I’ve always thought of Atlantic City as the poor man’s Las Vegas, so it made total sense for me to spend my birthday weekend there. Hildon and I headed to AC with his brother Dane and his wife Rita, who were celebrating their anniversary.
Atlantic City isn’t as big a deal now as it was when it was first incorporated in 1854. It’s first hotel, Belloe House, was actually built in 1853 when developers saw AC’s potential as a resort town because it’s shores were on the Atlantic. Right after it was incorporated The Camden and Atlantic Railroad began in 1854 to give people in Philly easy access to the town. In 1870, The Boardwalk was built as a way to keep sand out of hotels but then it was expanded when it’s popularity grew. In 1878 another train service, The Philadelphia and Atlantic Railway, began as a way to cater to the hordes of tourists coming to the city. But AC didn’t boom until the early 20th when many of the boarding houses along the boardwalk were replaced by lavish hotels, like the Ritz-Carlton, that boasted modern and luxurious amenities.
When the prohibition era hit in the 1920s, Atlantic City grew even more popular because a lot of officials would smuggle alcohol into the city. So many tourists would flock to the AC just to get a drink in the back rooms of nightclubs, restaurants, and other establishments. The city even called itself “The World’s Playground.” If you’ve ever seen Boardwalk Empire you would know that the man to see for illegal alcohol was politician/racketeer Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, portrayed by Steve Buscemi in the show. Nucky made fortune on kickbacks from alcohol, gambling, and prostitution. Atlantic City was the place adults went to play during this time.
The 30s through the 60s were the heyday for nightclub entertainment in AC. On the south side were the all white clubs, while blacks partied on the north side in their own entertainment district on Kentucky Avenue. Then there was Club Harlem and Paradise club, among others, that drew a mixture of black and white patrons with their live Jazz and R&B performances.
But after World War II AC started to decline like a lot of other older cities. Poverty levels soared and with that came a lot of crime. The decline of AC happened for multiple reasons. Firstly, cars became more available to Americans. When people depended on the railroads they would stay in AC for at least a week. When they got cars, they would go for a couple days and then leave instead of spending weeks. They had more freedom to go and come as they please. Then suburbs started popping up. A lot of men were returning from war and using their GI Bills to build homes. And these homes came with some of the luxuries of hotels, like air-conditioning and swimming pools. So people seemed less interested in going to the beach during the summer. They would just chill in their backyards. But the biggest factor that contributed to AC’s declining popularity was commercial airlines with their fast jets and cheap service to resorts in Miami and Bahamas.
Gambling was finally legalized in 1976 and in 1978 the first legal casino in the United States opened in AC. This helped with a lot of the poverty in urban areas. But as Atlantic City was declining, Las Vegas was just getting started, and by the late 70s Vegas was the preferred destination for gambling. Donald Trump (I hate that I have to mention him in this article) actually helped bring some popularity back to AC when he organized boxing matches to attract people to his casinos. Mike Tyson had most of his bouts in the 80s in AC. And this helped reestablish AC as a gambling destination. By the 90s AC was one of the most popular tourist destinations again.
However, Atlantic City still faces problems. Vegas was redeveloped and is now bigger and better than ever. Casinos have been opened in Connecticut and Philadelphia. Even Queens, NY has a casino. So a lot of people would rather go to their nearby casinos than drive more than a couple hours to AC. Then the recession hit and a lot of plans to build more resorts were abandoned. MGM International Resorts were set to build there but they backed out. And Super Storm Sandy didn’t help. AC was hit hard. The boardwalk was a total mess.
But I believe AC is due for a resurgence. There is still good stuff there. The Tanger Outlets are always fun. It was an unusual 65 degrees in February, so I spent my birthday walking around the mall. I did a little shopping. Very little, because, as I said before, I’m working poor. We stayed at the Sheraton, which is just a short walk from the outlets and other attractions. We headed to Carmine’s as soon as we were settled. It’s located at The Quarter in Tropicana. It was 10:30 at night and the place was popping. If you’re ever in AC please hit up Carmine’s. It’s a family-style Italian restaurant with delicious food and superb cocktails.
Penne Alla Vodka and Chicken Parmigiana
Blood Orange Margarita
The Quarter was live. After Carmine’s we walked across to Wet Willie’s and indulged in huge frozen drinks. I had the strawberry pina colada. We sipped near the fountain in the middle of The Quarter and watched people file in and out of Cuba Libre, a Latin American restaurant with cocktails and dancing. It looked like a good time, but I was stuffed and already tipsy, so I was content with standing outside, listening to the music, and watching women struggle to walk in five inch heels.
On the night of my birthday, we had dinner at Buddhakan on the pier, overlooking the water. This is another great restaurant. If you like Asian cuisine as much as I do, please check it out. It’s a Pan Asian restaurant, meaning it serves dishes from various Asian countries. It’s worth it just to see the huge, glowing Buddha statue in the middle of the restaurant and the ceiling decorated as the night’s sky. It’s dreamy and romantic. The menu is trendy. Try the oxtail dumplings. You only get three. LOL! But it’s good. And you can’t go wrong with the fiery rock shrimp on bao buns. I don’t have any pics for you. I’m sorry. I devoured my food the minute it hit the table. Hildon shamed me into taking a pic of my desert before I face planted into it.
Chocolate Cheesecake Mouse
After stuffing our faces and taking goofy pics,
Okay, I was the only goofy one.
we headed to Caesars Palace and chilled in the lounge at Dusk Nightclub. We listened to hits from the 1990s and early 2000s and sipped on vodka cranberry, then Hennessy, because brown liquor always gets the job the done. At least for me.
Okay, so Atlantic City is no Vegas. Nowhere is like Vegas. But AC has a history. A resilience. And it’s had so many ups and downs in the past that it’s only natural for me to believe that it will be among the most popular tourist destinations again. Besides, AC has something Vegas doesn’t. The beach. It was its calling card in the mid-1800s and it’s its calling card now. It still wasn’t warm enough to go to the beach, but AC is great for a weekend getaway in any weather. But I do intend to hit up that boardwalk this summer. I encourage you to do the same.
By the way, I condensed what I learned about AC on Wikipedia. If you wish to know more, head here https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_City,_New_Jersey