Atlantic City’s fading boardwalk empire
The Steel Pier, located across from Trump Taj Mahal, opened in 1898 and has been a centre of Atlantic City entertainment ever since. Once home to circus performers and the Miss America Pageant, the Pier is now a modernamusement park of rides and attractions, including the thrilling Rocket that slingshots riders 225 feet into the air, and a variety of fried foods. Boardwalk Hall, formerly known as Convention Hall, is another unofficial historic landmark along the boardwalk. Built in 1929, it has hosted sporting events and concerts throughout the years, including the first indoor college football game in 1930 and indoor helicopter flight in 1970. It was overhauled in 1998 and is now a modern facility for concerts and boxing matches.
Many casinos and hotels line the Boardwalk, including the Tropicana, Atlantic City Hilton and Showboat Atlantic City. All of these offer a huge array of accommodations, restaurants and gambling options, but none retain much of the old Atlantic City flavour. Much like Las Vegas, this is a fully modernized version of the past (though Atlantic City is more like the area a few blocks off the Vegas Strip). For those who prefer to stay in a non-gambling hotel on the Boardwalk, the Chelsea does its best to capture a 1950s retro vibe with modern trimmings. On a summer weekend, rooms are not cheap, starting at $450 a night for double occupancy. On Saturday nights, the Chelsea turns into something of a party hotel, with festivities taking place at the fifth floor outdoor pool area until the wee hours of the morning. Guests do not have to pay the $20 entrance fee, but the party is more Jersey Shore than Boardwalk Empire, with guys and girls in their early twenties drinking and grinding to throbbing techno music. The hotel has an upscale steakhouse called Chelsea Prime and a good casual diner, Teplitzky's, open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and after-hours drinks.
Although Atlantic City has been thoroughly modernized, sacrificing much of its vibrant, edgy character in the process, it is still possible to seek out some scattered ghosts of the past. A block or two off the boardwalk on St James Place sits the darkened interior of the Irish Pub. It opened in 1972, but the pub has the vintage feel of the speakeasy the space once held. The dimly lit bar is a perfect spot to get away from the heat and commotion of the boardwalk, throw back a pint and check out the memorabilia lining the walls. The menu consists of typical pub grub with a few Irish specialties like corned beef thrown in for good measure.
For a more elegant dining experience, and a real taste of historic Atlantic City, the Knife & Fork Inn is the place. Since 1912 this distinct building located a few blocks off the boardwalk has famously played host to politicians, entertainers and their cronies. According to its website, during Prohibition the Knife & Fork flouted federal law while the real-life “Nucky” Thompson held court at its bar. Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope were said to be regulars in their heyday as well. The restaurant underwent a major renovation in 2005 and there are now three floors of different dining rooms, an enormous wine selection and a comforting menu of surf and turf featuring their famous dish, lobster Thermidor. The owners also operate Dock's Oyster House, another classic Atlantic City bar and restaurant that dates back to 1897.
So what is the truth behind Atlantic City's illusions? Is this a city destined for rejuvenation or further deterioration? For its businesses and residents, things may be getting better. According to a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, tourism has been on the upswing this year, thanks in part to the early and sustained summer heat blanketing the Eastern seaboard. The success of Boardwalk Empire has also inspired new visitors, and casinos and restaurants are capitalizing on this by offering special dining and lodging promotions. But for the most part, vintage Atlantic City is a memory, a ghost.