1. Where to Stay
Let’s face it: You’re probably headed for the Borgata (from $179). Atlantic City’s only truly modern casino upped the ante last summer by unveiling a trio of celeb-chef restaurants, the city’s largest poker room, and the after-hours mur.mur club. Rather than booking online, call the reservation desk in person and demand an ocean-view room on the highest possible floor—the casino tops out at 43, and the views are vastly superior near the top.
Though not nearly as flashy, Harrah’s (from $119) is quietly gaining ground on its neighbor. The partially complete, $550 million Waterfront Tower includes a retail promenade, Elizabeth Arden spa, and a guests-only, glass-domed indoor pool that hosts retro parties—think Flashdance, Abba, and the Bee Gees—on Friday nights. Until rooms in the Waterfront Tower open in March 2008, book a space in the most up-to-date Bayview Tower.
Some of the city’s best rentable rooms—those not reserved for big-shot gamblers—are at the Showboat (from $349), where the 22 House of Blues suites are kitted out with 42-inch plasmas, Persian rugs, and an Arabian Nights palate of maroons and purples. Suite guests also get access to the members-only Foundation room, where HOB performers—everyone from LL Cool J to the Wailers—hang after-hours, puffing away on the ocean-view deck.
2. Where to Eat
Bobby Flay’s eponymous steakhouse is the splashiest celeb-chef restaurant to hit Atlantic City, well, ever. It opened last year on the main floor of the Borgata with a sexy, David Rockwell–designed bar, dining room, and private lounge, spread across a whopping 11,000 square feet. Enjoy the excess by ordering a whole lobster for the table—the restaurant will do the messy work for you—or try the lobster-crab cake, which gets its tart kick from a roasted tomatillo sauce.
Embrace A.C.’s inherent kitschiness at the Continental, where neon lights, Formica countertops, and linoleum floors set the stage for updated diner food. Grab a seat at the hexagonal bar to take in ocean views and Tang-flavored martinis, then tuck into tuna-tartare potato skins and Kobe-beef sliders, all served family-style by waitresses in tennis shoes and black minis.
Put aside visions of limp lettuce and cold eggs typical of most casino buffets. The gleaming stations at Harrah’s months-old Waterfront Buffet—the largest feeding station in town—offer made-to-order chopped salads, hearty Brazilian mash, and mounds of fresh seafood. Skip the dim-sum station, where the steamed pork buns and shrimp dumplings can be rubbery, especially during off-peak hours, but don’t shy away from the gooey, breaded macaroni and cheese.
Not everything’s new in town. White House Subs (2301 Arctic Ave.; 609-345-1564), just off the boardwalk, opened in 1946—and hasn’t changed much since. Its walls are covered with photographs of devotees from Frank Sinatra to George Clooney, who came for massively stuffed subs on crisp bread made at the Formica Brothers Italian bakery just a few doors down. If you go at regular meal times, expect to wait for your orange-vinyl booth. Really in a rush? Call ahead for takeout.
3. What to Do
Going out in A.C. used to mean braving the notoriously seedy downtown—for the most part, you just didn’t do it. Now, casinos are funneling money into casual beach bars, posh martini spots, jock-populated taverns, and Vegas-style clubs.
After a day in the surf, grab a cold one at Bally’s Bikini Beach Bar (Park Place and the Boardwalk; 609-340-2000), which has beach-side seating, live music, and unlike many of its neighbors, on-site bathrooms. Clean up before heading to the plush, Russian-themed Red Square, where the house specialty is, naturally, vodka. Check out the Soviet propaganda, grab a seat at the 60-foot ice bar, and order a caviar-smothered blini to go with your top-shelf Jewel of Russia on the rocks.
Eventually, you’ll wind up back at the Borgata. Go around 10 p.m. to avoid long lines at the bi-level Mixx, a raw, industrial space blasting house, hip-hop, and reggae. End the night around the corner at the subterranean mur.mur, where performers often go for after-parties. Check the nightly schedule at the city’s big three venues—Boardwalk Hall, Borgata Event Center, and the House of Blues—to find out who’s likely to be there. If you don’t like the scene, head instead to Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club, near the entrance to Caesars Palace.
4. Insider’s Tip
Atlantic City’s poker rooms have never been more democratic, less intimidating, or as big of a pickup scene as they are now—especially at low-limit games on weekend nights. The Borgata not surprisingly, has become the premium poker destination, with 85 tables and the most variety of games (Hold ‘Em, Omaha, Steven Card Stud) and blinds in A.C. It’s also the best place to flirt-and-play. More intimate, and less of a meat market, the 25-table room at the House of Blues has comfortable chairs, tableside food service, and a popular $100 no-limit tournament on Friday nights.
5. An Oddball Day
The Garden State does at least one thing well—malls—so it’s surprising Atlantic City has taken until now to get with the shopping program. Spend the morning at the Havana-themed Quarter at the Tropicana perusing shops like bluemercury, with its high-end beauty products, and the Old Farmer’s Almanac General Store, where you can grab hand-painted platters and homemade jams. Skip the casino’s food court, and walk about three-fourths of a mile north along the boardwalk to Gold Tooth Gertie’s, located just inside the southeast door at the Wild Wild West Casino at Bally’s. The nondescript bakery and deli has excellent chicken salad and house-made bagels. After lunch, head south, stocking up on Fralinger’s fudge and saltwater taffy on your way to the Pier Shops at Caesars, home to designer outposts like Michael Kors, Tiffany & Company, and Louis Vuitton. For a wind-down, check out the third floor, where the boardwalklike promenade has a faux beach with real sand, Adirondack chairs, and the best sunset views in the city.
6. Related Links
The Atlantic City Weekly’s summer guide has all the necessary info—where to bring your dog, rent bikes, and catch waves—on nearby beaches.
The city’s tourism site details all the big projects, including direct train service from New York City (scheduled for fall 2007), on the horizon.
Philadelphia Style magazine’s A.C. Confidential blog has sound reviews of area eateries and bars.