One-Day Vacay

Bacon-Cheeseburger Lollipops! And Other Reasons to Visit Red Bank, New Jersey

Head to the Garden State for old-school arcade games, bountiful brews, and—of course—The Boss.

Photo courtesy of Red Tank Brewing/Facebook

Almost 28 years ago, a 31-year-old man walked into a bar called The Globe. He sat down, ordered a drink, and shared a pint with the bartender. It was barely noon, but only an hour before, he had become a first-time father to twin girls. It was a long night—not without its scary moments—but all is well that ends well. The babies were healthy. Mom was healthy. And Dad…well, he needed a beer. So he exited Riverview Hospital in Red Bank, New Jersey, and walked through the doors of the pub-hotel across the street. Little did he know, his grown-up daughters (plus another kid) would sip their first beers at that same bar many years later.

Family Red Bank Twins
That’s me (the cute one) on the right. / Photo courtesy of the Murphy family

If you haven’t guessed, one of the twin girls in the story is me. And it’s true, I got my start in Red Bank. Living a mere 20-minute car ride away growing up, our family’s weekends were blocked for strolls through summer street fairs there, celebrating the Fourth of July at the annual fireworks display, and playing basketball inside the city’s high school gymnasium. Not much has changed over the years, except for saying goodbye to a few favorite locales: Murphy’s Grill (no relation), where we liked to share a slice or two; the collectibles store Fameabilia, where we bought a signed photograph of Wayne Gretzky playing in his last game at the Garden (my dad attended that game, and you can actually see him with the help of a magnifying glass!); and Surf Burger, a colorful eatery once owned by our good friend (and former gym teacher).

I made the move to the Big Apple just over a year ago, but there’s not a chance I go more than three weeks at a time without hopping on a NJ Transit train back home—or skip my hometown stop altogether for a straight shot to the Red Bank station. And not just for nostalgia’s sake. Red Bank remains a vibrant city bursting with art, dozens of shops, and endless entertainment (when you’re not taking advantage of the 15-minute commute to the beach)—not to mention a hidden gem for out-of-town day-trippers. See for yourself.

Yestercades

Whether you’re a gamer or just trying to relive your best childhood years, this arcade has a little something for everyone. Classic pinball machines, lines of arcade cabinets, billiards: This is where you want to unleash any pent-up competitive aggression. There’s even a lounge area where Generation X and Z players can compare their favorite Atari 2600 and Xbox One titles. Don’t worry about searching through couch cushions for extra quarters; at Yestercades, you pay by the hour. So you can go Wreck It Ralph on as many gaming systems as you want for as long as you want. And if you’re looking for first-date material, nothing says “I love you” more than crushing your crush’s high score. My best friend and her now-fiancé can attest to that.

Arcade Fun Red Bank
Classics from the golden age of video arcades. / Photo courtesy of Yestercades of Red Bank/Facebook

Hobbymasters

Whether or not this local landmark’s claim to being the world’s largest international hobby store is true remains to be seen. What is true—this place knows its “toys.” Hold on to your hats, model building enthusiasts, because there’s not a kit you won’t find or enjoy: airplanes, helicopters, spaceships, dinosaurs, trucks, and so much more (really, I can’t type them all). Experts are even available in-store to repair, restore, or custom build trains—an area where they truly excel. And if you couldn’t tell by the giant fantasy mural painted on the building’s exterior, the hobby shop also sells a variety of games and art tools that will tickle any creative person’s fancy.

Red Bank Armory

Can you really call it a one-day winter vacay if ice-skating isn’t on the agenda? This historic complex was once used as a military training facility until it was converted into the premier ice rink you see today. During the week, the facility is used for hockey games and skating lessons; however, public skating times are reserved for the weekends. Open skate is only scheduled for about two hours each day, so you’ll want to look up times in advance. Though, considering how much time my father tried—and failed—to teach me “backward skating,” a couple hours might not be enough.

 Vacation New Jersey Ice Rink Skate Fun red bank
Butt, meet ice. / Photo courtesy of Red Bank Armory Ice Complex/Facebook

Molly Pitcher Inn

Say what you want about Jersey, but the Garden State certainly doesn’t lack beauty. You just need to know where to find it. I suggest extending your Red Bank one-day stay to two (or more!) if it gives you the opportunity to overnight it at the Molly Pitcher Inn. Nestled right on the Navesink River, the hotel/fine dining/event space offers waterfront views to add a charming touch to any occasion. From au revoir soirées to 90th birthday extravaganzas, my family has hosted many shindigs in a few of the inn’s many picturesque venues. And if the scenery isn’t enough, the food will not disappoint—you won’t find a more tender short rib anywhere.

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Marco! / Photo courtesy of Molly Pincher Inn

Count Basie Center for the Arts

What do The Boss, Tony Bennett, and Ringo Starr have in common? Other than the fact that they are legendary musicians, they have all performed on one of America’s most historic stages: Count Basie. This nonprofit performing arts center has seen a lot since opening in 1926 and has entertained and educated many aspiring stars throughout the state. If you can fit in a show on your one-day getaway, you won’t be disappointed—the calendar includes a variety of entertainment, from a Jason Mraz concert and Frank Sinatra birthday performance to holiday specials and arguably the most popular band in New Jersey, Brian Kirk and the Jirks.

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Time your one-day vacay around a concert here. / Photo courtesy of Count Basie

Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash

Twenty years before my arrival at Riverview Hospital, local celebrity Kevin Smith also made his earthly debut in the exact same place. The writer-director is known by many for producing the low-budget–turned–multimillion-dollar sleeper hit, Clerks, but in Red Bank, his love for comic book culture really shines through. In 1999, Smith opened Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash (named after his two famous stoner characters, of course), where visitors can purchase classic comics, one of Smith’s iconic jerseys, action figures, and memorabilia from some of his films. The Broad Street shop is also where he developed and taped the unscripted reality series Comic Book Men, which aired on AMC for seven seasons. If you’re a fan of the cult classic, it’s definitely worth a visit; maybe you’ll even spot Silent Bob himself as he shoots his next Clerks-related project.

Pazzo

If you’re anything like me, you can eat Italian food every single day without a single complaint. Call me pazzo (Italian for “crazy”), but it’s true. Speaking of, let’s talk about my favorite restaurant in Red Bank. If you find yourself at this eatery—and I sure hope you do—you better come hungry. Might I suggest starting with a creamy poached pear burrata dish, topped with a generous helping of honey and EVOO; or, if your stomach is running on empty, kick things off with a few garlicky Limoncello chicken wings. From there, you’re in for a tough culinary decision—do you go with the Bolognese with thick pappardelle, mascarpone, and pork-beef blend, or the fan favorite M.O.R. pie with meatballs, caramelized onions, and fresh ricotta? Coming from someone who’s tried everything on the menu, you won’t be disappointed by anything you choose.

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Hello, lovers! / Photo courtesy of Pazzo Red Bank/Facebook

Red Tank Brewing Company

Hold the phone. A microbrewery. In the heart of Red Bank? This 4,500-square-foot space might only be one month old, but its beer selection (which rotates weekly) is already sold at neighboring establishments. I recently checked out the 20-barrel brewhouse with a couple of friends and fell in love with the industry-chic vibe: a peaked wood roof, globed lighting fixtures, plush couches and armchairs in the very back, and an exposed brick wall spanning the entire side of the building. Onto the brews—a limited amount, but a fact 100 percent made up for in flavor. My friends started with flights of four (four ounces per glass), but I went straight for the Molly Pitcher Amber Ale. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we learned that patrons are encouraged to bring in outside food to nosh on. Game. Changer.

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BYO sushi at Red Tank. / Photo courtesy of Red Tank Brewing/Facebook

Red Rock Tap + Grill

No matter what you have planned for the day, it’s going to end here. Does my younger sister’s longtime boyfriend work behind the bar? Yeah. But you’ll happily disregard my potential bias when you see this place for yourself. Had you visited a couple of years ago, you would have found a dingy and crowded watering hole with a bathroom famous for not having doors attached to the male restroom stalls. Today, the total revamp is Extreme House Makeover–worthy, showcasing an impressive three-level layout with the same amount of full-service bars. Open year-round, Red Rock accommodates for any season—I’m particularly thankful for the heated tent it pulls out for special winter events, ranging from charity socials to MMA fights. As for the food, I could say I don’t take the hour-long trip from the city just for a plate of the bacon cheeseburger lollipops…but I’d be lying.

The urge to spontaneously skip town is strong. Head to some of our other fave commutable locales while you’re at it.