for a joyride, then smashed it into a tree in front of her house. Meanwhile, someone kept breaking into her apartment—it turned out to be her next-door neighbor, who had just been released from prison and was under house arrest. Stephen arrived in Manhattan to work as a drum-and-bass D.J. and spent a few months couch-surfing while he looked for a cheap place. On the day before his self-imposed deadline, when he was supposed to fly back to Columbus, Ohio, he found a two-bedroom in Jersey City for $650. “I’d stayed in Queens for a couple of weeks and hated it,” he says. “I’d spent some time on a couch on Christopher Street—that was awesome. Jersey City seemed like somewhere between Christopher Street and the last stop in Queens.”
Jersey City, they say, is affordable, friendly, and still in the first flush of an artistic explosion. They’re excited about what’s happening and are eager to get the word out—as though they’ve stuck the message of the Jersey City revival in a bottle, tossed it in the Hudson, and are waiting for it to wash up on the other side. “I’ve had lots of opportunities to move to Williamsburg, the East Village, West Village, the Lower East Side,” says Ingrid. “But something keeps me here.”
There are, however, a few amenities they’re missing. “An all-ages music venue,” says Ingrid. “We definitely need that.”
“Any kind of music venue for local bands,” says Penelope.
“And a couple more bars,” says Ingrid.
“And a couple more cafés,” says Stephen.
“More post offices,” says Penelope.
“And a 24-hour diner,” says Ingrid. “There’s nowhere to eat late.”
After dinner, they take me to LITM, which stands for Love Is the Message, a cool lounge with brick walls and warm lighting on downtown’s main drag, Newark Avenue. This stretch has been designated “Restaurant Row” by the city, which is odd because currently there’s only one restaurant. When LITM’s owner, Jelynne Jardiniano, who grew up in Jersey City, opened three years ago, she had to fight a local ordinance that forced restaurants on Newark to close by midnight because of concerns about noise and drunks. “Growing up here, we were scared of downtown,” Jelynne tells me. “But now people come in here and say, ‘We weren’t sure about buying here, but then we saw your place.’ ”
“Newark Avenue is going to explode,” says Robert, Jelynne’s husband. “We want people who’d go to Soho to come here. It’s a new frontier. Ten years ago, who went to Tribeca?”
During drinks with the Lismore bandmates, the conversation turns to another former frontier, Williamsburg. “Williamsburg got all weird,” says Stephen. “But at least they already had their scene. All those bands like Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they got big and got signed. If Jersey City got weird before anyone got signed—man, that would suck.” Penelope mentions that she heard that Interpol just bought a house in downtown Jersey City.
Later, Ingrid says, “I wish I was older, so I could have lived in Williamsburg ten years ago.”
While I was writing this story, people kept asking me three questions, often in anxious succession.
One: Where’s Jersey City? (It’s right next to Hoboken, across the Hudson from Battery Park City, where you see the Goldman Sachs building and the big Colgate clock, a remnant of a torn-down soap factory.)
Two: Are you going to move there? (I’ll admit, the thought’s crossed my mind. I am certainly now no more hesitant to go to Jersey City for dinner or an art opening than I would expect my whiny Manhattanite friends to be about coming across the bridge to Brooklyn.)
Three: Is it too late to buy? (Probably. The pretty brownstones along historic Van Vorst Park City—buildings that, in the eighties, the city would have essentially given to you for free—now list at more than $1 million each.)
When I moved to New York two years ago, I settled in Brooklyn for all the usual reasons: a combination of the practical (cost restraints, proximity to the subway) and the intangible (brownstones, the Brooklyn Bridge, I kind of liked the movie Smoke). My block, as it turns out, features exactly no brownstones and exactly one recent murder. Still, I like it: It’s Brooklyn, in New York, a place I’ve mythologized all my life.