Atlantic City is ever changing, year after year the blinking lights, boardwalk advertisements, and light shows grow larger and brighter. Despite living in NYC for 20 years I hadn't ventured to Atlantic City until 2016 and just a few months before I moved to Chicago. In Atlantic City I found a timeless space that I quickly fell in love with. While the Casino’s and concert billboards flashed there was still the slight feel of something much older. I was called there so much I ended up spending almost the whole summer there and then once a year after that. Usually with Vanessa Sinclair and Carl Abrahamsson who you’ll see in some of the photos and in the video. Its golden years were the 1920s during Prohibition when Nucky Johnson ruled the boardwalk. During the 30s and 40s Frank Sinatra sang at Steel Pier and during the 50s throughout the early 60s was a regular at 500 Club. Casinos loved Joe DiMaggio and paid his tabs just to have him in house. Marilyn Monroe greeted fans in front of the Claridge Hotel for the premier of “Monkey Business” and attended the 1952 Miss America Pageant. Below I’ve compiled a list of my favorite places in Atlantic City.
Founded in 1972 by Richard and Cathy Burke the Irish Pub Inn is a staple of Atlantic City. The takes you back in time through its memorabilia infused interior dating 1880 - 1930. It houses a hotel upstairs which contains various antiques, still uses keys, and creates the atmosphere of being in an old novel, so much so that Frommer’s Travel Magazine described it as “a setting truly out of a Henry James or James Joyce novel.” The prices are inexpensive $55 weekdays for a room with a private bathroom. $25 for a shared bathroom. $90 weekend rate for private and $40 for shared. If you decided to stay, ask to face the ocean as there’s no air conditioner. There’s also no wifi available. It’s a great spot for photoshoots and they are lenient with running around the hallways with cameras. Also note the beds are old so you may feel a spring or two but it’s worth the experience and I’ve never had a bad stay. It’s close to Steel Pier and all the casinos. It’s also close to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum and not even a 5 minute walk to the beach. Rumor has it Joe DiMaggio stayed there frequently.
Opened in 1898 Steel Pier has morphed over the years. Originally created by the Steel Pier Company it enjoyed success until 1904 when a storm took out part of it. Despite many saying it couldn’t be rebuilt it was and like many amusement parks it was destroyed by fire in 1924. “The Saltwater Barnum” Frank Gravatt, pegged by the local newspaper bought it and rebuilt it to be a carnival of attractions. Some of them included The High Diving Horse. This was popular in the 1800s but carried over into the 70s. It was shut down then due to activism. Miss America was crowned there from 1935 through 1938. George Hamid purchased it in 1945 and pushed the music aspect bringing in popular bands. Like most of Atlantic City, it felt the effects of declining tourism in the 60s. It was revamped in the 80s and 90s as an amusement park and much smaller in size than the original pier. To this day it operates as an amusement park. In 2012 the tourism board tried to bring back the diving horse but was shut down quickly by the public. 2017 brought a larger Ferris wheel to the park. If you like the feel of a small carnival you’ll like the pier.
Created by Atlantic City Mayor William Riddle, the Commodore Louis Kuehnle, and friends in 1912 it made its start as a mens drinking club. The upstairs was sectioned off into dining and a small area for a women’s lounge. The upstairs rooms on the third and 4th floors were used for gambling and parties of a certain nature. The restaurant was a hot spot during prohibition mainly due to Nucky Johnson entertaining there and rarely got raided. Alas as the mobsters rule declined and the feds got more forceful with their raids they ambushed the bar and destroyed its contents. The restaurant was sold in 1927 to the Latz family who moved into the upstairs floors and ran the establishment for years. It briefly closed in 1997 due to retirement and no buyers. It reopened in 1999 again in the family but was bought in 2003 by Frank Dougherty who owned Dock’s Oyster House. Frank renovated the restaurant and gave it new life. It was renewed again early 2000s and restored as close to the original as possible. The Knife & Fork is my favorite restaurant in Atlantic City. I spent my birthday there in 2016 and the waiters have remembered me every time since. The food is always incredible and there is a fine selection of wines and other beverages. If you are looking for an incredible atmosphere filled with history and fine dining this is the place to go.
Jame’s Candy Company is the maker of Fralinger's Salt Water Taffy. It’s been in operation for 139 years and is another staple of the boardwalk. Enoch James created the recipe to be easier on teeth and cut to fit the mouth. He then moved to Atlantic City to sell his signature candies. Traditionally they were made in copper kettles on coals, then placed to cool on marble slabs and pulled and shaped on a hook but as time went on changed to taffy wrapping machines. They used to give tours of the factory but they are no longer available. Definitely stop in for some salt water taffy or some fresh fudge. It has a few locations throughout the boardwalk but the original is definitely the one to stop into. They also have some vintage candy containers and memorabilia as well as a nice selection of vintage postcards.
The Claridge Hotel has a long and interesting history. Once known as the “Skyscraper by the Sea” the 370 foot building is one of the last structures on the boardwalk from Atlantic Cities golden years. Built by famous architect of the time, John McShain, it opened in 1930 and at that time was the largest building in NJ. It also had fresh salt water running through both the hot and cold faucets. At the time it was believed to contain health enhancing properties. In the 1940s it was used by the government to house the Air Force during the war effort. In 1943 it housed the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration World Conference which was created to create peace among countries and shorten the war. Marilyn Monroe stayed there in the 50s during her trip to act as grand marshal of the annual Miss America Pageant. Frank Sinatra, Princess Grace of Monaco, Al Capone, Nucky Johnson, and Bob Hope were rumored to have stayed there. I stayed there my last trip and the rooms are comfortable. The beds are really nice. There is a pool in the hotel but with the ocean right across the park you don’t really need it. There’s also a rooftop bar and lounge which is lovely.
Angelos is located a bit further from the boardwalk in the Ducktown section so you may want to take a car there. The website boasts it’s been owned by three generations of Mancuso's first being established in 1935. Angelo’s serves salad family style and offers gluten free options. If you like Italian food it’s worth the trip. The bar at the entrance is worth seeing as well if you like the old school look and feel. I didn’t get many pictures of it since it was packed when I went but check out the website to see the decor and memorabilia.
Absecon lighthouse in New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse at 228 steps. In 1854 Congress allowed $35,000 for a lighthouse to be built on Absecon Island. Jonathan Pitney, nicknamed the “Father of Atlantic City” was the advocate for building the lighthouse which also happens to be one of the oldest in the country. Up top you’ll be able to see the first-order Fresnel Lens. According to the website it was first lit in 1857.
Books, rare books, and 5 stores with antiques if you are looking for pretty much anything vintage or antique go here. The prices are reasonable and I’ve found some interesting old Fortune Telling books there. I always make sure I stop in. It can be hard to find things in the shop but if you ask the staff they’ll locate it for you.
The Ritz-Carlton Atlantic City started as a popular hotel in the 20s. Designed by New York architect Charles D. Wetmore and constructed by the Thompson-Starrett Company it opened its doors in 1921. by It boasted fresh- and salt-water faucets for both hot and cold water in each room, rubber walls and cork floors in the elevators so bathers could pass in leisure. It also featured a artisan well for spring water within the hotel. The hotel was meant for the wealthiest and house antique and rare art as well as a merry go round bar. Nucky Johnson formed the National Crime Syndicate in 1929 at the Ritz and Ambassador. It filed for bankruptcy in the late 30s and was used by the military during WWII.
In 1969 it transitioned into an apartment hotel. In 1978 a group of investors tried to make it into a hotel/casino. Its ties to ABSCAM put a halt to that. It became The Ritz Condominiums in 1982. Its been condominiums ever since. The front desk will let you through the lobby to look at the historic images. They used to have tours but the staff is knowledgeable on any questions people may have.
From the Ritz Carlton website: Renowned guests included performers Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker, and Lawrence Tibbett; author Bruce Barton; U.S. Presidents Calvin Coolidge, Warren G. Harding, and Herbert Hoover; 1920s to '30s Mayor of New York Jimmy Walker; and mobsters Al Capone and Lucky Luciano.
Among the celebrities who performed at the hotel during its heyday were Paul Whiteman, Bing Crosby, Red Nichols, and Milton Berle.
Built in in 1881 by James V. Lafferty, Lucy the Elephant, originally called Elephant Bazaar was meant to promote real estate and attract tourists to NJ. She was originally built from wood and sheeting and modeled after "Jumbo the Elephant"from Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth. Lafferty was also granted a 17 year patent on animal shaped buildings. It was sold to Anton Gertzen of Philadelphia in 1887. He and his family lived in Lucy and she remained in the family until 1970 despite falling into disrepair in the 60s. Around then the locals and a man named Edwin T. Carpenter formed the Margate Civic Association. The Save Lucy Committee was what it transformed into over time. Headed by Josephine Harron and Sylvia Carpenter, they created various fundraisers to save Lucy. She was restored and to this date remains the oldest roadside attraction in the US. Take tour and go up inside Lucy. You will have to take a car to see Lucy. She’s about 15 mins outside of the boardwalk.
The boardwalk offers an array of shops and restaurants. There’s also casinos along the entire walk so if you wish to try your luck there’s certainly enough places. I recommend stopping into all of them as they each have a distinct feel to them. I usually go to take photos along the way but there’s always something interesting to see or do. You can also check out the Miss America Monument as well. If you get tired of walking there’s trolleys and pushcarts as well for just a few bucks and they’ll take you anywhere along the boardwalk.
As you get closer to the Absecon Lighthouse the beaches get a bit quieter than right by the casino. Although any of the beach spots along the boardwalk are wonderful.