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Atlantic City’s new Palm has sparked a bigwig brouhaha

You’re nothing in Atlantic City if you’re not on the wall at the Palm. At least, that’s the prevailing attitude among a certain determined set who’ve spent the past seven months lobbying, bribing and begging to have their caricatures on the wall of the new eatery, which opened at the Tropicana in late January. “All of a sudden, I have all these new best friends — and all these people who are mad at me,” says Phyllis Lacca of Masterpiece Advertising, who was hired by the Palm to help pick those who would grace the eatery’s walls by opening night.

Celeb caricatures — painted by Philadelphia native Bronwyn Bird — are as much a part of the Palm as the chain’s signature steak and lobster dinners. And the A.C. Palm will eventually have about 2,500 caricatures. But for the January opening, Lacca had to narrow her list to only a couple hundred — nearly impossible in a town where everyone’s a celebrity, at least in his or her own mind. Steve “Zeppy” Cole, one half of the 40-plus-year casino singing duo the Cole Brothers, for example, spent three months buttering up general manager Jim Haney with frequent visits to the restaurant under construction, then dined at the Palm eight times during its two-week trial opening in mid-January. Finally, he passed Haney a photo and picked his spot: right above booth 25, his favorite. “I’m still cute, for an old guy,” Cole insisted.

But he didn’t make the cut. Who did? Lacca chose 200 A.C. regulars, old-timers and new: Frank Sinatra, Donald Trump, New Jersey Senator Bill Gormley. Still, there’s hope for also-rans like Cole — if they keep eating at the Palm. “If my server staff and bartenders know you by name, you’re probably going up,” says Haney. “And bribery doesn’t hurt.”