From Nucky to Snooki: Seeking Sin (and Food) in AC
First, let me preface this post by admitting that I like a bit of sleaze. I bemoan that the East Village is now family friendly and I miss the skankiness of “The Deuce”. Back in the day, a walk through Manhattan could feel as unpredictable as a drive-thru safari – except that, on foot, you lacked the protection of Detroit steel, and the threat of danger was very present. Pre-Internet, ladies (and boys) of the night plied their trade in 3-D person, while addicts and artists lounged in doorways, bumming your smokes and hawking their drugs. Now, I might be a chili head (another fact), but I feel this added spice to what has become a rather bland urban meal.
Cue Atlantic City: Sin City East. It’s going through a bit of re-branding, now that HBO’s Scorsese-produced Boardwalk Empire has become a hit. Casinos that once courted oldsters and welcomed families are now rediscovering AC’s cash value as a hotbed of sin. Add those other Jersey icons to Boardwark Empire—of course, I’m talking Snooki, “The Situation” and the ladies of The Real Housewives of New Jersey —and you’ve got yourself a goddamn Garden State zeitgeist.
We pried ourselves from our laptop and took a little staycation downa shore. We hit the streets of Atlantic City to see where our favorite antiheros eat, sleep, and (especially) sin:
Looking for Nucky? Besides the odd splinter of Boardwalk, there is precious material left from Nucky’s 1920. Fires, decrepitude, and modern casino redevelopment left HBO constructing a historically accurate Boardwalk in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Boardwalk Empire’s interiors are filmed all over Westchester and New York City (including at Manhattanville’s Reid Castle). Still, there are some recognizable AC sights remaining from Nucky’s Jazz Age. Just as in 1920, storefront psychics and palm readers swindle on the Boardwalk, and porters still shove tourists along in pushchairs exactly like sacks of groceries. For food, you’ll find Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy, whose façade is prominently featured on the HBO set (right next to the premature baby incubator shoppe.) My favorite bite at Fralinger’s is its “Caramello,” a foamy marshmallow coated with melting, blond caramel. It’s the kind of gooey mess that you have to lick off its brown, waxed-paper square—and did you see Nucky’s teeth? He’s eaten a few Caramellos (and not brushed afterwards).
One other remnant from Nucky’s Atlantic City is the evidence of Chinese characters, sometimes, used in the ‘20s to connote a whiff of Oriental, opium-den mystery. (The ‘20s marked a huge fad for chinoiserie– see Mamaroneck’s Walter’s Hot Dogs and Hollywood’s Graumann’s Chinese Theater). In Boardwalk Empire, you see a Chinese man wearing a traditional conical hat imprisoned with a minor gangster. And, currently, Caesar’s Palace offers an Asian gaming parlor dealing domino-like pai gow, thought to be one of the most complicated table games still played. You’ll also find card games conducted entirely in diverse Chinese (and other Asian) languages. Nearby the gaming floor, check out Kwi Noodle Shop: we found excellent Asian comfort foods like Chinese congee and Vietnamese pho.
Lookin’ for Snooki? Okay, I think I speak for all of my readers when I say that I’m only aware of these creatures from this high-toned New Yorker review, but if you want to find Snooki and “The Situation,” you don’t have to look hard in AC. Check out Club Providence at the Tropicana, Pool after Dark at Harrah’s Resort, Dusk, and Toga at Caesar’s (which has “Grecian Goddess” go-go girls in fishnets). All offer bottle service and crazy, thumping dance grooves until the break of sloppy dawn. Hint: for true Snooki spotting, try that 3 to 5 am slot. That’s when the Snookis are all falling off their platform stilettos, hair askew, and thongs to the breeze.
Food? Oh, these kids don’t eat.
Best thing for this crowd is that Harrah’s is a popular destination for packs of tanned, bottle-crazed cohabitors. This resort offers deals on corner, one-bedroom suites, and turns a blind eye when 10 people show up to take up residence. Order up a personal bartender (for in-room bottle service), and play billiards and Wii all night—or swing downstairs to Pool After Dark to show off your nuclear Fake-N-Bake February tan. PS: The glass-roofed pool remains 82°F year-round, and is surrounded by glorious palm trees and colorful tropical plants. And, at under three hours away, it’s the closest thing New York gets to a tropical staycation.
Real Housewives of New Jersey Fan?
Let’s say you like it “too” – as in, too tan, too plastic, too big hair, too tight, and way, way, WAY too much jewelry. Check out the cougar scene at the Borgata, reputedly the most exclusive of Atlantic City’s resorts. Sadly, the Borgata is not on the plebian Boardwalk, which probably lends to its air of snobbery, but you can always lounge around its spas and sip rum drinks just like all those too, too much ladies on the show. Try Bobby Flay Steak for a protein-filled dinner – though cut those carbs if you want to hang with all those 50-year-olds in string bikinis.
Spicing it Up!
Wine Crush at Harvest on Hudson – October 11, Noon ‘til Whenever, $50 per person, wine, tax, and gratuity included – This annual benefit for St. John’s Hospital the hot ticket on Columbus Day – it’s when the fine folks behind Harvest salute their Italian heritage with a free-for-all “wine crush.” Expect an overloaded buffet showcasing all of your Harvest favorites, offered in lush gardens planted riverside all along the Hudson. Best of all, you’ll see people dumping crates of grapes through a wine press. Every year, Harvest bottles a vintage of wine, and you can sample every one from the last decade.
Cooking Class with Alain Bennouna of Zitoune – Tonight! October 8, 7pm-10pm, $85 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity – Drop into Zitoune to learn how to whip up a three course Moroccan meal – tonight’s curriculum includes harira soup, lemon tagine and, for dessert, a Moroccan crepe.
Light Bites and Bubbly at the Ritz-Carlton, Westchester – Saturday Night starting at 6pm – Get your wasabi on at the Ritz with sushi, oysters, and Champagne served in the lounge. We’re talking deep, clubby seats, and the flickering glow of a peninsular fireplace. I know where I’m going to be on Saturday nights!
Sigmund’s Soft Pretzels at Dobbs and Bishop Cheese Shop
The saddest thing about New York City street pretzels is that I think I can remember eating a good one. Ever since, I’ve been trying to recapture that phantom flavor, all to no avail (think slimy cardboard with a bit of salt). If you think you remember a good soft pretzel, then stop into Bronxville’s Dobbs and Bishop on Tuesdays for the real deal. They’re offering Sigmund Pretzelshop soft pretzels that’ll trigger your most Proustian New York City memories. This East Village bakery has been praised by Martha Stewart, the Village Voice and, here, in the New York Times. Sadly, Dobbs and Bishop’s co-owner, Ruth Walter (whose Scottish-burred husband, Kevin McNeill, charms customers behind the counter), needs to commute into Manhattan to pick up the shop’sr weekly order. To be safe, call Dobbs and Bishop at (914) 361-1770 before visiting, or stop in and sign up for its newsletter. Dobbs and Bishop will be emailing pretzel alerts, though Walter hopes to carry the treats every Tuesday.
What?? Is Stone Barns Officially Ovah???
No other authority that New York Magazine’s Grub Street is declaring that the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture has jumped the shark, criticizing First Lady Michelle Obama for choosing a farm to visit that’s “so 2004.” Gosh. I’d have to go with expensive as my main criticism—I don’t think a lot of humanity can afford to eat the heirloom ramps sold in the dooryard market.