Say what you will about Atlantic City—but please be nice. This beachside resort often has rough times during the colder months, but it still is and always will be a blast. The secret to embracing the magically bizarre, sometimes dark but always amazing place is to give in to what it is: the closest beach to Philly, a spot with a truly fabled history and a place where the old, new and everything in between exists in a strangely beautiful, salty neon harmony.
It’s a high-low place with high stakes tables, celeb chef restaurants, and nightclub options that include both VIP bottle service and BYO joints with bottomless strippers. And since the Cristal is fl owing alongside the Coors, the best way to optimize your AC time is to go for an itinerary that embraces both the high roller and the penny slot pusher.
Our best advice: Ditch your car, find a home base and see where Atlantic City takes you. If you end up walking down the boardwalk to the beach at sunrise wondering where you’re going to eat breakfast, you’re definitely doing it right.
WHERE TO STAY
There are plenty of reasons to stay at a casino hotel (graveyard-shift slots, 24-hour bars and people-watching) but if you’re looking for something a little less intense but no less stylish, the Chelsea fits the bill (and the budget). Rehabbed to its former mid-century-modern glory, the Chelsea boasts a boardwalk location and a pool that looks like something out of an LA noir film. Teplitzky’s, the marigold-and-tartan ground-floor diner, does breakfast right with bottomless coffee, back-to-life Bloody Marys, and a $20 monster breakfast special that brings together pancakes, French toast, three eggs, toast or a bagel, pork roll, turkey sausage and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Positioned bayside and decidedly off the main drag at Borgata, The Water Club is a breath of fresh air in a city that can be, at times, a little overwhelming. With its natural lighting and lush greenery (something not often seen in these parts) the Water Club brings a bit of Miami-accented class to AC. Rooms are spacious, with floor-to-ceiling windows, and furnished with the kind of earth tones and over-the-top bathrooms that make it easy to block out the neon and take in the bay views. Bonus points for a killer spa (hello, indoor pool) and a morning room service menu that includes both pulled pork and cheddar-topped grits and a seriously good smoked-fish plate.
WHERE TO EAT
A timeless wood-paneled barroom, veteran waitresses and retro pricing on bar-style pizza is exactly what makes Tony’s Baltimore Grill one of the most genius places to experience untouched AC grease and glory. The beers, served in frosty plastic pitchers, are so cheap you’ll blink and double-check the price. In fact, nothing on the menu comes in at over $13, and no place else in town has snack plates of pepperoni and saltines, and a celery and olive salad on the menu.
For whatever reason, AC has never been a big seafood destination, but in place of fried combos with a side of tartar sauce there is White House Sub Shop, a 65-plus-year-old institution for Philadelphia- by-the-sea fare, i.e., steaks and hoagies. The Arctic Avenue diner is always busy and it’s certainly not a place to linger, but the White House Special, a chewy seeded roll packed with double portions of salami, provolone, ham and capicola is finished with a spicy pickled- pepper spread that begs two questions: Why is no one serving this in Philly, and who cares about fried shrimp?
WHERE TO DRINK
Atlantic City is a place that thrives on availability. As in other so-called sin cities, you can satisfy any of your urges at pretty much any hour of the day here. Unfortunately, if your weakness is an after-dinner digestif and not, say, horse racing, good luck to you. Fortunately Fornelletto, down a stone staircase from the gaming floor of the Borgata, is there for you with a subterranean bar stocked with Italian amaros, espressos served with a gimmicky but great rock-candy stirrer, and a menu of Italian by-the-glass pours that pushes Pinot boundaries.
Vacation drinking and non-vacation drinking are two very different things. At home you might go for a locally brewed craft draft or a glass of carefully chosen Sauvignon, but the beach can make you thirsty for a less dignified round of drinks. So when you walk the boards to Bally’s Beach Bar, all bets are off. Even before you crack the sand-caked menu, the cover band’s rotation of ’90s hits assures you that it’s fine to order something called a Surfer on Acid or a Cinnamon Toast Crunch shot.
A few years back this place was called Sammy’s, after Sammy Hagar of Van Halen fame, so order whatever bad-idea drink you’d like at this on-the-beach bar—it’s a no-judgment zone.
WHERE TO STAY
111 S. Chelsea Ave.
1 Borgata Way
WHERE TO EAT
Tony’s Baltimore Grill
2800 Atlantic Ave.
White House Sub Shop
2301 Arctic Ave.
1 Borgata Way
Bally’s Beach Bar