A.C. Now: Nightlife

A.C. has always been a beacon for the late-late crowd — but now there’s reason to come to town both to get the party started and to close it down.

There once was a day—or an early morning—when A.C. was the summertime destination of choice for those of us who didn’t want to stop carousing when the bars of Margate and Somers Point turned on the lights. These nights, however, there’s reason enough to come to town both to get the party started—and to close it down.

The Borgata, 1 Borgata Way, 609-317-1000;
Smoky, enveloped in dark brown sheer curtains, furnished with retro-modern sofas and leather club chairs, B Bar—at the epicenter of the gaming floor—feels like it’s the set of a 1940s movie (except for the video poker screens in front of the bar stools). There’s no way Humphrey Bogart would have ordered an $11 mojitotini from the ritzy cocktail list, but the cool, dark bar is a perfectly cozy retreat within the resort. And, ladies, if you’re looking for guys, they’re definitely here—but good luck prying their attention away from the gorgeous blonde waitress. She definitely would have been played by Veronica Lake in B Bar, the movie.

Casbah Nightclub
Trump Taj Mahal, Virginia Avenue and Boardwalk, 609-441-1000;

On a recent tour of Club Casbah, which was renovated last fall, the Trump Taj Mahal GM showed off the club’s crushed velvet chairs and Moroccan light fixtures, but he was most proud of the illuminated concrete tables. “They’re designed specifically to be danced on!” And that pretty much sums up this place, which expands during the summer into a megaclub with a 2,000-person capacity—the largest in the city. In-house DJ Moe Green gets a break when DJ Colleen Shannon (a.k.a. Playmate), Crooklyn Clan or DJ Unique makes a guest-spinning appearance. As elsewhere, Club Casbah has a stable of hot in-house dancers. It also has the outdoor Star Bar, which offers fresh air and another DJ.

Club Worship
House of Blues, Showboat Atlantic City, 801 Boardwalk, 609-236-2583;

Wedged between the House of Blues restaurant and the Boardwalk, this tiered corner club is a no-brainer for after-concert partyers, wayward boards crawlers, and a smattering of prenuptial revelers clustering around tilting brides- or grooms-to-be. On Saturdays, the DJ spins hits and hip-hop. Dancers confine themselves to the first floor. Onlookers ogle from ample mezzanine-level perches. And maxers/relaxers get to stretch out on wide sofas and banquettes, where, for an instant, they can imagine they’re upstairs in the Foundation Room. Open Saturdays and for special events.

Ducktown Tavern
Atlantic and Georgia avenues, 609-449-1212.
Take Moe’s from The Simpsons. Update the decor. Put it on a corner. Open it 24/7. Swap Moe for a fresh-faced and friendly blond barkeep. Add a narrow, diner-y room serving strip steak and provolone on kaiser rolls, a standard repertoire of fried snacks—poppers, chicken tenders, cheese sticks, etc.—the occasional spaghetti platter, and bacon and eggs. Keep Homer and the pudgy policeman. Insert a sprinkling of fishermen, off-duty card dealers, and a mom and dad finishing up their weekly date with pints of Sam Adams. Tune the TVs above the bar to the Birds game. Now you have the Ducktown Tavern, a genuinely respectable establishment that once served cigars but now serves Cuban cigar sandwiches, and where a Miller Lite costs $2.50 on Saturdays.

Ego Bar & Lounge
Trump Taj Mahal, Virginia Avenue and the Boardwalk, 609-449-1000;

If the Borgata is the Julia Roberts of casinos, then the Taj, built 11 years earlier in the twilight of the corporate-raider era, is Laura San Giacomo, Julia Roberts’s coked-up but still endearing hooker roommate in Pretty Woman. After years of neglect and close financial calls, the Taj is still around, and Ego, smack in the middle of the casino floor, is the preposterous cocktail lounge the property deserves. The 24-hour bar fully and expansively embraces Taj tackiness, draping itself in gauzy crimson and gold curtains and serving saccharine, Day-Glo cocktails with names such as “Ego Trip,” “Mirror Mirror” and “Ego Maniac” in oversize, wide-stemmed martini glasses resembling trophies. Live bands and DJs get casino-goers dancing Friday and Saturday nights with covers of Chaka Khan and Earth, Wind and Fire.

4040 Club
2120 Atlantic Avenue, 609-449-4040;

The blueprint for Jay-Z and co-owner Juan Perez’s 40/40 Club is a real sports and hip-hop fantasy hybrid—without the fantasy baseball dorks. It’s tough not to feel like you’re the Hova of your own “Girls, Girls, Girls” video while leaning back against an endless wall of plush Italian pillows, a watermelon martini in hand, eyeing your own personal plasma TV. Even if you and your entourage didn’t shell out for one of the VIP suites with pool tables, leather beds, autographed jerseys, Ms. Pac-Man arcade game or PlayStation, you can still kick off the night with sizzling steak or shrimp skewers followed by mojitos and mini fried Snickers (or other treats from the multipage, Andy Reid’s playbook-looking menu). Factor in the pro-athlete patronage (T.O. and Serena Williams have partied here), the chance to see Beyoncé or Jay himself, and some hot dance tracks, and the problem of getting 99 girls into a sports bar just ain’t one.

Foundation Room
House of Blues, Showboat Atlantic City, 801 Boardwalk, 609-343-5795;

The House of Blues’ private lounge and dining room is the ultimate anti-country-club. Here, high above the Showboat’s casino floor, beyond a Buddha-guarded entrance, past a tunnel of silky Gujarat patchwork, is the internationally chic hangout for club members (annual fees start at $2,250), a burgeoning number of the casino’s most devoted players and, occasionally, the dudes from Gnarls Barkley or Bo Bice’s band. Regulars say the club is the coolest secret in A.C. Private “prayer” (read: drinking) rooms have Hindu goddess or African deity themes. The back dining room is both laid-back and formally attended. And the DJs have quite the knack for spinning crowd-shakin’ old school, just when the moment calls for it. Want to give the room a test-run before buying in? Call up, ask for a Foundation sales manager, and make nice. Real nice. (Or sit yourself down at a blackjack table for a month or two.)

Game On!
The Pier at Caesars, 1 Atlantic Ocean, 609-345-6800; gameonac.com.
When we say “sports bar,” you think bar peanuts, beer-sticky floors and paunchy fans shouting chants, right? Sure, unless you’ve just come from the Pier’s high-tech take on the old gig, Game On!, which opts for a different recipe: 90-plus TVs broadcasting up to 11 different games at once; a massive 100-foot bar built to be danced on; a movie-theater-
worthy, $750,000 sound system; young, scantily clad waitresses; 20-plus beer varieties; private “skyboxes” that can be reserved for groups; tailgating fare kicked up a notch, like Memphis-style baby-back ribs or the “Coney Island” foot-long topped with chili and cheddar; and—the cherry on the sundae—a mechanical bull. In short, this way-loud lair is a guy’s ultimate playground—a must-stop for A.C. man-cations and bachelor parties. At night, the ladies have figured out that this is where the boys hang, and the “Eat, Drink, Score” motto seems, well, apt, as the bar-cum-nightclub endures into the wee hours. Now if we could only just get those special teams to keep up …

Gypsy Bar
The Borgata, 1 Borgata Way, 609-317-1000;

“Management has the right to strip you of your inhibitions” is the slogan here, and frankly, sometimes they seem to abuse it. In this walled-in corner of the casino floor, you will see grandmothers bumping up on frat boys, striped-shirted lads mentally plotting threesomes, and cover bands headbanging to Green Day. The vibe is college-bar-meets-cheaters-bar-meets-bingo-parlor, which, along with the cheese fries, mango jalapeño wings, crabcake sliders, and reliable margaritas—including one made with topmost-shelf El Tesoro Paradiso that’ll set you back $60—means Gypsy Bar is a hell of a lot of fun.

Irish Pub
164 St. James Place at the Boardwalk, 609-344-9063;

Nobody knows your name, and you won’t find any retired Red Sox tending bar, but this place still does this gambling town’s best Cheers imitation. Old shellacked newsprint covers the ceiling. The jukebox blares Queen. Memorabilia hang from every visible surface. And when you pull up a stool to the scarred wood bar, it’s hard to think of anything other than a pint of Guinness and a rowdy good time. Close quarters don’t discourage a vigorous crowd from filling out booths and tables in the adjoining dining room, where the menu offers suds-absorbing fare like beer-battered fish-and-chips and corned beef. Still, the blue-collar atmosphere beats anything you could possibly order, other than another round. Sounds good to us, especially at 4 a.m., when there’s nowhere else we’d rather be. (By the way: A.C.’s cheapest rooms—$25 a bed—can be found upstairs, if you see fit to sleep one off.)

Le Grand Fromage
25 Gordons Alley, 609-347-2743,

When you’re ready to get away from badly dressed tourists and drink with the locals, head over to this quintessential dive bar near the Taj that people tend to refer to by its English translation, which, for those of you who think oui, oui is just a parent’s nickname for their male toddler’s genitalia, is The Big Cheese. There are two floors. Downstairs, you get casino employees, secretaries, construction types and the occasional shady-looking individual, all discussing water-cooler topics over potent cocktails that run well below the going local rate for booze. Upstairs, you get a cacophonous mixture of aggressive rock bands, tattooed strippers on their night off and Mohawked individuals looking for love and the bottom of their cheap beer. Which makes this place both right on—and right up —our alley.

The Liquid Bar
Trump Plaza, Mississippi Avenue and Boardwalk, 609-441-6000;

An eclectic crowd—men in Harley-Davidson T-shirts downing shots of whiskey, women in halter tops sipping appletinis—sits comfortably in the plush chairs of this redesigned lounge. On warmer nights, Liquid spills out onto Trump Plaza’s stretch of the Boardwalk, enticing passersby with a live cover band, oversize cocktails and decked-out waitresses. Busiest nights: when there’s a big fight (or Cher) at nearby Boardwalk Hall.

Maloney’s Uptown
142 South Tennessee Avenue, 609-347-3100;

When Maloney’s moved from Margate to A.C. a couple of years ago, it changed a lot—and then again, it didn’t. The pub, which sits on a low-traffic side street, remains popular with the blown-out ’dos, extreme tan crowd. It still has a big DJ on Saturdays, who still indulges the crowd with sing-along-inducing modern-day drinking ballads such as “Sweet Caroline” and “Laid.” There are still dollar-drink nights on Wednesdays, a dozen TVs tuned to sports (or high-def surf DVDs on Tuesdays), and a bar-food menu. The change, however, is in the crowd itself, which is more A.C. local, less Philly import.

Missile Bar
The Quarter at the Tropicana, South Brighton Avenue and the Boardwalk,

When you’re done pretending that you 1) know how to salsa and 2) remember more from Spanish 101 than muy caliente at Cuba Libre, head up the stairs at the back of the restaurant to the Missile Bar, a more disco-y dance floor where DJs spin danceable pop, hip-hop and house. On weekends, lines form here around 10 p.m. So, if you want to chill out and fuel up (on antojitos a la plancha and Red Bull mojitos) before you get down, come by 9 p.m. When the dance floor gets packed, look for the 10-foot missile launching from the center of the bar to guide you back to your next drink.

The Borgata, 1 Borgata Way, 609-317-1000;

Walk up to this throbbing nightclub, the older of the Borgata’s two such venues, at 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and you’ll be instantly impressed. The security wears tailored suits. The bartop dancers wear less and less as the night goes on. The patrons wear garments best described as formfitting, and once they get past the queue, stand 10-deep at the bars, waving fistfuls of Benjamins to attract the tenders’—and, one can only imagine, fellow clubbers’—attention. What distinguishes Mixx from neighboring Mur.mur is not bottle service; both places have that. It’s the layout. The larger Mixx, with its tall ceiling and mezzanine level, is more warehouse-y, more voyeuristic, which may be why it’s the designated after-concert destination. A Ricky Martin gig might inspire a Latin night; Gwen Stefani’s visit might spark a tribute to J-pop. It’s also more tailor-made for private parties, where guests get to arrive via private elevator and throw back cosmos in cubbies—and, if they’re lucky, one “bedroom”—high above the dance floor.

The Borgata, 1 Borgata Way, 609-317-1000;

Do you really need a description of the beat-cued light system, the booths with subwoofers hidden in their cushions, the Manhattan-y cover charge ($10-$20 for girls and $10-$25 for guys, depending on the night), or the names-in-lights DJs at the Borgata’s basement-level, popped-out nightclub? Please. That’s not what you people need. You need to hook up, and this long-lined, escalator-down, feels-crowded-even-when-it’s-not (and not-too-crowded-even-when-it-is) dance club is the place to give it your best shot. The private party services, $55 carafes of cosmos, dancers on light boxes, and bottle list that begins at $310 per (for Level vodka, Plymouth gin or Johnnie Walker Black) hold only slight interest. You’d rather know that Mur.mur has a mystical, possibly illegal, and certainly uncanny ability to make its tightly black-clad patrons resemble a Hilton sister or Nick Lachey. That’s what you want. (Oh, and if you want all this on a Monday night, no worries—that’s when the floor is loaded with a mix of in-the-biz, off-the-clock, in-the-mood locals.)

Planet Rose
Tropicana, South Brighton Avenue and Boardwalk, 609-344-6565;

Wistful nightclub-act wannabes, aspiring American Idol contestants, and groups of friends pack this petite and lounge-y New York-born karaoke bar, where fleeting fame is for sale at the bargain price of $2 a song. Still, celebrity isn’t guaranteed. The wait to take the stage can exceed two hours. The stage itself is no more than a few square feet at the end of the bar, and the din of the crowd often drowns out performances. But watching buzzed sorority sisters belt out “Vacation” is far more entertaining than going elbow to elbow with the wasted frat brothers at Rí-Rá. Plus, if you’re lucky—or important—enough to score the private glassed-in karaoke room, you can steal your own show.

The Quarter at the Tropicana, South Brighton Avenue and the Boardwalk, 609-345-7800;

The Trop gets more serious about the fight for younger A.C.-goers with this New-York based nightclub that opened with a bang July 4th weekend in the space that was The Sound of Philadelphia. Look no further than the healthy line (come early to avoid it) of fiercely clad 20- and 30-somethings along the velvet rope to realize that this new kid on the block isn’t dealing with the usual start-up lulls. Once inside, you’ll reap the benefits of the population control—the wait for a drink at the three main bars is never too long, and the dance floor has plenty of room for you to bust a move, but not so much that you think the party is elsewhere. The space is just the right size, with a Gothic archway as its focus (the club’s NYC flagship is located inside a former Baptist church), and house dancers shake it on main-floor platforms or from windows above the bar, beaconing to Quarter passersby. High rollers can get a bottle service table just off the dance floor or in the upstairs balcony, with more than 50 options, including $75 bottle infusions (like “Sweet Lemon Ketel One”) for shots and martinis. At this rate, don’t be surprised if it’s 6 a.m. the first time you look at your watch.

The Quarter at the Tropicana, South Brighton Avenue and the Boardwalk, 609-348-8600;

Get in line for this drinkers-crammed Irish pub at midnight on a weekend, and you wouldn’t imagine that just a few hours earlier, it was a spacious, peaceful—cozy, even—spot for watching a soccer match, quaffing a Smithwick’s, and digging into rasher burgers, chicken boxties, bangers and mash, something called Irish Cobb salad, soda-bread pudding, and stout-flavored ice cream with the family. Early on, you’ll notice the woodwork and the imported antiques. Come nightfall, however, attentions here turn to serious drinking. Aiding patrons in this admirable endeavor are affable, brogue-bearing barkeeps; perfectly poured pints of Guinness; din-defying folk musicians; no cover charge; and, of course, fellow warriors of the buzz.

Sapphire Bar
Harrah’s Atlantic City, 777 Harrah’s Boulevard, 609-441-5000;

At the far end of the gaming floor, inside the Eden Lounge, below the escalator to Harrah’s restaurants, theatrical bartenders play juggler with cold beverages—à la pre couch-jumping Tom Cruise in Cocktail. The drink—order anything shaken or blended—is served atop a frosted partition—literally huge slabs of ice—on the bar. With aqua lighting, live entertainment and past-2 a.m. hours, the, indeed, sapphire blue space is reminiscent of a jazz club, maybe even a speakeasy. (If a speakeasy were across from public slots and heavy foot traffic, that is.)

32 Degrees
Quarter at the Tropicana, South Brighton Avenue and Boardwalk, 609-572-0032;

This is not the same Old City lounge you know and feel strongly about. The Quarter’s youthful 32 feels like a trendy bistro that’s closed for the night and hosting a private party. This lounge is small enough to always feel hopping, making it a nice alternative to nearby megaclubs since you can party with a gaggle of friends and not worry about losing one another in the abyss. A center atrium holds a huge chrome orb flanked by a sea of crystal, as the in-crowd dances below—and they have to dance, because seating is reserved for the club’s European bottle service. Yes, it’s ridiculous to spend $240 on a bottle of Absolut. But if not here, where? (Regulars can even rent a liquor locker to store their leftovers for next time.) Those watching their pennies should come Thursday and Sunday nights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. for half-priced cocktails and bottled beers.

The Trinity

The Pier at Caesars, 1 Atlantic Ocean, 609-345-6900;

The formula at the Pier’s Irish pub is familiar. There are imported vintage apothecary shelves, a gas fireplace, low lighting, U2’s greatest hits, and Guinness on draft—and on the pork chop. Much like Rí-Rá, this tavern is a retreat for the scene-weary, a place for grown-ups who wanna play quarters without shouting over the thumping sound system at Game On!, and for drinking $5 pints of beer, not $12 martinis. It’s also the city’s best spot for noshing on hearty Emerald Isle fare, courtesy of chefs Brian Perry and Martin Doyle. Gourmet beer-soakers include: grilled garlic sausage on sourdough croutons, a Dublin mushroom stuffed with Irish cheeses, pork chops served with applefritters, and an 8-ounce filet served on a béarnaise blanket.

25 Hours Casino Bar
Resorts Atlantic City, 1133 Boardwalk, 609-340-7111;

More than just a place to savor the novelty of drinking a Bud while the sun comes up, this always-open bar is actually pretty swanky. A platform raises it three steps above the casino floor, and blue lights make it feel modern, in an hourless, spaceship kind of way. If the fresh watermelon martinis, dainty mimosas, and straight-up piña coladas with toasted-coconut rims make you feel fancy, well, all you have to do is look out on the ringing sea of slot machines to realize you’re still in Jersey.

The Wave
Trump Marina, Huron Avenue and Brigantine Boulevard, 609-441-2000;

Short partition walls are all that divide this Trump-a-rific nightclub from the hallways around it. This provides an interesting aquarium-like effect, wherein the folks gettin’ down to back-in-the-day party hits (usually provided by a cover band) are the fish, and the folks strolling the property are, well, the people. The always-packed Wave tends to attract an older, less self-conscious crowd, the sorts who are actually capable of ID’ing the blown-up photos of Prince, Billy Idol and ZZ Top that decorate the joint.