We’re long-time and frequent visitors of Atlantic City, and while we’ve experienced a ton of what the city has to offer, we’ve still yet to see it all. The city tends to experience spurts of growth, rebranding, and change. How many iterations have there been between what was once the Pier at Caesars and is now ACX1 Studios? How many restaurants have come and gone in the Quarter at Tropicana? It seems like there’s always something new to see and do in Atlantic City. There are also many hidden gems dispersed throughout the 48 blocks of town, easily overlooked in their locations off the boardwalk. On our most recent trip to Atlantic City, we were “first-timers” once more, and we fell in love with the city all over again.
Both new to us and new to Atlantic City in June 2023, The Hook is a 75 minute, Las Vegas caliber variety show, adjacent to the “psychedelic Italian” restaurant Superfrico at Caesar’s. The historic Warner Theater, on the world famous Atlantic City boardwalk, was renovated to become the home of this production, combining circus, cabaret, comedy, and interactive performance. The theater serves vintage Atlantic City charm, harkening the days of supper clubs and speakeasies. Since previews began this past summer, we’ve been advised time and time again that we should run, not walk, to buy tickets for The Hook. Each and every attendee we spoke to claimed it was amazing, and unlike any other live performance they’d ever seen. There is no shortage of entertainment venues in Atlantic City, but this sort of resident production, with this level of artistic ability, in its own dedicated venue, is completely unprecedented. We were fortunate enough to receive upgraded seats, directly next to the stage. Be forewarned, your proximity to the stage is directly correlated to the amount of your own participation in the show. These seats are not for the faint of heart. Not only are you on display, front and center, to all 420 audience members, but the show consists of raunchy, often physical, comedy, and you get completely immersed in it. While we ultimately had a blast feeling like we were part of the show, we were grateful that we stopped for pre-show drinks at the Horse Dive Bar, in between the theater and box office, to peruse the extensive collection of Atlantic City memorabilia and also procure some much-needed liquid courage. There are also cocktail servers circulating throughout the show, and a full bar at the back of the theater, in case you need more than one round of drinks to loosen up. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that The Hook far exceeded our very high expectations. Our jaws were dropped the entire time, as we observed the unbelievable skill, agility, precision, and seemingly effortless talent of the performers. Tears streamed down our cheeks and our sides ached from laughing at the over-the-top adult humor (and maybe a little nervousness at the racy things we volunteered to do and say from our seats). The cast has incredible chemistry and functions like a well-oiled machine. It’s hard to believe The Hook has only been open a few short months. The finely tuned production creates the illusion that it’s a long-running show with a cast who has known and worked alongside each other for years. It’s a true testament to the absolutely unparalleled talent that takes the stage 5 nights a week. The Hook is a definite must-see. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, go directly to Warner Theater and take in the brilliance gracing our boardwalk. Our only complaint is that we’ll never get to experience the show again from the eyes of a first-timer.
The following night, we enjoyed our inaugural meal at a longstanding, yet elusive Atlantic City restaurant. It wasn’t long ago that the restaurant’s phone number was a well-guarded secret, whispered down the lane to a veritable “who’s who” of patrons, as evidenced by the awe-inspiring collection of celebrity photographs lining the walls. Of course, we’re referring to the fabled basement bistro, Chef Vola’s, masters of limiting supply and creating demand. These days, the phone number is public, but it remains easier to get a call back from a supermodel. It still helps to “know a guy,” and we were only able to secure a reservation (after many failed attempts) with help from a friend. The first thing that comes to mind when recalling the experience is: special. The thrill of the chase built
such anticipation, and Chef Vola’s lived up to the immense hype. The basement dining room, while crowded, felt private and exclusive. The service was impeccable. Our extremely gracious and knowledgeable server made us feel right at home, walking us through the entirety of the lengthy menu, and endorsing what she affectionately referred to as the “first-timer’s special.” We took her recommendation and ordered what can only be described as a heroic amount of food: creamy buffalo mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto with roasted red peppers; a flawlessly-executed pasta trio of blush, bolognese, and white clam sauces; the unanimously recommended star of the show: bone-in veal parmigiana; macadamia crusted Chilean sea bass with tequila lime sauce; legendary banana cream pie; and decadent apple pie cheesecake. Every bite was better than the last. We had an unforgettable experience that was truly worth the wait.
To end our weekend of firsts, we attended Witchcraft, a Halloween beer and spirits festival on a campground reminiscent of Camp Crystal Lake from Friday the 13th, produced by the great folks of Good Time Tricycle. We’re no strangers to their other events, most notably the Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival, and we have had Witchcraft on our to-do list for years. As expected, the ghoulish vibes were immaculate. A vast array of festive activities were available, alongside over 60 breweries and distilleries, crafted beverages, and food trucks. There were crackling bonfires throughout the grounds, intriguing tarot and psychic readings, insanely talented fire performers, a haunted inflatable castle maze, spooky drag performances, and creepy decor adorning every vendor booth. Attendees could enter a costume contest with categories like best movie character, most frightening, killer looks, best couple costume, and best group costume, for a chance to win $100 cash. In addition to the costume contest, there was also a pumpkin pie eating contest with a $100 cash prize. Past patrons of the AC Beer Fest would recognize the very popular silent disco. Comedians conducted an improv comedy seance over seasonal mocktails at the Sip and Seance. They summoned the likes of Elvis, Dr. Frankenstein, “Kevin Spacey’s career,” and also accepted suggestions from the audience. Rhythm & Spirits held cocktail demonstrations throughout the evening, and Chainsaw Jenna carved intricate chainsaw art masterpieces before the crowd. We’re admittedly not “Halloween people” or horror fans, and even we, the skeptics, were fully immersed in the frightening festivities. We can’t wait to make this festival an annual fall tradition.
A few weeks after this trip, we were honored to attend C.R.O.P.S. 3rd annual Farm to Fork fundraiser for the first time at Cardinal Restaurant. C.R.O.P.S. (Communities Revolutionizing Open Public Spaces) is a non-profit that manages two community gardens and three SNAP/WIC/SFMNP authorized farmers markets, organizes food education workshops, community events, sells local produce out of their storefront, and much more. C.R.O.P.S. is committed to providing sustainable solutions to eradicate food insecurity in Atlantic City. Usually, when we talk about all the things to do in Atlantic City, we’re focused on the variety of amazing restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, shopping, and other indulgences. The average tourist isn’t usually thinking about the things to do in Atlantic City to improve the quality of life for its residents. Thinking about food in Atlantic City would usually involve envisioning decadent multi-course meals in fine dining establishments. It’s quite the opposite for many families living in the city, who are dealing with food insecurity. With no grocery stores in Atlantic City, consumers face the difficult choice to travel outside the city limits to buy fresh food, or to buy convenience items from the many corner stores. No one should have to choose between convenience and nourishment. Over $80k was raised in support of C.R.O.P.S initiatives at the fundraiser, where Cardinal’s chef, Michael Brennan, and several other industry professionals created one-of-a-kind dishes, including seasonal cocktails and mocktails, featuring Atlantic City-grown produce. We know what C.R.O.P.S. is doing to help the local residents, but what can you do to help support C.R.O.P.S. efforts? The organization encourages in-kind donations (instead of donating funds to buy needed goods/services, the goods/services themselves are donated). They also collect gently used coats, gloves, books, garden tools, vases, bookshelves, and ceramic pots. If you’d like to make a donation of this type, please email email@example.com.
We’re looking forward to experiencing even more firsts in Atlantic City this holiday season. It’s our longstanding tradition to visit Atlantic City the weekend before Christmas to take in all of the breathtaking light displays, pop-up bars, limited run entertainment, and general merriment. This year, we’ll be checking out the ARTeriors at the James installation at The
James Taffy Building. The AC Arts Foundation has transformed the former taffy factory into a whimsical pop-up Candyland that celebrates the rich history of The James, as well as Atlantic City, from 1880 to the present. You can witness this phenomenal installation yourself on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-5pm from now through December 10. The AC Arts Foundation also partnered with Create 48 to bring artists from different cultural and artistic backgrounds to the city to create 5 vibrant, stunning new murals around town. We plan to have a DIY mural crawl to view the new works of art enhancing the city’s natural beauty. You can enjoy over 70 murals, including these newest additions, many of which were also created through the 48 Blocks AC program, using the mural map at atlanticcityartsfoundation.org.
It goes to show that you can visit Atlantic City countless times and still experience new things. Whether that is as simple as a new menu item at your favorite restaurant or a new activity entirely, you can absolutely travel to Atlantic City over and over and still see it through the eyes of a first-timer. As we like to say, you just need to know where to look. Subscribe to our mailing list, follow us on Instagram and Facebook, and visit our online shop, if you love Atlantic City like we do. We’re always hard at work to provide inspiration for how to recapture the exhilarating feeling of your very first trip.