The Borgata Breathes New Life into AC

I cant live without my AC during the summer, I just melt. I also need a fix of my other AC, Atlantic City, at least a couple of times a season. I’ve been enjoying Vegas on the Atlantic for decades. Every year, AC improves as it inches ever closer to some nirvana-like destiny, defined by the corporate entities that control the massive casino/hotel complexes, the banks that finance the whole affair, and the moods and quirks of the ancient beach town itself. Atlantic City has seen many ups and downs, and spent a lot of time sort of going sideways. Gone are the glory days, immortalized in Legend and Monopoly boards. There are reminders of these Traymore hotel days, and that horse jumping off the steel pier, and W.C. Fields entertaining tourists in beer gardens everywhere. There was that transition period underlined in Louis Malle’s art flick, Atlantic City, as gaming was to save it all. Bring back the action. The subsequent slow-growth era, where crime and general seediness stunted the modernization, lasted way too long. AC is notoriously slow on change.

Recently, the boardwalk—and its adjacent blocks—have been polished, and its urban demons banished to Pacific Avenue, or at least hidden during tourist hours. You can still seek and find the crack whores and the thug culture, but you no longer need to look over your shoulder while taking a stroll in warm ocean breezes at night.

The Borgata changed the game. Built off the beaten path in the Marina section, it tries to be all things to all visitors. It is such a self contained oasis of stimulation that it’s hard to visit the other AC—the one on the boardwalk. I had never stayed at the Borgata, and since they asked me to, I did. I ate in fine restaurants, saw Sting with a 50-piece orchestra, and sat poolside, chatting up super models. I saw celebrities in for the Seinfeld show while wandering around the casino, and hung with familiar faces at clubs that have improved remarkably since last year. The crowd, overall, is much improved—better dressed, and more fun than I remember.

I was taken through the complex by Greg Coyle, who basically books all of the entertainment. That’s clubs, bars, and small and medium size arenas. At every turn there was something fun to do. There are pools everywhere, and for all tastes. The staff is the biggest improvement. The turnover, over the last 5 to 7 years, has been minimal, with some restaurants boasting almost all of the same players since day 1. The result is great teamwork, and service. We were fine-dined at Izakaya, where manager Michael Laelli drowned us in lobster and Kobe beef, and brilliant edamame dumplings. We were then rushed to see Sting in very intimate surroundings

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While to me Sting has lost his sting over the years, the well-heeled crowd of about 2,500, sang along to every song. He had a full orchestra with him, which reduced his anthems to little more than elevator music, to my post-punk ears. I found the harp and all the violins just slightly less corny than the state of Iowa. His sanitized version of Roxanne lacked the subtleties and sexuality I remember. I prefer Eddie Murphy’s version at this point. It’s of little importance that I enjoyed this particular show. The fact is that you can see stadium acts, up close and personal, and there is always huge talent being showcased. Saturday night, Jerry Seinfeld ruled the roost. I saw ads for Stevie Nicks, Iggy, and so many more, that I’m thinking of getting a condo down there.

We enjoyed Bobby Flay’s steak so much that we almost couldn’t make it to Mixx and Mur Mur, the Borgata’s much-improved night spots. We waddled in and met “in house” PR siren, Noel Stevenson, who joined Greg Coyle and my merry band. Mixx has been redone. They added Marquee-style seating to help define the dance floor, and brought flying trusses and lights in to make the tall room more intimate. John Mayer sat at the table next to ours, and wandered around the place, mostly unnoticed. My gal saw him at the pool the next day. Although the Jersey shore crowd is evident, it isn’t at all dominant. The Borgata is now mostly Philadelphia money and New Yorkers. The Aces train has now been embraced. It’s a relaxing couple of hours in absolutely pleasant surroundings and company, from Penn Station to paradise. New Yorkers without cars no longer have to take uncomfortable buses to get there. On Sunday, after gorging on more lobster and Kobe beef at Michael Mina’s Seablue, we hit the pool for the after-party for super model Molly Sims’s trunk show. We sat with Molly and her crew, which included Richard Thomas, and his very preggers wife. Super Molly was super friendly as we chatted about her career, which has transitioned into design and acting. We raved about DJ Jesse Marco, who offered one fun track after another. She also loves DJ Mos. The Borgata’s stable of club DJs are familiar faces: Spyder from LA, Rachida and Dalton, or Eli Escobar, and, of course they often have Samantha Ronson down, and so many others we know.

We took day and night trips to the Chelsea Hotel to hang with NY marketing guru Josh Shames, and to breakfast at Tblinsky’s where Rachel, our favorite waitress ever, gave us AC tips, and fresh coffee. Borgata is marvelous. We even caught the Amish Outlaws doing fun covers at the Gypsy Bar. The balancing act that is AC is ever improving, ever changing.

The dormant Revel Hotel and Casino looms over the beach landscape, a 900 million dollar monument to new that is getting old, as it remains unfinished. It’s a skyscraper on the beach with no bank money available to energize the steel and glass into the dream it was meant to be. It defines the current AC view, which is freeze-framed between boom and bust. The Borgata and The Chelsea Hotel are thriving Meccas delivering charm, grace, fun and sophistication. When they were built, they seemed years ahead of their time, but no one envisioned this many years. The rest of AC wriggles to catch up. The Water Club, where we stayed, is the new Borgata offering. It is all things to all people. Still, as we cabbed from the beach to the Marina oasis, our driver dubbed the surrounding area Borghetto, and told us of its urban flaws. These days, you don’t see this sad side to the fairy tale unless you want to. You hear only of Jay-Z, or Sting, or last week’s trip by Lady GaGa. The Borgatta has outlawed the bad, and succeeds in making your stay great and safe. We are hundreds of thousands of Catherine the Greats pleasantly kept unaware of the peasants.

Borgata succeeds on every level. it is Vegas, near an ocean; it brings world-class acts and players to the decidedly un-worldly Jersey coast. It provides the meaning of success to a population confused by economic uncertainties. The Borgata continues to lead, while others have been swept away by the changing financial currents. I asked one of the DJs what they played, and was told ‘anything fun, people are here to have fun so it’s easy.’ Maybe that’s what is missing from NY nightlife. The ever-so-jaded crowds, unable to create their own fun because the unmonied, creative types have been banished to Brooklyn, want desperately to be entertained, and insist on having a type of fun as phony as the smile on the bottle model waitress’s puss. The Borgata delivers fun as if that wasn’t a novel concept. I cant wait to go back.

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