Welcome to Atlantic City, reinventing itself once again.
"A rebirth or a renaissance is certainly not a wrong term,"says Jeffrey Vasser, executive director of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. "If you haven't been here in five years, you will be wowed."
The city has had several very real problems to solve as it faced competition from all sides -- from the dazzle of Las Vegas to the successful casinos in nearby Connecticut. Yet the self-proclaimed Queen of Resorts has not only generated a record-breaking $5.2 billion in gaming revenue, but has seen its nongaming revenues regularly rise -- as new dining venues, chic night clubs, elegant shops and luxurious spas have appeared to add to the resort's appeal.
To the delight of realtors, a real estate boom is energizing the atmosphere. Three of the town's hot casinos -- Harrah's, Borgata and Trump Taj Mahal -- are constructing towers that will be higher than anything in town. And luxury condominiums are also sprouting up (along with prices) all over the city.
On June 30, the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the just completed $200 million first phase of the Borgata expansion took place at the new, separate entrance that features an outside escalator -- one of only two in New Jersey. In addition to the hotel's 11 restaurants, including Sulan by famed Philadelphia restaurateur Susanna Foo, three celebrity chefs have opened swanky dining rooms with menus that are as intriguing as the decor: Wolfgang Puck's American Grille features fish, skillet steaks and pizza; the Food Network's Bobby Flay Steak offers seafood and steak with a Southwestern flair; and Michael Mina's Seablue creates unique seafood dishes.
Diners at Seablue enjoy a decor that replicates the inside of an aquarium by using 10 projection screens around the room, simulating aquatic life.
Also opened at Borgata is a quick-service cafeteria; a 30-seat Bread and Butter cafe; a bar; a nightclub ... and the new 85-table poker room. It's almost like a restaurant revolution with the arrival of these award-winning, nationally known chefs, all creating delectable fare.
The ultra-sophisticated Borgata, which opened in 2003, has been successful, as well as influential in raising the standards of practically all the other casino operations in town. A deluxe resort, the Borgata -- as spectacular as any in Vegas -- confirms that high-end amenities can attract visitors from anywhere.
Even "The Donald" acknowledges the positive impact the Borgata has had on his three casinos, stating: "Myself and others have expanded and put in an extraordinary amount of money to make our suites nicer, bigger and more beautiful than the Borgata's."
Unquestionably, one of the most dramatic dining rooms in town is nestled at the exquisitely designed Mia -- just off the glamorous, four-story atrium lobby at Caesar's -- Georges Perrier and Chris Scarduzio's exquisite dining room. Heralded as presenting "some of the finest food at the shore," Mia offers innovative Mediterranean cuisine for those seeking an elegant dining experience.
Palace and a Pier
In June, Caesars introduced their new $15 million Asian-themed gaming area, Palace East, with a festive celebration of the traditional Chinese lion dance. The comfortably arranged 22 gaming tables establishes this new locale as the largest, most elaborate gaming area of its kind in the country, featuring a plush setting, with dealers who speak several languages.
Now previewing, the Pier at Caesars is the dazzling new star on the Boardwalk. With 90 retailers -- including Gucci, Ferragamo and Tiffany -- and 10 restaurants -- including Buddakan, Phillips Seafood and Vino Noir -- this shopping and entertainment venue will be a stunner once it's finally finished. What exists opened in mid-July; the rest is a work in progress.
Built on one of Atlantic City's original piers (anyone remember the Million-Dollar Pier?), this nearly 500,000 square feet of retail and dining space confirms developer Scott Gordon's claim that "people need to open their eyes, and see that you can come and have a great time without gaming."
At Showboat, the new House of Blues Suites offer multi-layered rooms with a circular seating area facing a huge plasma television, with Indian decor, views of the ocean, and a great, oversized bathroom with a shower that has five multi-directional jets shooting from many angles.
The Atlantic City Hilton continues a sizzling entertainment lineup, with Damon Wayans, Frank Sinatra Jr. and rock band America. During the summer months, the outdoor Hilton Beach Bar is buzzing with party goers who enjoy the live concerts and friendly atmosphere.
Bally's Atlantic City still offers a superb spa experience. The hit television show, "The Price Is Right," takes place every day but Saturday at Claridge's Palace Theater, which has been incorporated into Bally's Casino. And party action at the Bikini Beach Bar starts early and ends late.
Harrah's is currently undergoing a huge expansion project. But it still offers one of the most congenial atmospheres of any casino hotel. Now through mid-September, the delightful Broadway musical "Hairspray" charms audiences with its cheerful, wholesome fun.
And Resorts -- the very first casino hotel on the scene -- has created Tabou, a venue that offers trendy dining from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and then it's showtime as the talented staff performs for diners. Still, fine cuisine is definitely a priority with five-star Peregrines restaurant; New York's famed Gallagher's Steak House; Capriccio; and the open-all-the-time 25 Hours Bar.
Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Marina and Trump Plaza still satisfy a trendy crowd. At the Taj, the continuing dance fest brings top D.J.'s to the scene. Trump's Marina offers outdoor gaming on The Deck.
And don't miss the lively Beach Bar, picturesque and buzzing, offering sand, sea and a dance floor.
The Sands Casino Hotel -- smaller than its behemoth casino sisters, and just steps back from the Boardwalk -- is cozy and comfortable. Their Boardwalk Buffet satisfies any gourmand.
At the Tropicana Casino & Resort, the new Quarter is the palm-fringed, Havana-themed complex of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. The Quarter's new Havana Tower offers luxury bilevel suites with a spiral staircase to the second floor. It also offers an IMAX theater, and numerous fine restaurants and bars.
Outside the casinos, there's much to see and do. Shopaholics love the popular new "The Walk" -- a span of outlet stores on Michigan Avenue of fine caliber, with Brooks Brothers, Banana Republic, Ecco and more.
As for those seeking the ultimate corned-beef sandwich or great chopped liver, plenty of Jewish-type delis boast knishes and matzah-ball soup, including an authentic Stage Deli at the Taj Mahal.
To top it all off, Barbra Streisand is performing on Nov. 4 at Boardwalk Hall -- better get tickets early!
For more Atlantic City information, call 1-888-228-4748 or log on to: atlanticcitynj.com.