Hoboken’s NoVia (North of the Viaduct): Not Just Viable — Vivacious
by Christopher M. Halleron
photos by Craig Wallace Dale
No one just lives in “Hoboken” anymore. Nowadays residents live in some microcosmic subsection of Hoboken—downtown, midtown, uptown, waterfront, southwest, etc. To longtime residents, it might seem a bit comical that we’ve developed these arbitrarily delineated enclaves within our enclave.
While the city of Hoboken continues its staggering post-industrial evolution, we’re now literally spreading beyond the enclave—as Hoboken’s new hotspot is, by definition, an exclave.
Cleverly coined “NoVia,” the area “North of the Viaduct” has come into its own as an innovative and trendy locale, thanks to the ongoing development of Hoboken’s northwest corner.
But it certainly didn’t happen overnight.
NEXT BIG THING
“People thought we were crazy coming up here,” says Joe Jones, who seized the day in 2006 to open Carpe Diem Pub & Restaurant, on the corner of 14th and Grand Streets. “Back then, nobody even knew there was anything up here.”
Surrounded by bus parking lots and vacant factories, it was hard to tell what the draw could be up on Hoboken’s rugged northern frontier nearly a decade ago.
“We were looking for years for a place to grow,” says Brian Battaglia, owner of Battaglia’s Home (1414 Willow Ave.). The Battaglia’s had long been fixtures on Hoboken’s traditional commercial thoroughfare, Washington Street. “We had our kitchen shop and our furniture shop, but we needed a place to put the two stores together. Up here, we were able to find that space.”
Battaglia’s relocated north of the viaduct in 2008, just as the real estate market up there looked to turn the corner. “Then the recession hit,” says Battaglia.
“The 2008 recession really set the clock back a bit,” says Jones. “Then of course there was Sandy after that.”
Still marginally developed at the time, the area took a serious hit with 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, with Battaglia’s losing nearly $250,000 in merchandise. “Yeah, we were waist deep right here, but we cleaned everything up and kept things going.”
And as they did, an entire neighborhood began to flourish around them—one with a completely different flavor than Hoboken to date.
“The northwest section of Hoboken—both north and south of the 14th Street Viaduct—has historically been an industrial area with factories and warehouses as the predominant building type,” says Frank Minervini, of Minervini Vandermark Architecture. “With industrial uses no longer viable, residential buildings have been constructed within the last 15 to 20 years using a typical, cookie-cutter aesthetic that paid little attention to the area’s past or context. South of the viaduct, the resulting design aesthetic is typical of most recent construction in Hoboken’s residential neighborhoods,” he says.
“The Viaduct has acted as an edge, creating a strong visual barrier separating the neighborhoods south of it from those to the north. This has allowed designers to the north more of an empty canvas to work with, and the resulting buildings are perhaps the most ‘forward looking’ in the city,” says Minervini. “Architects no longer have the heavy burden of Hoboken’s strong, historic, residential design archetype to adhere to. Instead we can use the area’s industrial past for inspiration.”
With innovative, mixed-used buildings like Edge Lofts and Novia Flats, the area began to set off lightbulbs for those in town seeking what Battaglia had craved—a bit more space.
“Pilsener Haus & Biergarten opened in 2011, which was great for nightlife up here,” says Jones. “Then you have Mile Square Theatre around the corner.”
A significant driving force for Hoboken’s arts community, the Mile Square Theatre (MST) has bounced around town for years in search of a permanent home. In NoVia, it seems as though they’ve found it—setting up shop in the Artisan Building at 1408 Clinton Street.
“We were very attracted to the new location,” says Chris O’Connor, Artistic Director for the Mile Square Theatre. “It felt like an area on the brink of being a neighborhood with a distinct character. There were already places for folks to get a drink or a meal, and we loved the idea that the movie theatre [Bow Tie Cinemas] was right there. With our arrival we even dared call it a theatre ‘district.’”
In addition to arts, nightlife and retail, plenty of other activities have found their niche in NoVia.
Tamara Tosun runs Real Hot Yoga (1414 Grand Street). “There is a very active chunk of Hoboken living above midtown that we wanted to cater to,” says Tosun. “We were also seeking the right space to accommodate what we have seen prove successful in our other studios—such as footage and layout. With Novia Flats opening, we had the perfect opportunity to essentially build the studio the way we wanted, and bring in our own crew for aesthetics.”
With GoRow Studios in the adjacent building—plus truly unique activities like Wine & Design painting sessions, the entire NoVia district is a genuine destination unto itself… for Hobokenites and out-of-towners alike.
“It’s certainly going to qualify as an entertainment district,” says MST’s O’Connor “Our neighbor is The Hudson Table, which is a unique and fun cooking school, and there’s now a [Gravity Vault] climbing gym scheduled to open down the street. [The owner of] Anthony David’s is opening a new restaurant around the corner. It’s wonderfully walkable—all of these destinations are going to feed off each other. There’s variety and balance, something for everybody. We also love the idea of the space directly beneath the Viaduct. We’re looking at the idea of programming events under there.”
While it may be young from an architectural standpoint, the area is definitely more mature. Walking through NoVia at night, the streets are quiet. Yet a quick glance into the many street-level windows makes it clear that the venues are packed. It’s a completely different scene from Hoboken’s sometimes-raucous main drag.
“You have more and more young families moving back here, and a very health-conscious, professional crowd, “ says Tosun.
“We’ve always kind of done the same thing here, which is to show our customers a good time,” says Jones, of Carpe Diem. ”Over the years, however, our menu has certainly evolved—we pride ourselves on our beer, wine and cocktail pairings. With this growth up here, we have a lot of truly great customers. It’s a fun crowd—a more discerning crowd.”
Battaglia has also seen a tangible uptick in business as the neighborhood has grown over the past few years. “We’re seeing more and more foot traffic—especially with the soccer field (1600 Park Ave.), the addition of Elysian Charter School (1460 Garden Street), and the newer residences,” he says. “Even though we’re a bit off the beaten path, every new attraction brings people up here.”
“NOVIA” v. “WEEBOKEN”
Fr. Bob Meyer, Pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Church (400 Hudson Street) has recently assumed the role of administrator for the Parish of St. Lawrence in Weehawken, just over the bridge from the NoVia neighborhood.
“The instant growth in the northwest part of Hoboken has provided both challenge and opportunity,” says Fr. Bob. “The challenge is clearly more people stuffed into an already crowded city, with limited space, roadway and infrastructure. The opportunity provided is for all to learn some new ways of living together and sharing space and resources more economically.”
Minervini concurs, saying, “Hoboken’s Zoning Board of Adjustment has done a wonderful job of understanding how residents want this northern neighborhood to be used and allowed rational development to occur, including both housing and commercial/entertainment uses. I am hopeful the current administration will allow emerging patterns of use and design to continue and make those same uses permitted within Hoboken’s zoning regulations.”
By Hoboken standards, NoVia is essentially a whole new way of life. “I pray that some of our newest Catholic residents will choose to worship at St. Lawrence,” says Fr. Bob, “where congregants get the benefit of parking, lively services, and a warm and welcoming community!”
Meanwhile, Battaglia often finds himself reminding people that they’re still proudly situated in the 07030 zip code. “I get people who come by and say, ‘hey—I remember back when you were in Hoboken,’” he says. “I’m quick to point out that we’re still here.”