ADAPTABLE TO LIVE PERFORMANCES, DANCING CROWDS, CATERED EVENTS, FILMS, AND MARKETPLACES, ASBURY PARK’S NEWEST ENTERTAINMENT VENUE HITS ITS STRIDE
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI
Just how much Asbury Park needed an intimate, versatile performance venue was evidenced by the instant success and acceptance of its newest kid on the block: the House of Independents. In late November, all staff needed to do was quietly open the door, place a sandwich board on the sidewalk, and stand back as eager, curious customers flocked in. What they found inside elicited kudos and generated excitement that quickly reverberated around the state, then on to outlying metropolitan areas in New York City and Philadelphia.
The on-trend industrial space mixes a hip, eclectic vibe with Asbury’s distinctive urban shore town style. Before reaching the street floor bar to the right, patrons are visually summoned to the railing ahead, attached to a long bar counter. What lies beneath is an open space with a cement floor and a stage across the back wall. Against the opposite wall, retracted arena seats can be rolled out for the audiences that have consistently filled the space, already selling out performances. Heading down the steps behind the main bar, visitors encounter a second bar with a welcoming seating area.
Designed to accommodate a wide array of entertainment, the House of Independents has hosted concerts, comedy shows, plays, spoken word performances, and even a pop-up holiday bazaar.
Located in the heart of Asbury Park’s bustling downtown district, where restaurants, bars, art galleries, and shops proliferate, the 5,000-square-foot event space was vacant storefront before it was purchased by Sackman Enterprises, Inc., one of the city’s primary development firms. Owned by Carter Sackman, the company originally specialized in renovations of historic brownstones on the Upper West Side before expanding into Jersey City, Asbury Park, and Austin, Texas. Sackman purchased Asbury’s iconic Steinbach Building 12 years ago, and has restored six city properties and has five more development sites in the business district. Sackman’s daughter Morgan owns and operates House of Independents.
“Usually, people have a business plan and concept and find a space,” she said. “House of Independents was a space without a concept. Sackman wanted to create an entertainment center to help our restaurant tenants and the community. Ideas included a movie theater and strictly live theater, then we came up with the concept of making an adaptable, mixed-use space that could house a wide variety of entertainment across different demographics.”
Seating capacity is about 275, with standing room for 540 when seats are slid away. A December spoken word performance by musician/actor/writer/radio host Henry Rollins brought in more than 550 patrons in two days. Other popular shows have included the sold-out Puddles Pity Party, Fishbone, and Murphy’s Law. The venue participated in Asbury’s renowned Light of Day Festival, with Steve Forbert among those appearing.
“The House” has state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems designed specifically for the venue. Seating starts at the end of the balcony bar and retracts into a 4,000-square-foot open floor plan. Within ten minutes, the floor can be cleared for an open standing room plan, private catered events, and of course, dancing.
The goal during restoration was to “think of everything,” Morgan Sackman said. “But the highlight of the renovation was seeing the end result and people’s response to it. Our team put a lot of time into making the space extremely functional. That work paid off.”
The venue’s marquee was installed on December 30, following an extended design and local approval process, just in time for The House’s first New Year’s Eve bash—a rockabilly dance party aimed at an older demographic.
Morgan Sackman, who moved to Asbury Park three years ago, is a licensed real estate salesperson and the Coordinator of Sponsored Projects for Sackman New Jersey. She also founded and runs APVibe Downtown Asbury Park, a business association involved in joint marketing, events, and promotions to help stimulate business. That work allowed her to develop relationships with local business owners, learning more about the community, eventually recognizing “the dire need for an event space in the downtown.”
“I never envisioned myself coming into the family business, but real estate development in Asbury Park was unlike anything I had experienced working for the company in New York City,” she explained. “The more I learned and got involved, the more I saw this place as my permanent home. The company had to get more creative in thinking of ways to strengthen the community as a whole and promote a business district that had been in a state of disarray for so many years. I have been able to be a part of challenging, but incredibly exciting projects.”
Senior captain of her high school Varsity Soccer Team, the Trinity College graduate has a degree in psychology. A world traveler, she studied in Ghana and Ireland, and spent a year in Southeast Asia after college teaching English.
“My passion for traveling comes from my interest in experiencing different cultures and seeing new things,” she said.
The mission is to make the House of Independents a space where people can come together to see something they have never seen before—provoking thought and emotion. “Traveling has taught me that the only constant is that most humans just want to feel connected and experience something bigger than themselves,” adding that it is her “intention and mission” to make the House of Independents a reflection of that idea, creating a space where people can come together to see something they have never seen before, provoking thought and emotion.
Morgan Sackman also owns and manages the Black Box of Asbury Park, a multicultural arts group based in the city that currently performs in different locations around the Jersey Shore. She is also a partner in the coming Asbury Park Distilling Company on Lake Avenue, a whiskey distillery adjacent to the wildly popular Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten (in a building that was once a Lerner Shops dress store). The two establishments will be connected by a glass wall, but be separately owned.
Sackman Enterprises is also renovating and restoring the historic 850-seat Savoy Theater on nearby Mattison Avenue that was once home to Vaudeville shows. That effort is part of “the bigger picture” Morgan Sackman said. With her father in the lead and his daughter involved, the family will act as landlord once work is completed.
House of Independents
572 Cook man Avenue, Asbury Park / 914.610.5071