"Don't go," was a refrain I heard all too often when I told people I was heading to Atlantic City for the weekend. Why? No one could really give me an answer, other than I just shouldn't.
So of course, being the contrarian that I am, I had to go to the New Jersey gambling mecca. My reasons had less to do with betting--I'm hardly a card shark--and more to do with glimpses of the seaside city in pop culture in recent years. There's the old-school glamour on Boardwalk Empire, the girls' weekend aspect on Sex and the City (you know the episode, circa season five), and then most recently, the complete devastation rumored to have hit Atlantic City this past fall, during Hurricane Sandy. Six months after disaster struck, I decided to ignore the nay-sayers and head out--with a few friends in tow--to see what the real Atlantic City looked like.
Turns out, it was one of the best weekends I've had all year. There's a little bit for everyone on this little sandy strip--salt water taffy for the nostalgists, swanky night clubs for the party animals, hole-in-the-wall sub spots for the foodies, and boardwalk shops filled with YOLO tees for just about everyone else. Oh, and lots and lots of games to win (or, in my case, lose) your money at.
Ignore the haters, and do Atlantic City like this:
5pm: There are loads of ways to get to Atlantic City if you live in the Northeast--jump on a train, rent a car, or do as I did (and Carrie Bradshaw & Co.) and book a ticket with Academy Bus. They leave every hour, but fill up quickly on the weekends so get there at least 15 minutes early.
8pm: Ignore the ironic appeal of, say, the Trump Taj Mahal and head straight to Revel, the newest spot on the boardwalk, to book your room. Opened just a year ago, the hotel-casino is massive but also incredibly sleek, clean, and--yes--cool. It also has its own faux-moon at night, if you're into that sort of thing. (I, for one, certainly am.) Drop off your bags and then head to Mussel Bar, where you can easily split the entrees between at least two people. Don't leave without ordering the Cave Aged Gruyere mussels, you hear?
11pm: Head around the corner to Ivan Kane's Royal Jelly Burlesque Night Club, where dancers shimmy and shake to rock'n'roll tunes--played by a live band, to boot--from the likes of the Boss (this is, after all, Jersey). Stick around in between performances, since the DJ veers more towards Lykke Li than EDM hits.
11am: Sleep in--you'll definitely want to--before heading to The Water Club for brunch. The hotel is off of the boardwalk, so requires a quick cab ride, but the scene at its lobby-level Sunroom is perfectly mellow for even the most hungover of mornings.
3pm: Next door is the Borgata, the top-grossing casino in Atlantic City and the obvious destination if you're looking to make a little moolah. My advice would be to pick a slot machine that has some funny theme to it--which is another way of saying, don't take my advice when it comes to gambling.
6:30pm: After you've built up a big stack of tokens, treat yourself and spend them at Izakaya. The modern Japanese restaurant serves up all of your favorite sushi rolls, but don't miss the robatayaki skewers, which blew my mind. Oh, and the Shiso Plum Mojito is perfect for washing it all down.
8pm: It wouldn't be Atlantic City if you didn't take in a show. We went with Diva's Do AC at Resorts Atlantic City for obvious reasons: Who wouldn't want to see drag queens impersonate Dolly Parton, Liza Minelli, or Madonna?! The entire show was charming--and host "Joan Rivers" will crack you up, even if you're the youngest in the audience by about 20 years.
12pm: Finish off your night at HQ, Revel's multi-story mega-club. Even if you're more dive bar than drum-and-bass, it's worth an hour-long visit just so you can say you saw the chick from Jerseylicious in the bathroom (true story).
10am: Refresh with a quick visit to Bask Spa in the hotel. You could splurge on a massage, but a $50 day pass will get you access to the entire space, which includes heated mineral pools, a hammam, and a salt grotto that promises to cure hangovers. (Worked for me!)
1pm: Hope you brought your appetite, because you're going to eat at Tony Boloney's--and then some. It'll take you about 10 minutes to read the multi-page menu at this tiny spot in the shadow of Revel--instead, chat up owner Mike (probably the nicest person in all of AC) for a little bit of guidance. And though we're loathe to agree with anything Guy Fieri says, we'd have to agree with his crowning the Tony Boloney Cheesesteak Ole' winner in his Food Network Cheesesteak Battle. Bonus points for having bands like Ratatat playing on the stereo.
3pm: Before you head out, talk a nice long stroll down the boardwalk--not only to stock up on salt water taffy (the stuff was invented here, after all), but also to get your "YOLO" souvenirs, ride the rollercoaster, and, if it's warm enough, dip your feet in the ocean. Although parts of the boardwalk were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, this entire portion is in pristine condition.
5pm: One last round of roulette? One last round of roulette! Place your bets, cash in your winnings, and then head to catch the bus back home. And if someone were to, oh, order an extra Tony Boloney's sub for the road? No one on the bus is going to judge, promise.
On the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
Lounging at Revel.
Bling at the Trump Taj Mahal.
Snack time on the Atlantic City boardwalk.
Totally awesome '80s view on the boardwalk.
Get old-school with your sweets and load up on salt water taffy.
The rides on the pier in Atlantic City.