As a New Jersey native, I’ve had a front-row seat to the challenges Atlantic City has faced, watching as it struggled through the Great Recession and lost its status as the only East Coast gaming destination when other casinos began popping up in the region. Both those waves hit the oceanside community hard, and casinos and businesses went under.
When you spend the better part of a decade hearing about a local community’s steady run of bad luck, you stop expecting a happy ending. So, you can imagine my delight when I was invited by Meet AC to celebrate the city’s revival in the form of two grand openings — Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino, both renovations of previously shuttered casinos.
A Night at Tropicana
After just a 90-minute drive from my home, I reached the South Jersey shore and breathed in the salty air as I checked in at the Tropicana Atlantic City, my home for my two-night stay. I had time to briefly check out my sprawling suite in the recently redesigned Havana Tower before meeting up with the Meet AC team and other invited media for a tour of Chelsea Tower. The former boutique hotel that sat adjacent to Tropicana is now connected to the main property via skybridge, which was just finished this year to add 300 additional guest rooms and four new bar or restaurant options.
After touring Chelsea Tower, we had quite the meal awaiting us, prepared by Chef Jose Garces at Olón, an oceanfront seafood restaurant at Tropicana. We feasted on 12 dishes, including mini crab cakes, cheese empanadas, strip steak — and maybe a little too much guacamole (it was so good it was hard to stop myself).
We ended our night on the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk, where we toured Steel Pier’s tented outdoor event space perched 1,000 feet over the ocean. After enjoying a beer while riding the Wheel at Steel Pier, a 227-foot Ferris wheel with temperature-controlled gondolas, we challenged each other to a few traditional boardwalk games. While I didn’t triumph that night, I did try my first fried Oreo, and that was prize enough for me.
The next morning, we rose bright and early to visit Gilchrist, a charming 1946 dockside restaurant that specializes in blueberry hotcakes. After some bonding over breakfast, it was time to head over to celebrate the opening of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. The hotel’s entrance truly makes visitors feel like rock royalty, with a giant, glistening guitar chandelier mounted on the lobby’s ceiling, tile flooring designed to look like guitar picks, and screens spotlighting music icons like Madonna and Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen surrounding the escalators up to meeting space on the second level.
The sprawling property sits on 17 acres, featuring 2,200 slots and 120 table games on the casino floor, 2,000 guest rooms, more than 20 restaurants, and 150,000 square feet of meeting space. After a quick press conference attended by Rita, one of the servers from the original Hard Rock Café location in London, we headed down to Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena. At the arena, which hosts rock concerts and conventions alike, we witnessed Hard Rock’s traditional guitar-smashing ceremony in lieu of a ribbon-cutting.
Before we knew it, it was time to pop over to Ocean Resort Casino for yet another grand opening. We took a brief tour of the property, which offers 160,000 square feet of flexible, indoor meeting space and 90,000 square feet of breathtaking, outdoor meeting space. Then we took a seat at the property’s Villain & Saint restaurant — which we helped christen as some of its very first diners — for juicy burgers and out-of-this-world flatbread pizzas.
After a short break to freshen up, we ended our evening with another dining experience — this time, back at Hard Rock’s Kuro, a contemporary Japanese restaurant with artisanal flair. As we devoured koji lamb and wagyu tacos, we reflected on our short time in A.C. We had all felt the renewed sense of energy and hopeful vibe of a city no longer down on its luck, and I had found my surprise happy ending.