"America's Playground" will live up to its name this summer, both indoors and out.
Not all of the action in Atlantic City happens inside the casinos.
Atlantic City, known as “America’s Playground” at the turn of the last century, was a place where performance and art were delivered at a breakneck pace.
Atlantic City historian Allen “Boo” Pergament remembers the days when the Boardwalk could out-Vegas Vegas. Pergament, 80, grew up in Atlantic City’s South Inlet and as a kid “walked the boards” every chance he got. Pergament, who has close to 20,000 postcards and artifacts cataloged in his “Boo-seum,” a room in his Margate home, recalls spending an entire day to get from one end of the Boardwalk to the other.
“It would take hours,” he recalled. “I’d start at Captain Starn’s restaurant on the north end of the Boardwalk. That was where Hackney’s was, too — where you could see people eating seafood dinners.”
It was more than just dining that drew people to the famous wooden promenade, which stretched seven miles in length before the hurricane of 1944. There were sailboats and motorboats and even seaplanes for sightseeing excursions. Crowds flocked to the entertainment piers, including the famous Steel Pier, with its diving horse and glass-enclosed Promenade, home to exotic birds, monkeys and macaws.
The Boardwalk was one giant midway, with free samples of salt water taffy and Heinz pickles, the strolling Mr. Peanut, gadget demonstrations, auction galleries lined with shills and every ilk of live entertainment. One of the biggest attractions were sand sculptors, who drew tourists, or “rail birds,” to the railings overlooking the beach. Larger-than-life sculptures recreated classic art masterpieces, paid homage to pop icons of the day like Charles Lindbergh and even brought sacred works to life in the sand. Artists would pass the hat and earn tips from the “rail birds” that tossed coins down to the sand.
Today’s rail birds will soon be able to enjoy the return of sand art to Atlantic City for the World Championship of Sand Sculpting, coming to town June 13-20. It’s just one of the great reasons to get out in AC this summer. Here is a small sampling of what else will be going on:
Eat and Drink, Al Fresco
Fruity drinks with little umbrellas, bikini-clad dancing girls, guys with square jaws and cut abs. OK, we can’t guarantee you’ll personally experience all of the excitement on that list, but for the first one, belly up to one of AC’s lively beach bars and soak up the views.
Although Sandy did a number on the beach bars, word is they are reopening in one form or another for the season — and you can expect to see more fun in the sand, thanks to a bill signed by Gov. Christie in March paving the way for newer casinos like Revel to join the party.
Look for continuing action at Trump Plaza, which has rebuilt its Beach Bar for the season. The same goes for the Atlantic Club Beach Bar, with its private cabanas and wooden gazebos, Bally’s Beach Bar (although without the participation of rocker Sammy Hagar, who has bowed out after a three-year run with the casino). Revel’s HQ Nightclub will become the HQ Day Club this summer, an adults-only outdoor venue with day beds, DJs and constant Turbosound tunes.
If you’re peckish and want to work on your tan while you dine, you have options. EVO at Trump delivers ocean and boardwalk views along with seafood and prime steaks. Fin at the Trop delivers sustainable seafood prepared by chef Demetrios Haronis, a Wildwood native whose menu celebrates everything under the sea. Dine outside on the lovely deck facing the sea. For more fresh air, there’s the Beer Garden at Caesar’s, Harry’s Oyster Bar at Bally’s, the Hard Rock at the Taj and Margaritaville at Resorts, which opened last month. Also new: a Chickie & Pete’s and Tony Luke’s at the Trop, both with outdoor seating. For more casual fare in the sun, have a seat at the Worship Surf Bar and Johnny Rockets at the Showboat.
Live Music Under the Sun and Stars
Live music has been a hallmark of the Atlantic City scene for more than a century. This summer, the tradition continues, both inside the casino showrooms with marquee names like Beyonce, Diana Ross and Sting, and under the stars for free tunes on the boardwalk. While you dine, catch live music al fresco at Harry’s Oyster Bar at Bally’s and Caesars Beer Garden on the Boardwalk. Dates haven’t been announced yet, but there will be live concerts at Kennedy Plaza throughout the summer. There will also be weekly Chicken Bone Beach jazz concerts in July and August, as well as a weekly Wednesday night International Series at Mississippi Avenue at the Boardwalk. For dates and particulars, check www.atlanticcitynj.com.
There’s also the nightly (year-round) 3-D laser light show projected on the façade of Boardwalk Hall. The best location to catch the $3 million show is Kennedy Plaza at Mississippi and the Boardwalk, with repeat performances every half hour after dark.
Isn’t That Special!
The calendar is full of special outdoor events in A.C. this summer.
Get back to nature for a wildlife tour that departs every Saturday at 8:45 a.m. from Brighton Park. This family-friendly excursion into the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge delivers views of one of the Atlantic Flyway’s most active flight paths for area wildlife and a visit to the fine arts Noyes Museum with its outdoor sculpture garden. 1-888-353-9162.
The World Championship of Sand Sculpting brings internationally renowned sand artists to the beach at Missouri Avenue between The Pier Shops at Caesars and Trump Plaza, June 13 to 30, with 90,000 people expected to attend. Charlie Beaulieu, a 12-time World Championship winner, directs the event, and Atlantic City native and world-renowned sand sculptor, John Gowdy, is producing the show. www.worldchampionshipofsandsculpting.com
The AC Air Show, arriving in town on June 26, delivers aerobatic thrills, plane demos, formation flights and ace flying — all free to the public and watchable from anywhere on the Atlantic City beach and Boardwalk. www.atlanticcitynj.com.
Boaters, start your engines for the AC Off Shore Grand Prix, June 21-23. You’ll see, and hear, 40- to-50-foot powerboats going 150 mph along a six-mile course not far off the beach. The start/finish line will be at Missouri Avenue, and the Frank S. Farley State Marina at Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino will serve as the race headquarters. The best viewing areas for the race on Sunday will be at the end of The Steel Pier and Caesars Mall. www.oparacing.org
Tall Ship tales will ensue when the A.J. Meerwald, New Jersey’s official Tall Ship, drops anchor at Historic Gardner’s Basin Aug 1 to 11. The Meerwald, built in 1928, was one of hundreds of schooners built along South Jersey’s Delaware to meet the needs of New Jersey’s oyster fishing industry. There will be public tours and sails. 609-348-2880.
Beth D’Addono is a frequent contributor to Jewish Exponent supplements. This article was originally printed in This Summer, a Jewish Exponent magazine.