If you haven’t been to Atlantic City lately, you might assume that the storied resort’s luck might have finally run out.
Five casinos –– including the once fabled Trump Taj Mahal and a multi-billion-dollar flop called Revel that lasted just over two years –– shut down, leaving seven remaining. The city flirted with bankruptcy amid the lingering recession and unprecedented competition from casinos in neighboring states.
But like a player whose cards are suddenly hot, Atlantic City could be on the verge of another reinvention, some 40 years after voters legalized gambling.
A pair of grand openings
This week, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino unveiled a $500 million, entertainment-focused re-imagination of the old Taj Mahal with a 60-foot-tall guitar welcoming guests. Its boardwalk neighbor, Ocean Resort, a Hyatt-affiliated property that will include a hotel, casino and luxury spa, is taking over the sea green glass tower that once housed Revel.
Across town, the city’s premier casino-hotel –– the Borgata -– is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a star-studded list of entertainers and special events. Meanwhile, rival casinos are adding new restaurants, renovating guest rooms and introducing new attractions, such as sports betting –– now permissible under a change in state law. Plus, the city itself, while still gritty, is offering much to do beyond the casino floor, from headline beach concerts to shopping at the upscale Tanger Outlets to a giant Ferris wheel on the Steel Pier.
Both the Hard Rock and Ocean Resort “are keen to provide guests with experiences that go beyond the traditional casino hotel model,” says Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University.
According to Pandit, whose university is also gambling on Atlantic City by building a new campus at the southern end of the boardwalk, AC “continues to evolve into a multi-faceted destination resort.”
As always, one of the most compelling reasons to visit AC is also its most accessible –– the Atlantic Ocean and the city’s free beaches.
Hard Rock to focus on star power
At the Hard Rock, the few signs remaining of the over-the-top purple and gold excess of the former Taj Mahal are a pair of columns near where the property connects to the Steel Pier. Otherwise, Hard Rock is poised to exude rock ‘n’ roll-style glitz rooted in music artifacts and memorabilia, including a signed guitar from New Jersey native Jon Bon Jovi, a Swarovski crystal glove worn by Michael Jackson, John Lennon’s original handwritten lyrics to “Imagine” and an outfit from Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” tour.
The Hard Rock promises to program entertainment 365 days a year, from opening arena headliners like Carrie Underwood, Pitbull and Florida Georgia Line to performers under its 365 Live banner (including alumni for “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent”), to a comedy club hosted by Howie Mandel at which the comedian will film a special on July 3-4.
Along with a 400-seat version of its signature Hard Rock Café, the property will have nearly 20 other food and drink spots, including Italian concept Il Mulino, upscale seafood restaurant Council Oak Fish, the Sugar Factory sweet shop and two places that were formerly in the Taj –– an outpost of AC’s famous White House Sub Shop and Robert’s Steakhouse.
Spa, amenities at Ocean Resort
Nearby, the shiny glass façade of Ocean Resort doesn’t look much different from its days as Revel, a $2 billion development that went belly-up in 2014. Inside, the new owner has tried to improve a key design flaw by opening up the casino floor, while capitalizing on the panoramic views from floor-to-ceiling windows in all of its 1,399 guest rooms and suites.
The property will feature nine restaurants, including several that were in the former Revel: from Iron Chef Jose Garces, the fine dining tapas restaurant Amada and more casual Mexico City-style street food Distrito, along with American Cut, an upscale steakhouse from New York City-based Marc Forgione.
Ocean Resort also will have a 40,000 square-foot branch of Exhale spa that will include 31 treatment rooms and a co-ed social area with a salt grotto, heated pool, steam room and bar. Other amenities include a Topgolf Swing Suite with 11 bays, a 5,500-seat arena, 70,000 square-feet of retail space and HQ2, a reboot of the popular HQ nightclub operated at Revel.
Rival casinos taking notice
Meanwhile, the city’s most upscale casino, the Borgata, is celebrating its 15th year with a roster of A-list shows, including Cher, Barry Manilow, Dave Chappelle, Britney Spears and Stevie Wonder, along with a 10-night sold out run of comedian Sebastian Maniscalco. It will also host special events featuring its roster of celebrity chefs, including Wolfgang Puck and Michael Symon.
Other casinos also are investing in the future: Resorts -– the first casino to open in 1978 and which now has a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville theme –– is marking its 40th year by completing $100 million in guest room and other renovations; the Tropicana Atlantic City has unveiled its Chelsea Tower, a recently acquired nearby non-casino hotel with several new restaurants; and Caesars and its sibling Harrah’s have unveiled new bars and restaurants –– the latter property now has the first Gordon Ramsay Steak in the area.
Several casinos also have developed followings for their nightclubs, bringing in top DJs to spots like Haven at the Golden Nugget, Premier at the Borgata and The Pool at Harrah’s. New this season is the independently operated Biergarten, an outdoor beer garden near the Tropicana that complements several beach bars operated by the casinos.
Old school, new school
Off the boardwalk, AC still boasts some old school destinations that are worth venturing from the confines of the nearest blackjack table. These include beloved dive Tony’s Baltimore Grill, which is known for its pizza and a 24-hour bar; the upscale Knife and Fork; and the family-owned Dock’s Oyster House, which dates to 1897.
Newer additions to the city include the Iron Room, a bar-restaurant which stocks some 425 whiskeys, and a series of developments along a stretch of Tennessee Avenue near the city’s Irish Pub. The latter include MADE Atlantic City Chocolate Bar, a “bean to bar” shop, and The Leadership Studio, a yoga facility, with a coffee shop, beer hall and live music venue set to open by the fall.
For local boosters like Pandit, AC’s combination of old and new adds up to the “complete package” and one that they hope will give people a reason to visit –– and stay –– for a weekend or longer.
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2tXENMn