Friends and relatives filed quietly into the Paradise club on Asbury Avenue, last Sunday, to remember Carol Torre, real estate rep, educator, and nightclub owner. Torre was also a passionate preservationist and problem solver, according to the countless mourners, who, encouraged by the high-spirited, information-packed emcee David Hoffman, eagerly shared in a steady stream of “Carol Stories” about Torre’s action-packed life.

Emcee David Hoffman, shares a steady stream of “Carol Stories” about Torre’s action-packed life Credit: Kerry Margaret Butch

“I’ll never forget, ‘Party, party, party!’ That was the rallying cry AP’s former first Black woman Mayor, Myra Campbell (2013-2014), associated with her friend Carol. Not only was she a devoted dance floor maven, but Carol Torre also offered Myra — who had a background with IBM — a position to teach ‘An Introduction to Computers for Seniors’ at Red Bank Regional High School, where Torre was Director of Adult Education (1978 – 2013).

A graduate of Monmouth University (Class of ’69), Torre also graduated from NY University’s Real Estate Institute (Class of ’75), affirming what would become a lifelong vocation. Torre was a remarkably successful combination of infectious, fun-loving party gal and sharp bar and hotel owner/operator. Torre helped people buy and sell residential area homes for 45 years and held her position as a Commissioner on the Asbury Park Housing Authority until the very day she died, according to Torre’s wife of 35 years, Nancy (Mickey) Carter.

Memories from the Owl and the Pussycat Bar Credit: Kerry Margaret Butch
Remembering special places and faces Credit: Kerry Margaret Butch

Born and raised in East Rutherford, NJ, Torre ventured out to California in the 70s, where she met and fell in love with Camille Neto, another avid business woman. The two returned to the NY area later in the decade and took on a third partner, Kay San Fillippo. Together they bought the Owl & the Pussycat Bar in Asbury Park from Paul Wisnewski, Jr. The Main Street location is now occupied by Brando’s Restaurant. The three women next purchased the Albion Hotel on 2nd Avenue, informally renaming it the Key West Hotel and then the Key West at the M&K from 1978 to 1998.

Real Estate Wars

Torre and partners, who grew to four when Carter joined to help the partners buy the Charms Building, a move necessitated by the city’s redevelopment plans and the unrelenting powers of Eminent Domain. The “taking” of Torre’s Albion Hotel sparked a nearly ten-year, grueling legal battle on Torre’s part to hold on to her hotel, or obtain the buyout money that the developers held from them, Carter said. The Albion was also home to all Torres’ partners, who were left with no choice but to vacate and find other places to live. Their partnership was forced to declare bankruptcy. As soon as the settlement came through, they bought the Charms Building.

Albion Hotel memorabilia and photos on display Credit: Kerry Margaret Butch

The Rainbow Room Bar neon sign shines on in the NJ Transit Train Station in Asbury Park. Torre’s super-powers of persuasion and negotiation, which she employed to comply with whatever conversions the beachfront owners wanted, were stretched to the brink. That was Asbury Partners LLC, which investor iStar ended up owning when the LLC went bankrupt. It is now mostly owned by Madison Marquette and, as Carter pointed out, the Albion site is still a parking lot.

Former owner of the Kingsley Deli, Rita Marano, has kept up a constant observation and audit of the City’s actions since she worked for the city manager in the 60s. Despite failing eyesight, Marano enlisted friends to drive her to Torre’s memorial. “Carol used to bring her nieces and nephews to eat at the deli,” she said. “It never mattered to me who was gay or straight. We’d talk about a lot of things. It was a crime that she lost the Albion!” Marano eventually lost her deli under Eminent Domain, a right the City had turned over to A.P. Partners, which later defaulted on the remaining investor, iStar, which took over its properties.

Carol used to bring her nieces and nephews to eat at the deli. It never mattered to me who was gay or straight. We’d talk about a lot of things. It was a crime that she lost the Albion!

Rita Marano

Torre had a favorite story about a rather tight rooming arrangement with her cousin, Bernadette (Bernie) Bostwick, in a two-bedroom apartment in the former Metropolitan Hotel – with Torre’s Great Dane! But, Bostwick said, she learned a lot from her cousin. She now works in the diplomatic sector for a well-known global aid organization.

Carol Torre is remembered inside the Paradise club on Asbury Avenue Credit: Kerry Margaret Butch

The gay population wouldn’t have this community without Carol.

Nancy (Mickey) Carter

Friends told of an impressive range of famous and near-famous people who eventually became like family, politicians such as Luanne Peterpaul, recently elected to the NJ Assembly and who also spoke at the memorial. And, the late U.S. Congressman James Howard who, they said, went undercover to see for himself the source of rumors involving gay establishments. Some police had become notorious for targeting frequent surprise visits that had begun to unnerve the gay community. Jim Howard became “a highly respected guest, who was always welcome,” said a speaker. And another remarked, “like a member of the family.”

“The gay population wouldn’t have this community without Carol,” said Carter.

Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn added that “Carol was integral to making Asbury Park a gay haven.” Then she added in a lower tone, “She also knew the redevelopment plan better than some who were proposing it.”

City’s Proclamation declaring May 14, 2016 Key West Reunion Day. Credit: Mickey Carter
On display – 2024 NJ State Senate and Assembly Commendation for Carol Torre Credit: Mickey Carter

Quinn referred to the City’s Proclamation honoring the trio for fueling the growth of businesses that served the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and declaring May 14, 2016 Key West Reunion Day. The honor was celebrated at The Paradise Bar, where some 400 people gathered to party to celebrate Carol A. Torre and her two business partners, Fillippo and Neto.

Carol was integral to making Asbury Park a gay haven. She also knew the redevelopment plan better than some who were proposing it.

Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn

The 2024 State Commendation honoring Torre was introduced by Senator Vin Gopal and NJ Assemblywomen Peterpaul and Margie Donlon. It reads in part, “Carol’s Legacy as an iconic LGBTQ+ trailblazer in Asbury Park will forever be remembered and celebrated.” Another section states that “her advocacy work was not just about achieving legal victories or policy changes; it was about creating a world where everyone feels accepted, valued, and respected for who they are.”

Toward that goal, Garden State Equality along with community members are working on a “Rainbow Walk” Carter said in a phone call. “Not a one-time event, but a series of gay historical and current locations to be marked by an app of some type that will describe the history as the visitor follows the Rainbow Walk. It is still in the planning and fundraising stages.”

Last Dance

Carter took the mic again, as mourners began to leave. She and Carol had a favorite song they had shared many times over their 35 years together, including on their last visit to her cancer doctor. That day they had decided to go all out with a chemo regimen that was a giant leap of faith for them. “Right after (the visit), our song came on the car radio and we danced. I’d like to share it with you now,” Carter told the guests.

Nancy (Mickey) Carter dances in a group hug to a song that she and Torre loved – “My First, Your My Last, My Everything” Credit: Kerry Margaret Butch

Suddenly the Paradise was alive with the pulsing deep base voice of Barry White booming out the theme the gay community had adopted for its own. “You’re My First, You’re My Last, My Everything.” Carter was dancing in a group hug.


Maureen Nevin is an award-winning independent journalist who has won the National Press Club's First Place Award for Consumer Journalism for “Who's Watching the Watchdog?” An Asbury Park resident from fall of 1999 to 2021, Nevin launched and hosted a live call-in show Asbury Radio – The Radio Voice of Asbury Park from July 2000 to November 2006, broadcast over WYGG 88.1 FM and the internet.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *