Your New Jersey Super Bowl tourism guide
In every sense -- literal/geographical, cultural, spiritual, aesthetic, dedication to large-format Italian-style sandwiches -- New Jersey is not New York. It is near New York, and enough like New York that people from other parts of the country might be unable to discern the fine differences -- one good way: ask a person from the area to say the words "dog on a lawn" and see how much you wince -- but the two states are multiply different, if still similar enough that both sides will make a too-big deal about those differences. People are people, and people from around here are people from around here, and everyone needs something to argue about. Better the proper pronunciation of "capicola" than, like, immigration policy.
Growing up in New Jersey, this was all complicated but also a pretty good deal. The city was a short shot away on mass transit for surgical-strike record-shopping missions and retrospectively hilarious public beer-drinking, but I also got to have a lawn and a basketball hoop that I didn't have to share with other people from the neighborhood or their dogs or scowling dreadlocked crusties and their dogs. My peers in New York City did not have those things, for the most part, but they at least got to go to bed at night knowing that they had a considerable coolness/authenticity edge on me, if only by dint of their area codes. This is a benign sort of conflict, in the end: each state's neuroses and those neuroses' relative and respective magnitudes help to define the other. The closeness and obscure but jealously guarded differences are generally good for us, but understandably confusing for others.
So it's confusing, maybe, that Super Bowl XLVIII is being advertised as a New York City thing, but it's being played in East Rutherford, New Jersey. This is nothing new, but it is confusing that, say, the NFL's Super Bowl Boulevard -- featuring a toboggan run, giant video screens, a sort of Lenin's Tomb viewing station for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and what will doubtless be some exciting opportunities to interact with your favorite brands -- is going to be in and around Times Square, eight miles and one Hudson River from MetLife Stadium. It will, doubtless, confuse many of the swells coming into the area for the game, who will find themselves overpaying for lodging and big dumb banker-steaks in Manhattan, moderately far from where the action really is. This would be a mistake. There's plenty to see in New York, of course, and more big dumb banker-steaks than even the burgeoning indigenous yowling meatfaced rich dude population can eat. But there's a better way to do this, and I can help with it.
WHERE TO STAY
The Newark Star-Ledger's Kathleen O'Brien visited a series of New Jersey hotels and motels on Tonnelle Avenue -- it's pronounced "tunnelly," and has a sort of open-air tunnel vibe to it, if also the smoldering nightmare vibe of a Robocop background. There, O'Brien found varying approaches. A 12-story Days Inn in North Bergen plans to charge $1300 a night for a room during Super Bowl Weekend, which should go wonderfully well for them. Another motel, which has more of a converted-personal-storage-facility/place-to-get-murdered vibe, will be charging $250 a night, which is actually a discount on its regular $45-for-three-hours rate.
Ordinarily I would not advise anyone to stay in a hotel on Tonnelle Avenue, especially when you can have the same experience more easily and inexpensively by reading Richard Price's Clockers on a pile of stained bedding and old Burger King napkins. But the Super Bowl is a special occasion, which calls for a special place. For this, I'd recommend Tonnelle Avenue's Econo Lodge Jersey City, which seems like a nightmare of scowling desk people and knife-crime, but which is also... huh, I was sure I had an end to this sentence. Anyway, among its many terrified TripAdvisor reviewers -- most of whom seem to have wound up there due to power outages or bad luck at Newark Airport -- was, under an assumed name, a very disappointed Prince. The Artist raved "This is the worst place 2 stay It smells like sum1 died in here." Perfect 4 U, marketing associate in town for the big game!
WHERE TO EAT
Obviously you should not stay at the Econo-Lodge on Tonnelle Avenue, and I'm sorry I told you to do that. But I do sort of think that those seeking a New Jersey experience before the Super Bowl should eat at Steve's Sizzling Steaks, in Carlstadt, New Jersey. I say this only because I've eaten there myself a hundred or so times in my life, almost always before attending a New Jersey Nets loss.
It is not, I should mention, exactly a great restaurant. Or inexactly a great restaurant. It is a place to get a steak that is a little chewy, maybe, and which will make you instantly get very thirsty, or a hamburger that is much better than the steak. There may also be an ice cold side salad served with your choice of dressings, viscous ranch or vinegar. But, for a place that is mostly not great, it's also pretty great: it's very old and feels it in what's mostly a good way. It's very wood-paneled and low-ceilinged and very decorated with autographed pictures of various Giants offensive linemen and unautographed black-and-white photos of Joe DiMaggio. Mostly, it's a reminder of how strange it is that there's going to be a massive super-synergized leverage-fest held in the middle of what's otherwise marshy, humble blue-collar suburbia.
Also there's not much in the way of other options nearby. LT's, a sports bar owned by Lawrence Taylor and a half-dozen since-indicted organized crime figures, is long gone. You can get the same type of frozen mozzarella sticks that LT's used to serve at the Houlihan's on Route 17, which runs a killer Karaoke Night of the Damned promotion in which public employees get very drunk, sing part of "Then The Morning Comes" by Smash Mouth, and start sobbing. The restaurant that briefly advertised "good food... nude" off Paterson Plank Road, much nearer the stadium, was closed years ago in proof that something in this damn country still works.
WHAT TO DO
If you're at the Econo-Lodge on Tonnelle Avenue, "what to do" is probably stay inside and disinfect some stuff and plan an escape, and again my apologies. One thing you should not do, wherever you're staying, is go into Manhattan to visit Super Bowl Boulevard. What was left out of the architectural renderings of the NFL's promotional hamlet in midtown was the fact that it will be centered around Times Square, a small portion of Manhattan that was converted into an outdoor mall in Orlando a decade or so ago, and which has recently gone insane.
There's a certain type of tiresome New Yorker -- it's certainly a dude, and possibly Anthony Bourdain -- who mourns the loss of the old, harrowing, porn-and-despair Times Square of Taxi Driver. It's not worth the mourning, but contemporary Times Square manages to be equally surreal without being interesting or frightening in interesting ways.
Which is not to say that it isn't still frightening. People -- "entertainers" seems like a stretch -- dressed as plush characters have, for reasons unclear, invaded and occupied the place. To walk through Times Square is to see people -- out-of-town middle-schoolers in matching t-shirts; less-creative German tourists; the full spectrum of American Dads In Shorts -- who want nothing more than to pay $35 per person to eat (again, reasons unclear) at Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory being accosted by packs of grown men in full-body costumes and being cajoled into posing for terrified photographs for which they're expected to tip generously. These mascot hordes are groupings of convenience, not logic -- you will see, if never quite often enough for it to get un-frightening, a Dutch tourist in a backpack posing for digital photos with Elmo, Iron Man, Buzz Lightyear and two different Spidermen, smiling the smile of someone who has just said "I am being treated well" in a proof-of-life video. This is what Super Bowl Boulevard will be, except some of the Elmos will be wearing Jets jerseys or something. Do not go there.
And why waste time at some stupid NFL-sponsored toboggan run when there's a perfectly good hulking abandoned indoor ski jump attached to Xanadu, the hulking abandoned mega-mall project sitting surly and rusting in the parking lot across from MetLife Stadium? (There is one, and it's 600 feet tall.) Look on Jersey's works, ye mortals, and weep, and enjoy the game.
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