FIRST LOOK: Phase 1 of AC’s The Playground, T-Street, is Pretty Darn Awful

One of T-Street's venues.

One of T-Street’s venues.

You can put lipstick on a pig, but…oh, you know how the rest goes.

Unfortunately, in the case of the first phase of Atlantic City’s The Playground, called T-Street, that lipstick is from the dollar store. Everything about the “new” venue that is trying to save what was formerly known as The Pier literally looked cheap, poorly-constructed, and geared towards the barely post-pubescent college crowd.

Indeed, when I stopped by T-Street on Saturday evening, there were enough frat bros walking around, with their board shorts, Vans sneakers, tank-tops, and socks up to their calves, to think there was about to be a hazing. Phase one of The Playground is located on the first floor of the multi-level complex, and when you walk in from the boardwalk, the old fountain that once held starfish and sand was drained and two vintage cars and a motorcycle were randomly plopped in.

The center court was converted into a concept called “Monkey Bar,” which was the best part of the experience, but that isn’t saying much. I ordered a coconut mojito (there was no mint in it but rather a cherry) and eggplant hummus (that tasted like it came from Acme). The price? $22. Later, as I was browsing one of the remaining stores on the second level, a sales clerk asked if I ate at the new venue and if what I had tasted “stale,” as he had three customers in a row complain about the food.

Past the Monkey Bar is a series of vaguely themed, poorly decorated, extremely strange “bars” that are retrofitted into the vacant spaces of the Pier (nothing like seeing a faux mechanical bull in an old Chico’s shop). I felt like I was in a bad, low-budget high school version of Annie Get Your Gun and Guys and Dolls all at once: Some of the spaces were country-western themed, others were “roaring twenties” themed, and others a hodgepodge of whatever leftover decor they had sitting around. The signs looked like someone went to Michael’s craft store, bought a bunch of metal letters, and hot glued them to the existing facade. In one case, the designers literally tore off the “Trinity Irish Pub” signage from the shuttered restaurant, formerly located on the third floor of the Pier that had been closed for years, and plopped it on one of the bar spaces. It looked horrible.

All that aside, the various bars might have been cool if they all had unique menus, but they don’t: They have the same offerings as Monkey Bar, except for two cocktails that are designated for each bar, and at $12-14 a pop, those drinks ain’t worth it, not when you can take a quick elevator ride to The Continental on the third floor for a legit martini for the same price, if not less.

Remember the multi-million dollar light and water show at the end of the Pier? That’s been dismantled and replaced with a stage (in the middle of the drained fountain…I kid you not) with a rotating list of performances. The “box office” has been retrofitted into an old shuttered jewelry store right past the Victoria’s Secret, which carried over from the Pier (it’s appropriate to note that many of the Pier stores still remain, including Apple, Lush, Gucci, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, etc.).

I’ll admit: I had super low expectations for this phase of The Playground, but even those expectations weren’t met in this really horrid looking, poorly-executed rush job. Who knows? Maybe there will be enough frat bros and their girls who will get a kick out of bouncing from “Tag” bar to “Purdy” bar to “Show Us Your Shoes” bar that it will keep the new concept afloat. But so far as I’m concerned, I won’t be taking a ride down T-Street again any time soon.