"Everyone acts as if nongaming is such a big idea, that a hotel without slots in Atlantic City is unheard of, but this town was a world-class resort for over a hundred years before gambling was introduced in the 1970s," said Bashaw. "If you stayed in Atlantic City in the 1920s, everything was cutting edge. Kentucky Avenue was the jazz capital of the United States. The best hotel bathrooms had four sets of taps, for hot and cold water, and hot and cold seawater. We want to hearken back to that era, but update it."
IF YOU GOGetting there
It's an easy 150-mile drive from Baltimore to Atlantic City, most of it along Interstate 95 North. Another option is to take Amtrak from Baltimore to Philadelphia and connect there to New Jersey Transit's AC Line train. For more information, go to amtrak.com or call 800-872-7245.
Several bus lines offer economical service from various Baltimore locations, including Greyhound, which has a "Lucky Streak" service with several daily departures. Go to greyhound.com or call 800-231-2222. One-way fares start at $30.
Bill Rohrbaugh's charter service offers daily departures from Baltimore to Atlantic City casinos. For more information, go to rohrbaughs.com or call 410-882-7501. One-way fares start at $32, with a $20 "slot play" rebate.
Other options, with fares ranging from $30-$35, include Hunt Valley Motor Coach (410-584-7377; huntvalleymotorcoach.com); Golden Ring Travel (410-391-8700; goldenringtravel.com); and Superior Tours (410-602-1704; superiortours.net).
The Water Club, 1 Renaissance Way, 609-317-8888, thewaterclubatborgata.com The first luxury hotel in Atlantic City without a casino. Rooms start at $299.
The Chelsea, 111 S. Chelsea Ave., 866-393-3285. The first nongaming boutique hotel to open on the Boardwalk. Chelsea "Luxe" rooms start at $225; Chelsea "Lite" rooms start at $95.
Chelsea Prime, 111 S. Chelsea Ave., 866-393-3285. A steakhouse and cocktail lounge with decor that's evocative of a 1940s supper club. Hollywood-style horseshoe banquettes overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Entrees start at $24.
Teplitsky's, 111 S. Chelsea Ave., 866-393-3285. A mid-century-inspired diner with redwood walls, cantilevered counter stools and terrazzo floors. Entrees start at $12.
Knife & Fork, 3600 Atlantic Ave., 609-344-1133, knifeandforkinn.com. This four-story restaurant is one of the oldest buildings in Atlantic City. Steaks and seafood, prepared on a wood-fired grill. Entrees start at $25.
Immersion Spa, the Water Club, 1 Renaissance Way, 609-317-8888. Sixteen "experience" rooms offer spa services ranging from conditioning body wraps to ayurvedic therapies. Massages start at $210 for 80 minutes.
Sea Spa, the Chelsea Hotel, 111 S. Chelsea Ave., 866-393-3285. 10,000-square-foot luxury spa with 10 private treatment rooms, Jacuzzi, social sauna, steam room, grotto and outdoor saltwater swimming pool. Massages start at $150 for 60 minutes.
The Shoppes at the Water Club, 1 Renaissance Way, 609-317-8888. Fixation (shoes and handbags); Hearts on Fire (brilliant diamond jewelry); Just Cavalli (party clothes for women); and La Perla (intimate apparel).
The Walk, Michigan Avenue, between Pacific and Baltic avenues. Atlantic City's premier retail destination, with dozens of designer outlet stores, including Ralph Lauren, J.Crew and Coach.
For information about Atlantic City, go to atlanticcitynj.com.
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With its purple-and-white striped awning over the entrance, faux-zebra upholstery and terrazzo floors, the Chelsea's design is an affectionate nod to the exuberant style of the 1930s and '40s, when Atlantic City was in its heyday. The hotel's Game Room is decorated with charming photographs of people who played here in the past: Abbott and Costello, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope and a young, and impossibly handsome, Ronald Reagan.
"Atlantic City was whimsical, exotic, only a little naughty," Bashaw said.
In addition to the hotel's 331 guest rooms, there's Chelsea Prime, a steakhouse run by well-known restaurateur Stephen Starr, and the Fifth Floor, a nightclub overseen by night-life impresario Paul Sevigny, who has imported some of the luster of Beatrice Inn, his groovy and ridiculously-hard-to-get-into club in Manhattan's West Village. Best of all, the hotel's Sea Spa boasts a heated, saltwater swimming pool and something called a "social sauna."
Feeling a bit self-conscious, like Corzine (was I pretty enough to visit the social sauna?), I left the Chelsea on my last night in Atlantic City and walked a few blocks along the Boardwalk to have dinner at the Knife & Fork.
One of the oldest and most historically significant buildings in Atlantic City, this four-story restaurant was built in a Flemish style in 1912 as an exclusive men's club. You can still feel this heritage in the rich mahogany millwork, hand-painted ceilings and grand staircase. During Prohibition, the club flouted the laws of an alcohol-free society and brazenly served liquor at the bar. That is, until federal agents burst in and smashed all the bottles.
I pondered this colorful history while eating an excellent swordfish chop and sipping a nonalcoholic beer. Like the tide, social trends roll in and out of the Jersey shore. Liquor is banned, and then Prohibition is repealed. Gambling is popular, then declasse.
Today, Atlantic City is testing the waters of high-flying style and a return to elegance. Where will this next wave take the city? To answer that question, come see for yourself.
But, please, leave the Styrofoam cooler at home.