How I Learned To Like Atlantic City

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I’ve always looked down on Atlantic City. I don’t know if it’s because I assumed it could never live up to Las Vegas, if it’s because I associated it with senior citizens sadly taking the bus trip down from Scranton for the day to “finally make it big”, or if it’s because the Springsteen song is just so damn depressing. All in all I was a little harsh on a place I’d never been to up until about a year ago.

Last March my brother and I decided to take an impromptu jaunt to Atlantic City for our 25th birthday. It wasn’t our first choice—in fact we weren’t planning on doing anything. Our birthday falls on March 19, two days after St. Patrick’s Day, a weekend after Scranton Parade Day, and two weekends after Philly’s Erin Express. Needless to say, every year by the time it rolls around our wallets and livers need a hiatus. I was planning on just lying low to celebrate a quarter century of life, but per usual for my “I’m going to lie low weekends” I texted my brother, who lived outside Philly at the time, that this birthday was a big deal and we should do something big. We texted a few friends, someone suggested Atlantic City, and by 8:00 that night I was in Manayunk, our chosen meeting spot, with a $60.00 room booked at the lovely Rodeway Inn.

Atlantic City looked just like I’d imagined it: the casinos were impressive and glitzy, but unlike Vegas where the glitz and fun oozes from every street corner, it seemed here to be sporadically scattered about the four or five casinos (which are not all in close proximity to one another) while the rest of the town seems to consist of dilapidated tenant housing, abandoned buildings, and bail bond shops. I usually love dive bars (the sketchier the better), but I remember commenting as we drove past the Ducktown Tavern, that you’d have to pay me a lot of money to step inside.

The Rodeway Inn was exactly what you’d expect from a place with $60.00 beach views (although you had to go out onto the walkway to see said views). I wouldn’t take a family member or someone I wanted to impress there but for a 10:30 arrival and all the time we were planning on spending in the room it wasn’t bad (although I don’t think any of us were brave enough to sleep under the covers or use the toilet seat).

We headed to the nearby Tropicana as recommended by my sister’s roommate who lives over the bridge in Brigantine. Our destination was A Dam Good Sports Bar. The bar is situated inside the Casino’s shopping area along with several others, it’s neighbor being an Irish Pub. We stopped there for one drink. As someone who takes his Irish pubs seriously I was horrified. It was like someone prematurely aged the cast of Jersey Shore by twenty years or so, poured them into the same outfits, and had them acting the same way. The “Irish band” fistpump along with the crowd, while we finished our drink and hastily departed; AC wasn’t redeeming itself.

A Dam Good Sports Bar was a great recommendation. The crowd was the laid back sports bar type, the music was good, and they had $5.00 40’s and $12.00 bottles of wine. I wish I could elaborate more, but it was my birthday so things are allowed to get hazy. We left early the next morning, not even being in Atlantic City for 24 hours and headed for lunch at Mikey’s in Sea Isle City, a couple exits down the Garden State Parkway, which I highly recommend if you’re ever in the area. While I had a good time, I looked at A Dam Good Sports Bar as a sort of diamond in the rough and my perception of AC was still a city well past its glory days with depressing no character casinos, and overpriced clubs for the Jersey Shore set.

I still wasn’t thrilled with the idea when my parents suggested we do a family vacation to Atlantic City this summer, but since I wouldn’t be paying for it and my parents really like when we all get together I agreed. After painful journey to AC which consisted of a flat tire, an unplanned Amtrak to Philly and no air conditioning on New Jersey transit, my sister and I (my parents and brother had driven down earlier that day from NEPA) arrived at the former Atlantic City Hilton, no known as ACH, where we were staying and promptly passed out.

The next day we woke up, hit the beach and in the following three days I discovered that not only does Atlantic City not suck as much as I thought, but it’s entirely possible to go there and have a really good time, even if you aren’t into gambling or clubbing. Now, Atlantic City is still pretty shifty if you wander from the casinos, and there really isn’t much to do in the daytime other that lounge at the beach, but at night there’s a number of really good restaurants and fun bars that I wasn’t expecting. You just have to go a little out of your way to find them.

My sister, who was our resident AC expert since she’d been there four or five times suggested that we eat at Angelo’s, a local seafood place that supposedly has “the best seafood in Atlantic City” (it and ten other places). Angelo’s is a bit off the main drag of restaurants and casinos near the parkway and is definitely someplace I’d suggest if you’re ever in town. Angelo’s reminds you of an old school Italian place you’d find in Little Italy. It hearkens back to AC’s mob days. Angelo’s is a lot of brick, red checkered table clothes, and the requisite Dean Martin and Sinatra on the sound system (Dean Martin I could give or take but because of my father I’m a bit of a Sinatra fan and enjoyed this). We got bruschetta for an appetizer which was good and I got Shrimp Fra Diablo for my main course. The best part about Angelo’s was the portions. Normally a Shrimp Fra Diablo (or scampi, etc) gives you a lot of pasta and five pieces of seafood. I was so blown away I counted: 19 butterflied shrimp. Similarly my dad got scallops and there was at least 20 huge ones. We all had lunch the next day.

After dinner at Angelo’s we headed to find The Irish Pub. My father had allegedly been there in his BC (before children) days and swore it was a good time. My brother and I are 25 and my sister is 23 so his before children days aren’t really what I’d call recent. After a few wrong turns and an irish pub that wasn’t “The Irish Pub”, we found the place. I was in love before we even walked in. The Irish Pub is situated on St. James place (Monopoly reference!), a small wooden house like structure with Caesar’s looming above it on one side and a vacant lot on the other. It looks like it belongs more on the boardwalks of Sea Isle City or Wildwood than in AC. It’s an old school joint that’s definitely missed its heyday (this being made extremely apparent with all the “Joe Dimaggio used to stay here” signs), but that’s part of the charm, like Angelo’s it’s sort of a throwback to a time when Atlantic City was considered a glamorous must see destination. The bar staff was extremely friendly and they had plenty of Irish records on their old school jukebox (much as I appreciate touchtones, I have a special place in my heart for old jukeboxes). We ended up being there on Quizzo night which was a lot of fun. You could tell that the Irish Pub gets a lot of “regulars”, regulars in their case being people that make sure they come every time they’re in Atlantic City. You could rend a single room for $25.00 a night which I’m curious about and it’s open 24/7. I want to check out it’s late night scene next time I’m in town.

My second favorite “find” of the trip was the Ducktown Tavern, the bar that if you’ll remember skeeved me out enough to comment on it the first time I visited Atlantic City. After a successful Tuesday through Thursday stay, my parents decided that they’d like to spring and spend Friday night in AC. By this time I wasn’t mad. We’d made another stop at A Dam Good Sports Bar and had discovered other fun jaunts like the Western Bar at Bally’s (very cheap drinks), Scales Grill (a neat little seafood joint sitting on a marina), and dollar blackjack at Caesars for those times you want the fun of gambling without the added expenses.

The ACH was booked Friday so we moved venues to the newish Golden Nugget. The Golden Nugget is on the marina, not the beach which at first seemed like it might be detrimental: I ended up liking it so much better than the ACH (it probably helps that by Thursday afternoon I was relegated to the indoor pool—as far as I’m concerned sun burn is the only downside to being Irish). The Golden Nugget was a nicer hotel and while it was pricey, we were fans of deck bar they had overlooking the harbor. We’d stumbled upon the Golden Nugget the night before. Every Thursday night the B-Street Band plays on their deck. If you’re a fan of the boss, do yourself a favor and see when B-Street plays near you next.

Friday after checking in, my father and sister headed down to the deck bar for happy hour and pre-dinner appetizers. Like most on-the-water venues the prices for appetizers were out of control and we ended up staying an hour or two after the happy hour deals ended. We decided for dinner that night to just do a pizza and wings joint to save some dough. My sister’s roommate, who had joined us Friday said she knew the spot and took us to Ducktown tavern. The entire family was a bit apprehensive but she swore they had the best pizza and wings in AC. She was right.

Don’t judge a book by its cover is so cliché, but in the same vein, don’t judge a bar by its façade. Immediately after peeking our heads through the door we knew it was going to be a good time. Inside the place is spacious, well lit, friendly, and full of the sort of crowd who would never be caught dead in a Ed Hardy apparel. My sister’s roommate told us it was big with the locals and casino workers and was another 24/7 establishments. How could you not like a place that has a 3-5AM happy hour?

The wings were great. The pizza was great. The prices were great. We left Ducktown Tavern after dinner to be closer to the hotel, but much like Irish Pub, it’s somewhere I’d like to check out later in the night; it was just picking up when we were heading out. On my next trip I also plan on going there for breakfast (their omelet selection looks amazing) and inquire more into the “Ducktown FIretruck” advertised on their website. There really can’t be any downside to that.

9 comments on “How I Learned To Like Atlantic City”

  1. I went to AC for the first time myself a few days ago, and loved it. I had preconceived notions myself, and was proved wrong. I just posted on it with photos, so perhaps they will bring back some good memories! Glad you had a good time too!

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