Insider's Guide: Atlantic City

Posted: May 17, 2013

FOR A TOWN whose economy is built on luck, Atlantic City has seen plenty of the bad sort the past half-decade or so.

First came casinos in eastern Pennsylvania, which brought full-scale gambling to millions who previously had to go to AyCee for their wagering action. Then the economy went south, wiping out discretionary income and capital to invest in new casino-hotels.

Last fall, national news media erroneously spread the word that Superstorm Sandy had destroyed the world-famous boardwalk when, in fact, only a part of the Great Wooden Way - in the Inlet area away from the casino strip - was obliterated. And that section had been scheduled for demolition.

But like the famous battery spokesbunny, Atlantic City keeps going and going; buoyed by a $30-million-a-year-marketing budget bestowed by N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, the iconic beach town continues its ongoing reinvention from legal gaming monopoly to resort destination that just happens to have casinos.

Here's a snapshot of what this longtime Atlantic City reporter thinks you shouldn't miss this summer:

* Topping the what's-new list is the $37 million Margaritaville complex at Resorts Casino Hotel. The local outpost of singer Jimmy Buffett's ever-expanding hospitality empire, opening Memorial Day weekend, includes a two-story, boardwalk-fronting Margaritaville restaurant (complete with new facade) and a LandShark Bar & Grill on the Resorts beach. A portion of the casino will have a Margaritaville motif.

* Revel's long-awaited HQ Beach Club and Nightclub will bring the Las Vegas-style "dayclub" concept to town when it opens Memorial Day weekend.

* Venerable Steel Pier will introduce the fruits of the first phase of its $100 million redo, with new rides - including a 200-foot-high Ferris wheel with climate-controlled cabins - and The Mix, a thrill ride that takes patrons over the ocean. You'll also find a renovated boardwalk entrance and a remodeled bar that will feature live entertainment.

* A more traditional danceteria, the 12,000-square-foot Haven Nightclub opens Memorial Day weekend at Golden Nugget Atlantic City, with appearances May 25 and 26 by Ke$ha and Pitbull.

* Tropicana Atlantic City will have several new food options with two Philly Phavorites, Chickie's & Pete's and Tony Luke's.

* Get yourself around the boardwalk to take in all this new stuff in a very old-fashioned way - the century-plus tradition of a rolling chair ride.

* Mark your calendar for the don't-miss event of any summer, the annual, daylong Thunder Over the Boardwalk air show June 26, with aircraft from vintage to state of the art.

* Probably the best places for a beachside cocktail are the Atlantic Club, Trump Plaza and Bally's Atlantic City beach bars; Resorts' LandShark Bar & Grill; and that new HQ Beach at Revel.

* But this writer's fave place to hang is the Foundation Room at House of Blues inside Showboat Atlantic City. No longer a private club with a prohibitive membership fee, this posh, ultracool (if ultra-pricey) now-public hangout lets diners indulge in a luxe dining room or a variety of private parlors, and smokers can puff away on the balcony overlooking the beach, boardwalk and ocean.

* And what about the kids, you're asking? Despite its status as an adult-oriented destination, kids are not ignored in Atlantic City. All 12 casino-hotels have pools, and the boardwalk remains a junk-food-and-arcade-games fantasy land.

* This town has maybe the best rainy-day summer activity, too. For glorious weirdness, nothing beats Ripley's Atlantic City, the "believe it or not" repository of wacky and bizarre people and things on the boardwalk at St. James Place.

* There's excellent free fun to be had here, with the nightly sound-and-light extravaganzas projected on the facade of Boardwalk Hall. It will engage and delight kids of all ages.

And don't miss the sunset from the third level of the Pier Shops at Caesars, on the boardwalk at Arkansas Avenue.

For more free fun, obviously, the world-famous, 4-mile Atlantic City Boardwalk is the last word when it comes to viewing Homo sapiens in their endless variety.

* Finally, here's a little-known fact that might win you a bar bet: Absecon Island, on which Atlantic City sits, does not run north-south; it's diagonal to the mainland in a more east-to-west direction. If it were north-south, the historically African-American Northside neighborhood would likely be called Westside.


On PhillyDailyNews.com: Check out our 2013 Shore Guide.


Chuck Darrow has been writing about Shore towns since the 1970s.


On Twitter: @chuckdarrow

Blog: philly.com/Casinotes

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