“Atlantic City is the new Williamsburg,” former Siberia bar owner and sometimes Fox contributor Tracy Westmoreland told me as the wind whipped through his long goatee at a rest stop somewhere in New Jersey.
He might not be wrong.
While Williamsburg has spent the last decade getting a face lift, Atlantic City did the same, with developers putting up towers on the waterfront. While Brooklyn got luxurious condos, Atlantic City got luxurious hotels: the Chelsea, the Borgata, the Water Club and, tallest of them all, Harrah’s. Crime and drugs are still busy in both, but hidden a few blocks in from the unsuspecting eye, and developers are falling over themselves to draw the young and the hip to the waterfront in both locations.
To the Brooklyn resident, the woes of finding a decent place to spend summer nights usually brings one to other parts of the island we reside on: the Hamptons, Jones Beach, or Long Island’s wine country to name a few. Unfortunately, that usually requires a car and often a certain attitude that you might not find in say, South Jersey.
Should I tell anyone that I was raised going to East Hampton, it would instantly elicit envy and the perception of affluence. It used to be that a middle-class family, like my own, could invest properly in a summer house north of the highway, and enjoy quiet summer evenings on the patio or a bonfire on the beach, not unlike the Jersey Shore.
Now, awkward conversations ensue at any mention of East Hampton to anyone unfamiliar with the area besides its stereotypes: celebrities, multimillion-dollar estates and choking traffic. You. Must. Be. One. Of. Them.
Though my family sold the house there about two years ago, I still head east every now and again to visit friends or even just to day trip. I have my haunts: the thrift shop in East Hampton, a bagel at Goldberg’s Deli, my deserted little beach spots. Over the July 4 weekend, a friend and I drove out and stayed at the Atlantic, a renovated motel in Southampton, just past the Shinnecock Canal.
We spent the weekend encountering unbelievably bad traffic (especially for someone who knows all the back roads); out-of-place Long Island meathead types willing to wait in line for any nightclub that will have them; a little bit of rain; and a terribly overpriced hotel far away from everything.
The Hamptons hype is out of control.
Don’t get me wrong – having a house in the Hamptons is a wonderful thing. But the hassle of having to drive everywhere and the suffocating WASP-ishness wears one down to the point where perhaps it’s time to consider an alternate destination.
Cue Atlantic City.
The Jersey Shore has its own stereotypes, of course. Those previously mentioned meatheads (the New Jersey version) pack the clubs; old ladies stare blankly at machines designed to steal their money; there are a lot of fat people, and sometimes they are poor. It’s opposite the Hamptons on the socioeconomic spectrum. Charming? Well, sometimes, but at the very least it’s democratic.Where the Hamptons are the gated vacation community of some of the world’s most powerful people (Paul McCartney once swam by me in the bay near his home and gave a little wave), Atlantic City offers a place to pawn gold jewelry on every corner (“We Buy Gold” should be their trademark).
A friend and I spent the weekend on the Shore recently. We disembarked a bus at the Bally’s Casino and walked down Pacific Avenue to the Chelsea, Atlantic City’s first non-casino hotel in four decades. Amongst some of the ruins of a formerly affluent paradise, the Chelsea stands as a testament to the sophistication and glamour of a great beach city, though slightly more reminiscent of a California scene.Despite the same distance from Manhattan as the Hamptons, we sort of felt like we were somewhere much farther from New York City, or even the East Coast.
Soon the hotel will be home to the Beatrice Inn by the beach, with Paul Sevigny and Matt Abramcyk consulting on the fifth-floor lounge, which leads out on to a pool (which Mr. Westmoreland claims to have christened–er--swam in before everyone else) and outdoor bar. Like their Manhattan spot, the hotel feels like one big intimate house party, where you might not know everyone around you, but after a night there you will have some kind of inexplicable bond.
Should you not want to participate in traditional Atlantic City fare, you can remain by the pool or in a cabana on the beach; though a walk down the boardwalk is an interesting sociological expedition, and a whirl around a casino or two might net you a little extra spending money.Oh, and remember those days when you could smoke indoors? That still happens in Atlantic City. And don’t worry about driving anywhere; stroll down to the beach or nearby Ceasar’s for the slots, and do bring your tattoos. It’s almost a requirement.
Though there’s still a very grimy element to Atlantic City–and, of course, the commercialization of everything, without apology–the nostalgia factor for that works in its favor. It is, after all, America’s playground, a microcosm of our dreams and woes: democracy and opportunity, crime and drugs. Nobody is hiding its woes, but gentrification might push those elsewhere. (Hence, the Williamsburg comparison.)
“Without that, it’s just trashy,” said Paul Sevigny, sporting a white Minor Threat-emblazoned Lacoste polo and peering out into the foggy night from a penthouse window atop the Chelsea. “But with it, it’s sleazy, and sleazy is way more fun.”