Smile-a While Night Club

Known Name(s)

Smile-a While Night Club


Asbury Park, NJ

Establishment Type(s)

Night Club

Physical Status



The 1930 Sanborn insurance map indicated that the address (though the street number does not appear) was on the east side of Lincoln Place, between Springwood and Cookman Avenues, on the West Side of Asbury Park. The venue was conveniently located across the street from the Asbury Park train station. Lincoln Place no longer exists, therefore the location on the map is approximate.

Source: Sanborn Map Co., Insurance Maps of New Jersey Coast, New Jersey, Vol. 2 (1930), sheet 205.

Detailed History

The Smile-a-While Cotton Club, which was listed for a single year, 1941, is an example of the confusing tendency of new venues on the West Side of Asbury Park to reuse the names of past and/or famous venues. Ads in the Asbury Park Press from 1939 through 1941 identify the music venue at 110 Lincoln Place as Jackie’s Cotton Club; the establishment featured African-American entertainers, its summer of 1941 tagline “Harlem at its Best.”

The use of the name “Smile-a-While” in The Green Book listing no doubt conferred instant name recognition among potential patrons. Music historians Charles and Pamela Horner have traced the history of the Smile-a-While Inn, located at 1144 Atlantic Avenue on Asbury’s predominantly African-American West Side. A legendary night spot in the 1920s, the Smile-a-While, with its line-up of acclaimed African-American performers, attracted both African-American and White patrons, the latter making the short trip to the West Side from Asbury’s oceanfront to hear such musicians as bandleader Claude Hopkins, whose career took off after appearing at the nightclub. The Smile-a-While probably opened by the summer of 1925, and by the end of 1928 it had closed down. The Horners reported that the name was used again for a venue at 904 Prospect Avenue on the West Side before it once more was used at 110 Lincoln Place, though they noted that any relationship between the original and these later night spots remains unknown.

In their soon-to-be-published Springwood Avenue Harmony: The Unique Musical Legacy of Asbury Park’s West Side, Volume 2, 1945 – 1980, the Horners recount the complex and at times alarming history of venues at 110 Lincoln Place. Bobby and Carroll Brown opened a new Smile-a-While there in 1938; this venue was shut down in August of that year after a murder-suicide on the premises. Jackie’s Cotton Club then opened in June of 1939 and featured well-known performers; John P. Drennan, of Ridge Avenue on the West Side, closed down his successful establishment when he went into the armed forces, never to reopen it.

Whoever listed the club in The Green Book in 1941 perhaps used the compound name, Smile-a-While Cotton Club, to remind patrons of the history of this and other venues.

Sources: “Jackie’s Cotton Club,” Asbury Park Press, 28 July 1939; “Jackie’s Cotton Club,” Asbury Park Press, 16 August 1941; Charles and Pamela Horner, Springwood Avenue Harmony: The Unique Musical Legacy of Asbury Park’s West Side. Volume 1, 1871-1945 (Somerset, NJ: Classic Urban Harmony Press, 2020):105-115; Charles and Pamela Horner, Springwood Avenue Harmony: The Unique Musical Legacy of Asbury Park’s West Side, Volume 2, 1945 – 1980 (to appear in 2024).


J. Shaffer

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