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Atlantic City is arguably the most famous city in America. Does that sound weird to you? If you take a look in your closet, at the bottom of the pile of boardgames, you’ll find your answer — Monopoly was based on the landmarks and streets of the seaside resort. The city’s initial boom years and strengths derived from the technology available in the early 20th century, namely railroads. People on the eastern seaboard would flee to the cooler coasts in the summer and stay for weeks at a time, until the train schedule would allow them to return inland. Prohibition, oddly, heralded the city’s greatest boom years. Alcohol maintained a quasi-legal status since city officials didn’t reinforce the ban and people flocked here to drink. The show, Boardwalk City, is based during this period and reflects the crime that came with the glitz and glamor. After World War 2, this model of tourism fell apart in the wake of mass adoption of the automobile, and later, the advent of easy and cheap commercial flights. In response, the city legalized gambling and saw another boom period before Connecticut built its first casino and Vegas became more accessible than ever. Now, AC is rebuilding again, coming forth from a chrysalis as an East Coast hot spot for quality entertainment, large resorts, and some rich stories from the past.
In lieu of the dicey history, the boom and bust, there’s a sense of unerring optimism from the locals. They love their city and this love is never more evident than at the ever-popular Chef Vola’s, a legendary landmark that has been open since 1921 and nowadays, by reservation only. There’s also the Knife & Fork Inn, open since 1912, and trust us, you’ll have to wait for a table if you show up today. In terms of traditional cuisine, AC likes to boast that salt water taffy was invented here after a storm surge inundated the boardwalk and the Jame’s Candy Store which features the renowned Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy. There’s also the White House Sub Shop, serving no-frills sandwiches since 1946.
These pre-gambling era establishments almost feel out of place next to the modern casinos, the selection of which includes the Borgata, the Tropicana and Ceasar’s. If those sound familiar, then you’re correct that a little bit of Vegas made it back east. They feature the assortment of shopping, entertainment, and games that you’d expect, from national name brands like Swarovski and Hugo Boss, to the celebrity impersonation shows that are the standard.
For the unconventional Atlantic City adventurer, there’s a smattering of treasures scattered between the old school restaurants and modern skyscrapers. The World War I memorial includes a grotesque bronze statue of Liberty triumphantly rising above a brutal battlefield. An 1800’s lighthouse, Absecon Lighthouse, graces the southern side of the city, its beacon shining for over a hundred years—climb to the top and get an unparalleled view. The Cara Glenn Pet Cemetery is an a tantalizing sight for the morbidly inclined, and equally weird but not as morbid, is Lucy the Elephant! She was originally built in 1882 and almost forgotten before some locals joined forces to preserve their quirky heritage. If you need some artistic inspiration in your life, look no farther than the Noyes Art Garage, a mixed-use parking garage and art gallery (they don’t occupy the same space, just the same building).
Atlantic City is close to home for some 44 million people in the Northeast Megalopolis, and just a plane ride away for anyone else, a city waiting to be rediscovered and treasured. It needs some new stories to add to its colorful past, present, and future, so why not add yours?