Travel » Features

Atlantic City Rocks with Madonna

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Monday Sep 24, 2012

If you're interested in a seaside getaway just a few hours from New York City and Philly, take a gamble on Atlantic City. Whether it's fine dining, nightclubbing, strolls on the lively Boardwalk, relaxing spa treatments, historical tours, live performances or outlet shopping, there is a lot more than slots.

If you love the idea of Roman columns and statuary everywhere, Caesar's Atlantic City is the place for you. With more than 1,100 luxurious rooms to choose from, many of them with a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean, you'll be sure to find something to meet both your budget and your expectations.

And the location couldn't be more convenient, nestled right in the heart of the Boardwalk shopping district, where even in the fall, people flocked to walk along the beach and soak up the last of the summer sun, enjoy a frozen custard and check out the carnival atmosphere of the old Steel Pier. A new beer garden, set to open soon, will offer a 40 x 60 square-foot tent to keep you dry while you wet your whistle.

Caesar's offers a wide variety of boutique shops, including Burberry, Tiffany and Gucci. If you're in town to recharge your batteries, the Qua Spa is a modern "social spa" where you can indulge in both the open facilities like hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms, plus one-of-a-kind treatments like the Hungarian mud wrap or the hot lava massage, a deep tissue massage with the soy and hemp-based aromatherapy candle of your choice used as the oil. Don't worry; you won't get burned --especially if you opt for their affordable mid-week luxury packages.

Dining options abound at Caesar’s, from their expansive room service menu to casual eateries like sandwich shop Café Roma, or trendy Asian fusion cuisine at KWI Restaurant and Noodle Bar, where a lunch of potstickers, vegetarian spring rolls, edamame dumplings, roast duck, wok-fried green beans and Mongolian beef was a huge hit.

For more upscale dining, Caesar’s offers the beautiful Mia Restaurant, with hearty chops and delicate pasta dishes, or sushi, oysters and grilled fish at Manhattan stalwart Atlantic Grill, at home in its new outpost.

And during a recent trip to their Atlantic Grill, Executive Chef Keith Mitchell served up a five-course meal culled from the day’s catch and a local organic farm that provides much of their produce.

Featured dishes were a peekytoe crab tart, a stuffed squash blossom, Dover sole meuniere, prime rib and a deconstructed pineapple cheesecake. Nearby, diners lined up for Nero’s Tuscan Steakhouse, a popular location for Sunday brunch.

Designed by Miami architectural firm Arquitectonica

If you’re looking for accommodations a bit further from the hubbub, and want to go for the ultimate in modern hotels, the $2.4 billion casino Revel is the place for you.

Located at the northern end of the Boardwalk, Revel is a smoke-free oasis with 1,800 rooms with sweeping ocean views. It was designed by Miami architectural firm Arquitectonica to blend in with its natural surroundings, from the windswept-tent look of the port-cochere to the setbacks that evoke the encroaching tide.

Although it has been criticized for low slot returns, Revel’s CEO Kevin DeSanctis insisted during a recent tour that the hotel has embraced the future, focusing more on the resort experience that attracts a higher class of clientele than some of the other Boardwalk casinos.

Among recent guests were First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, one of who told DeSanctis that she wished she could move into the luxurious Cabana Suites they were occupying.

Other high-rolling guests include the First Lady of Hip-Hop, Beyonce, and her husband Jay-Z. Revel is the only local venue that can boast getting Ms. Carter to play at their establishment. One look at the SkySuite they occupied will erase any doubt as to whether the perks were worth it. This beautiful suite of rooms featured a large living room area with deep couches and a black lacquer coffee table, a charming dining area and kitchen, two huge bedrooms with luxury bathrooms, including a pristine white square tub overlooking the city. Even the wastepaper basket had a disco ball interior!

According to DeSanctis, rather than just serve up heaping platters of Alaskan King Crab legs, they thought to up the ante by importing the country’s best chefs to start in-house restaurants and nightclubs. So Chef Alain Allegretti dishes up his fresh seafood and European coastal cuisine at Azure by Allegretti and Iron Chef Mark Forgione brings the dark wood and leather to his manly steakhouse, American Cut.

The "cherry on top" of Revel lights up

Smaller restaurants such as popular brunch spot One overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, and serves up everything from burgers to lobster mac and cheese. The pub-like Village Whiskey is a nice place to grab a beer, and Central Michel Richard offers a casual dining experience. They’ll even help you work off those calories with morning yoga or core fusion barre "Exhale" classes. Nearby are shopping options including Ona Emporium, DNA 2050, Vince Camuto, Liu Jo, Revolution Jewelers and the Bask Boutique.

After hours, the "cherry on top" of Revel lights up, visible from 20 miles in each direction, beckoning partiers to their in-house nightclubs with 40,000 square feet over four levels, each with a different vibe. Among your choices are the casual Mussel Bar, Ivan Kane’s Royal Jelly and HQ, where famous DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Roger Sanchez spin at this bumping nightclub with an attitude -- and a dress code to go with it. A chic candlelit bar with billiards gives way to a state-of-the-art performance area, culminating with a sleek rooftop bar outfitted in yacht-inspired décor. Also on Revel’s roof is their famous SkyGarden, a rooftop oasis with panoramic pathways lined with 20,000 plants.

Set designers from "Cirque du Soleil" were hired to design the performance space, and then convinced to also do the hotel’s beautiful public spaces. The result, redolent with theatrical elements and riggings, is as otherworldly as this acrobatic circus troupe’s productions.

Nearby, the Borgata’s purple neon lights up the night, and Chef Wolfgang Puck invites guests in to his American Grille. The front bar area offers casual comfort food like wood-fired pizza and savory burgers, while in the back, the magic happens with succulent seafood dishes like Maine lobster with fava beans and truffles, and charred grouper, crab risotto, seared tuna and a bevy of delicious desserts, from crème brulee to blueberry tarts.

Across the way, sexy, sensual nightclub mur.mur. offers guests bottle service and private bouncers as some of the world’s best DJs spin on a state of the art sound system. The subtle innuendo is rich yet cozy.

And nothing beats Atlantic City when it comes to outlet shopping. Local trolley service takes you to The Row at Revel, which features 55,000 square feet of retail shops and boutiques, including Denim Habit, Hugo Boss, the Emporium, G-Star Raw, JC Rags, Religion, and jewelers Gemma Redux and Pomelatto, to name a few.


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Start your day with a morning cruise

Another great stop is Tanger Outlet The Walk, featuring fashions at the base of the Atlantic City Expressway. Among their 40 brand-name retailers offering outlet prices are Adidas, Polo Ralph Lauren, Van Heusen, Converse, Tommy Hilfigir, H&M, Coach, Izod, J. Crew, Perry Ellis and more.

And if outlet shopping isn’t quite your idea of outdoor adventure, stay on the trolley for a Scenic Tour through Gardner’s Basin, home to the Atlantic City Aquarium/Ocean Life Center. The Basin offers deep-sea fishing charters, dolphin-watching, sightseeing and cocktail cruises. There’s even a local crafter’s village. And be sure to take a look at the historic "Diving Bell," a long-ago attraction at the Steel Pier.

A great way to start your day is with a morning cruise along the oceanfront skyline. This narrated tour will teach you a few things about AC’s history, and allow you to get a real sense of just how big this seaside town has become.

Across from the blue clam boats that provide chowder for Campbell’s and Progresso, crime boss Al Capone’s red-roofed house still sits in the Basin, bought and lovingly restored by local architect Tommy Sykes. Back in those days, flat-bottomed fishing boats would travel out to international waters to get some of Captain Bill McCoy’s Canadian whiskey - "The Real McCoy," as it were.

During World War II, Brigantine Island was used to teach Marines the skills they would need to storm the beach at Iwo Jima. Meanwhile, German U-Boats would pull up close enough to shore to get dried cheeses and meats from German ex-pats who lived here.

The Absecon Llighthouse, no longer in use, is the tallest in AC, and still allows visitors to climb the 200-odd spiral stairs to the top. From the Marina to the Ocean and back, seeing the city from the deck of a boat provides an interesting, comprehensive perspective of the seven-mile Boardwalk that you don’t often see.

According to Don Gaurdian, director of the Special Improvement Division of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, two years ago, Gov. Chris Christie made expanding tourism in Atlantic City a priority, and dedicated $45 million per year (plus $1.50 from each city parking garage spot) to reinvigorating Atlantic Avenue with wider sidewalks, new facades, lights and trees.

State-of-the-art, 3-D light and sound show projected on historic Boardwalk Hall

As seen in the HBO drama "Boardwalk Empire," Prohibition never quite caught on in this seaside town where "anything you couldn’t do at home with the wife, you would go to AC to do, where all vices from liquor to prostitution to gambling were taken care of," said Gaurdian.

Although AC had a monopoly on gaming since the early days, by the 1970s, the infrastructure of the town was destroyed, with dangerous swaths of crack houses and little tourism. The city destroyed these houses and rebuilt the area at the cost of $120,000 per house. They also built a bus station, shopping outlets and free public parks. This initiative is part of a move to bring tourism back to the city.

The Atlantic City Alliance non-profit also put out funds for five public arts projects, among them Duality, the state-of-the-art, 3-D light and sound show projected on the historic Boardwalk Hall, the most interesting facet of which shows the building crumbling down.

"People gambled, ate and left. Now they can do a whole lot more," said Gaurdian, pointing to the clean beaches, shopping, and live shows.

The 13,000-seat Boardwalk Hall has historically been home to the Miss (and Miss’d) America pageant. But during a recent fall weekend, capacity crowds jammed into the intimate venue for Madonna’s MDNA Tour.

Madge made history when she rolled up to the venue with 35 equipment trucks in tow. Her show, which featured elaborate costumes, religious imagery, a laser light show, and a complex stage with multiple trapdoors, was an impressive display of the self-anointed "Queen of Pop’s" showmanship. A nice touch was the inclusion of photos of some of the LGBT youth who committed suicide in the recent past, including gay Rutger’s student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate posted his dorm room hookup online.

Between the hopping scene at the Boardwalk, fine dining, outdoor excursions, and the banging club scene, by the time checkout rolls around, you may realize that you haven’t even had a chance to hit the slots. Be sure to try your luck before you go. But even if you don’t hit the triple cherries, with Atlantic City’s new tourism improvement campaign, you will be sure to leave town a winner.


Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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