THE VIBE This nightlife-centric seashore anomaly has earned its rep as a mecca for all manner of short-term, high-dollar, indoor-outdoor sinning. Leave the Burberry bikini in Avalon, and pack the sequined version. (P.S.: Beach? What beach?)
THE 411 A recent slump in gambling revenues hasn’t put a damper on new higher-toned ventures here, and while the city’s Inlet area has yet to live up to its optimistic “North Beach” handle, the relatively quiet neighborhood has grown into a decent place to bring the brood on a cloudy day. On the downside, City Council still can’t seem to get its act together.
LOCAL LEGENDS Away from the madding casino crowds, pristine, historic, tallest-in-Jersey Absecon Lighthouse has ample parking and 228 winding, calf-wrenching steps. And quaint, inlet-side Gardner’s Basin feels almost like Viking Village, with its kid-friendly aquarium, kayak rentals, crafters’ shacks, fishing boats, and pair of casual restaurants (Back Bay Ale House for burgers and microbrews served in mason jars; Flying Cloud for captain’s platters and Coronas). Reservations at underground BYOB Chef Vola’s still require enduring endless busy signals and presenting pedigree papers, although regulars swear Louise’s ricotta cheesecake is worth the hassle.
Arleen Dougherty, A.C.’s very own Carrie Donovan, still presides over the chilly Cape May salts and even chillier martinis in the black-and-white-tiled piano bar at 111-year-old Dock’s. The freshest saltwater taffy in town still belongs to Fralinger’s. (Visit the most authentic store, mysteriously tucked into the bottom of Bally’s.)
WHAT’S NEW This June, the casino-bus-banishing Borgata debuts a second, even more fabulous, $400 million annexed hotel, the Water Club. With 800 guest rooms and suites, five exclusive pools, room service by Geoffrey Zakarian, a two-story spa, valet parking only, and, in the original tower, Izakaya, a modern Japanese pub by celeb chef Michael Schulson, the property is taking exalted aim at those of us who require a sophisticatedly debauched weekend away. (Summer room rates start at $320.)
Across town, stylish Cape May developer (owner of Congress Hall, the Virginia, the Star, etc.) Curtis Bashaw will open the Chelsea, the city’s first casino-less, Sunday Styles-worthy, oceanfront boutique hotel, tucked between the Hilton and the Tropicana, complete with a cafe and a steakhouse by Stephen Starr, a saltwater-theme day spa, a rooftop pool, a Beatrice Inn-born nightclub, for-real cabana service on the beach, and — get this — bikes to borrow and wired-for-iPod rolling chairs to hire for jaunts along the Boardwalk. (Summer room rates start at $175.)
TYPICAL DAY If you’ve arrived before 9 p.m., you’re too early. Even the Pier Shops, a robust selection of preppy-enough-for-96th-Street Michael Kors and Burberry and flashy-enough-for-anywhere stores like Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo and Gucci, stay open until 10 p.m., which also happens to be the busiest time at the Shops’ cozy bars, the Continental and Sonsie. Dinner’s a toss-up: Could Izakaya’s cold-smoked hamachi belly be the new tuna tartare at SeaBlue in the Borgata? Could Starr fix a better steak than Bobby Flay (ditto)? Nightclubbing, too, is a question mark: Could the Chelsea’s Terrace be the new Murmur? Borgata bigwigs and Bashaw believers assure us dinner reservations and club access are going to be much easier to come by than one might expect.
Wherever you’ve been, the next morning (or afternoon), skip the buffet and sweat it out at any of the multiplying spas around town. (Just to refresh: Bluemercury at the Quarter at the Trop; Red Door at Harrah’s, which includes access to the Pool; Sea Spa at the Chelsea; Immersion at Borgata’s Water Club; Spa Toccare at Borgata.) Then again, sleeping in is pretty much de rigueur — especially if you’re hiding under the Water Club’s Egyptian cotton sheets.
If you need retail therapy, you’ll find bargains on the sale racks of Scoop and Banana at the Pier Shops and at the city’s ever-packed outlet shops, where newer additions include Nike and J. Crew. (Parking, however, is still a nightmare. Best bet: the lot across from Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern.) After that, with apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert: eat, play (table games, that is), love.
NOTABLE SHOOBIES Gay News publisher Mark Segal, developer Tom Scannapieco, various D-list celebutantes.
DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT If you beat the house: a pair of perfectly cut diamond studs from the Water Club’s new Hearts on Fire boutique. (Who says what happens in A.C. has to stay in A.C.?) If the house beats you: A hangover-curing, mood-lifting meatball sub from the White House, a cheap and tasty companion for the long trip back up the Expressway.