Image: Asbury Park, N.J.
Mel Evans  /  AP
Patrons dine at one of the new eateries along the boardwalk Monday in Asbury Park, N.J.
updated 8/18/2010 9:20:52 AM ET 2010-08-18T13:20:52

Greetings from Asbury Park!

If you're a Bruce Springsteen fan, have we got a trip for you.

Even if your reaction to that famous salutation is "Hi!" "Hey!" or "Huh?" the folks in Asbury Park will be equally happy to meet you.

This friendly seaside community, indelibly linked to Springsteen's 1973 debut album, "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J." has plenty to offer — whether you're among the fans making pilgrimages, or just want to have fun, relax and enjoy the beach.

Just ask Jorunn Elnes of Rjukan, Norway — or the E Street Band's Clarence Clemons.

"It's the most beautiful beach and the most beautiful boardwalk," Clemons said in a recent AP interview.

He has the wholehearted agreement of Elnes, who took time off from her banking job to visit Asbury Park three times in the span of a year.

Jersey Shore author-historian Stan Goldstein says the boardwalk is the "best it's been in more than 30 years."

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Goldstein remembers the giant Exxon sign that brought this fair city light and the now-razed Flamingo motel, whose name may have inspired the fictitious Flamingo Lane of Springsteen's song "Jungleland."

Clemons fondly recalls a carousel with handcrafted horses, and driving around an informal route known as "the circuit," referred to in Springsteen's "Night" and "4th of July, Asbury Park."

That was before Asbury Park became a city of ruins.

Race riots in 1970 "sucked all the life right out of Asbury Park," says Clemons. Its swan song "was really, really sad."

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"For at least 20 years, it was a ghost town," says Goldstein.

The city has undergone a recent renaissance. Upscale development has snowballed. Goldstein says it's now like a family-friendly version of Miami's South Beach.

"It's all coming back now; that's exciting," says Clemons, though he impishly denounces the city's recent rejection of a topless beach proposal.

The pristine sand, trendy but relaxed bars and cafes, the Silverball pinball museum (1000 Ocean Ave.), and an adorable boardwalk water park for kids are hallmarks of the resurrection.

Elnes, who came to the U.S. to see parts of a Springsteen tour and the Light of Day benefit in Asbury Park, also loved the city's "small, nice shops," and she enjoyed "a very, very good hamburger at a restaurant near the Paramount Theatre," one of the boardwalk's stately anchors. (The Light of Day concerts, which Springsteen has performed in, raise money for Parkinson's disease research.)

But the city's role as a musical epicenter runs deeper than Bruce.

"It's like Liverpool," says Clemons. "Everybody went for the music. All the young musicians seemed to gravitate to Asbury Park."

There were a lot of major acts as far back as the 1960s: the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and the Doors.

"I treasure those times," says Goldstein. But "Asbury Park is a living history. There are more chapters to be written."

Image: Stone Pony
The Stone Pony bar in Asbury Park, N.J., opened in 1974. Well-known artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Southside Johnny have all played at this legendary N.J. venue.

The nightlife
Springsteen recently appeared at the Stone Pony (913 Ocean Ave.) with Alejandro Escovedo. The Paramount and Convention Hall (both at 1300 Ocean Ave.) are also thriving.

Some clubs are a distant memory (albeit with photo ops).

The now-vacant FastLane (207 Fourth Ave.), incubated an impressive array of talent around the late '70s and early '80s.

The fledgling U2 appeared at the FastLane; Springsteen met the Ramones there.

One night in 1980, just a few dozen people were there when a cover band, Atlantic City Expressway, started playing "Promised Land." Suddenly, "Bruce jumps onstage," recalls Goldstein.

The band's frontman: high school senior Jon Bon Jovi.

The former Upstage Club (702 Cookman Ave.) is now in the hands of a music lover who wants to bring it to life again. Memorabilia is stuck, shrine-like, over its storefront glass. The oasis nurtured a long-haired, scrawny young Springsteen as well as E Streeters Steven Van Zandt, Danny Federici, Vini Lopez, David Sancious and Garry Tallent.

The former Student Prince (911 Kingsley St.) recently reopened as a gay bar named Swell.

Clemons' book, "Big Man," recounts how he dropped by the Student Prince during a break from his appearance at the old Wonder Bar. As he strode in and asked to play with Springsteen for the very first time, a Nor'Easter blew the door off.

"Something called me down there," he recalled in the interview. "I was looking for what I now know was Bruce."

There's a song, historical or photographic tie-in at every turn.

'The Boss'
For total immersion, make an appointment to see the public library's Springsteen Special Collection. It contains "more stuff on myself and the band than every place except my mother's basement," Springsteen once said.

Or just hit some favorite haunts:

  • The Palace, an indoor amusement park mentioned in Springsteen lyrics, is gone but not forgotten. Located at Kingsley Street, between Lake and Cookman avenues, its green exterior bore the words "Skooter" and "Tunnel of Love," and Tillie, a caricature of George C. Tilyou, who founded Steeplechase Park in Brooklyn's Coney Island. A photo sold in Asbury shops shows Tillie trussed up on a flatbed truck, looking as if he's in jail. Visitors can still get their Tillie fix; there's another on the still-lively Wonder Bar (Fifth and Ocean).
  • "The boys from the casino dance with their shirts open like Latin lovers along the shore, chasin' all them silly New York girls..." The casino's art-adorned passageway links Asbury's southern boardwalk to Ocean Grove. That's the hometown of Southside Johnny Lyon, who still whips fans into a frenzy with his Asbury Jukes.

Many visitors opt for Ocean Grove's Victorian B&Bs. Those who stay in Asbury might choose The Berkeley (1401 Ocean Ave.), where Johnny Cash maintained a suite, or the gay-friendly Empress (101 Asbury Ave).

"Rock & Roll Tour of the Jersey Shore," a book by Goldstein and Jean Mikle, describes a jillion sights all over the area, including Springsteen's original hometown, Freehold, roughly 18 miles inland.

Image: Bruce Springsteen
Mel Evans  /  AP
Bruce Springsteen performs with the E Street Band on Sept. 24, 2007, in a benefit rehearsal at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park, N.J. This friendly seaside community is indelibly linked to Springsteen's 1973 debut album, "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J."

Tourists also flock about six miles south to Belmar, posing for photos at a worn, white cement street marker for "E St." Sancious, the original keyboard player, lived in the neighborhood when the E Street Band got its name.

Even without a confirmed sighting in the area, Springsteen is omnipresent. (He definitely drops by, though maybe not quite as often as eager-to-please locals might claim.)

A Virginia license plate spotted along Ocean Avenue summed up the scene (and its cottage industry): "BRUUUCE!"

The aura permeates "every corner of the town: walking down Kingsley, the casino, the Stone Pony, Madam Marie's, the Convention Hall," says Elnes. "Wow!"

Springsteen, with and without E Street, has performed many times at the Convention Hall and its smaller sibling, the Paramount.

The theaters — connected by a charming, indoor retail and restaurant promenade — are just steps away from the cute shack where a relative of the late Madam Marie holds court. ("Well the cops finally busted Madam Marie for tellin' fortunes better than they do," as Bruce's lyrics put it.)

These days, the cops tolerate fortunetelling, but not racing in the street. Drivers who observe the speed limit, though, are welcome to jam "the circuit" with their chromed invaders.

If you go ...

Creep up Ocean Avenue; hang a left at the top; make another left and ride down Kingsley. Crank up "Something in the Night" and sing along.

We figure you'll get a drink now. (And some food. The choices abound.)

Sweet tooth? Try to prevent yourself from diving headfirst into the irresistible offerings at Il Pavone Gelateria and Caffe (531 Cookman Ave.)

Or score a beachfront table at Langosta Lounge (1000 Ocean Ave.) and dig into a big bowl of sweet potato fries with curried mayo.

A blend of tourists, residents and artists lends just the right amount of local color.

A fit young police officer, devouring grilled chicken and salad at Pop's Garage (also 1000 Ocean Ave.), banters with a pastel-haired waitress, both seemingly oblivious to the crystal-blue ocean and brilliant sun.

Beach season officially ends on Labor Day.

But gorgeous autumn days, says Goldstein, are "the big secret of the Jersey Shore."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: The magic of Bruce Springsteen

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  1. Wrecking Ball Tour

    Bruce Springsteen performs on stage on May 27, 2012, in Cologne, Germany. (Peter Wafzig / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Family man

    Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa, watch their daughter, Jessica Springsteen, compete at Windsor Horse Show on May 12, 2011, in Windsor, England. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'Sexy and I Know It'

    Bruce Springsteen, left, and Jimmy Fallon sing "Sexy and I Know It" on March 2, 2012. (Lloyd Bishop / NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Rockin' the Grammy Awards

    Bruce Springsteen, left, and Steven Van Zandt perform onstage at the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on Feb. 12, 2012, in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Folk heroes

    Musicians Joan Baez, left, Springsteen, center, and Pete Seeger appear onstage at the Clearwater Benefit Concert celebrating Seeger's 90th Birthday at Madison Square Garden in New York on May 3, 2009. (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Score one for The Boss

    Springsteen and the E Street Band perform during the Super Bowl XLIII halftime show during the game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 1, 2009. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. National pride

    Springsteen is joined by a choir as he performs "The Rising" in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial" on the National Mall in Washington on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Golden boys

    Mickey Rourke, left, poses with his Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion picture-Drama with Springsteen, winner of Best original Song-Motion Picture for "The Wrestler" at the 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills on Jan. 11, 2009. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Another hopeful

    Then-Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama hugs Springsteen during a campaign rally at the Cleveland Mall on Nov. 2, 2008. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Rock the Plaza

    Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and the rest of the E Street Band perform in Rockefeller Plaza on the TODAY show on Sept. 28, 2007. (Brad Barket / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Center of attention

    Springsteen, center, performs in the final number of an all-star tribute to his music at New York's Carnegie Hall in April 2007. Funds raised from the concert were used to support music education programs. (Jeff Christensen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Rock union

    Springsteen and wife Patti Scialfa have three children together, Evan James, Jessica Rae and Sam Ryan. Scialfa has recorded two solo albums, "Rumble Doll" in 1993 and "23rd Street Lullaby" in 2004. (Desiree Navarro / WpN) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Stories to tell

    Springsteen taped an acoustic performance for VH-1's Storytellers series at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, N.J., in September 2007. (Kevin Mazur / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. On the trail

    In 2004, Springsteen and the E Street Band joined the "Vote for Change" tour, which held concerts in swing states to raise money for and encourage people to vote President George W. Bush out of office. "No Surrender" became the primary theme song for Democratic preisdential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s campaign. (Luke Frazza / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Ready for 'Magic'

    Springsteen, third from right, performed with members of the E Street Band at Shea Stadium in New York on Oct. 1, 2003. He was joined by, from left, Clarence Clemons, Max Weinberg, Patti Scialfa and Steve Van Zandt. The band released "Magic" on Oct. 2 that year. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 9/11 tribute

    At the live broadcast of "America: A Tribute to Heroes," which benefited victims of 9/11, Springsteen opened the show with "My City in Ruins," a song originally written about Asbury Park, N.J. The 9/11 attacks prompted Springsteen and the E Street Band to release their first studio album in 18 years, "The Rising." The band kicked off "The Rising" tour on the TODAY show. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Hall of Famer

    In 1999, Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That same year, the E Street Band reunited for a reunion tour, which included a record run of 15 sold-out shows at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. (Kevin Mazur / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Charitable effort

    In 1985, Springsteen joined 44 other artists to record "We Are the World." The song was a No. 1 hit in both the United States and the United Kingdom and profits benefited the USA for Africa Foundation. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Four score

    In 1995, Springsteen picked up four Grammy awards for Song of the Year, Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or TV for "Streets of Philadelphia." (Dan Groshong / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. The Big Man and The Boss

    Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons perform at the Oakland Colisium in Oakland, Calif., on Sept. 19, 1985. (Jon Sievert / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Five and out

    Springsteen met then-model Julianne Phillips in 1984 and the pair married in 1985. The union, however, was short-lived. Springsteen and Phillips divorced in 1990, and he married E Street Band backup singer Patti Scialfa in 1991. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Ax man

    Springsteen most often plays the guitar and harmonica on his albums, but he also knows how to play the mandolin, organ, piano and percussion. (Lennox McLendon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. On the 'Edge'

    A legal battle kept Springsteen and the E Street Band from recording for two years following "Born to Run," but in 1978 the band released "Darkness on the Edge of Town," which many critics point to as a turning point in his musical evolution. That album was followed by "The River," a double album that included Springsteen’s first Top 10 single, "Hungry Heart." (Rex Features via Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Off and running

    A young Springsteen performs at New York's Bottom Line in 1975. In the summer of that year, Springsteen's career was crumbling and he was about to get dumped by his label. Then "Born to Run" was released in August and it was a rock 'n' roll masterpiece that assumed near-mythic proportion. Thirty years later a special anniversary edition of the album was released. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. 'Greetings,' fans

    Springsteen signed with Columbia records in 1972 and released "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." in 1973 to great critical acclaim. It wasn’t until 1975’s "Born to Run," however, that the band found its first commercial success. (Richard McCaffrey / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Jersey roots

    Bruce Springsteen grew up in Freehold, N.J., but is most often associated with the shore town of Asbury Park, where he often played in his early years with future members of the E Street Band and first developed a cult following. Here he performs at the Electric Ballrooom in Atlanta on Aug. 22, 1975. (Tom Hill / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
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