Classic New York and Atlantic City road trip

Richard Burnett
Richard Brunett

There is nothing quite like strolling along a boardwalk on the Jersey shore in summertime, and the quintessential New Jersey boardwalk can still be found in Atlantic City, whose mythical boardwalk was first built in 1870 to help hotel owners keep sand out of their lobbies.

ATLANTIC?CITYBy 1874, some 500,000 tourists visited Atlantic City by rail and, when American Prohibition was the law of the land from 1919 to 1933, tourism peaked during what many historians now consider Atlantic City’s golden age, when the booze flowed and gambling took place in the back rooms of nightclubs and restaurants.
Then Atlantic City –inspiration for the Monopoly board game– saw its share of hard times during the post-war years and today is home to about 40,000 locals. But the opening of The Borgata in July 2003 marked a new beginning and the famed boardwalk –refurbished following Superstorm Sandy in 2012– now welcomes some 27 million visitors each year to the “Gambling Capital of the East Coast.”
If you’re thinking of making a road trip this summer, Atlantic City is a great choice. This past summer I drove to Atlantic City with road-trip partner and photographer Seb Oran, and we rediscovered the nostalgic Atlantic City of our childhoods, as well as a modern-day adult playground packed with superb shopping, five-star restaurants, LGBT entertainment and A-list entertainers like Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.
We valet-parked our car at The Water Club at Borgata, the city’s first boutique-lifestyle hotel where we stayed for two nights. Just steps away from the nightlife and dining of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the 43-story, $400 million hotel features 800 finely-appointed guestrooms and suites, as well as a pretty nice two-story state-of-the-art spa located on the 32nd floor, where I also enjoyed a Swedish massage. The Water Club is hands-down the swankiest, most complete resort in Atlantic City, and is just a five-minute drive from the boardwalk and beaches.
Here are some of our highlights over two days and nights in Atlantic City, before Seb and I packed our bags and drove to New York City for more fun and games.
Interior pool from Borgata Hotel The iconic Atlantic City boardwalk is everything you expect it to be:  chock-full of palm-reading fortune tellers, cheap souvenir shops, casinos, five-star restaurants and beach bars, notably the always entertaining Ballys Casino beach bar where the 10-piece funk and soul band Don’t Call Me Francis –complete with kickass horn section– headline Thursday nights. This joint is a real party with folks of all ages drinking and dancing up a storm.
The bustling boardwalk with its spectacular ocean views is even more packed during the daytime, when families crowd the beaches (no alcohol allowed unless you’re in a beach bar). There are plenty of water sports such as surfing and parasailing, young men fishing off the piers, and the hot lifeguards are easy on the eyes. We especially got a kick out of visiting the iconic Steel Pier, an amusement park that features more than 25 extreme rides and an old-school amusement arcade.
Where to Eat: Seb and I enjoyed two five-star dinners. Our first night we dined at Bobby Flay’s Steak House at the Borgata, run by renowned chef and Food Network personality, Iron Chef Bobby Flay. This classic steakhouse’s signature dish is their mouth-watering Philadelphia-style strip steak. Reservations recommended.
 View from Hotel roomThe high-end Italian Café Martorano created by Steve Martorano in the neighbouring Harrahs Resort is a great place to spot celebrities (Jerry Springer and his crew sat at the table next to ours) and the service is impeccable. Make sure to taste their Martorano’s meatballs –even Al Pacino says they are the best in the world. Reservations recommended.
Beyond restaurants, bars and nightclubs in our Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the resort also books A-list entertainers. One night we saw Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga perform for 2,000 fans in the Borgata Event Center (we would also later bump into Gaga in The Water Club at 2 a.m., but that’s another story). While the other casinos in town also book top-notch entertainers, no question the Borgata gets the cream of the crop.
LGBT nightlife in Atlantic City (whose current mayor, Don Guardian, is gay) has something for everybody, from international DJs at Sand Blast AC in July to the annual Miss’d America drag pageant, created in 1994 as a spoof of the world-famous Miss America Pageant to raise funds for local LGBT charities, not to mention Bears on the Boardwalk each October. Also, be sure to check out the Rainbow Room, Atlantic City’s year-round LGBT nightspot.
On the two-hour drive from Atlantic City to New York, we pitstopped at Atlantic City’s downtown Tanger Outlets–The Walk, which features more than 100 retail outlets like Nike, Hilfiger, H&M and DKNY. I picked up two pairs of sneakers at the Adidas outlet for $60 US.
When we arrived in New York we got sucked into late-afternoon traffic coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel as we drove up Seventh Avenue to 42nd Street –only to find ourselves smack in Times Square with a zillion pedestrians. All I can say is thank goodness drivers are not allowed to turn right on red lights in New York City (just like in Montreal). We drove across Manhattan, then across the East River via the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to Long Island City in Queens where we stayed at the Wyndham Garden Long Island City Manhattan View Hotel.
Manhattan seen from QueensThe Wyndham Garden LIC isn’t a grand hotel, but it is smart, clean and practical, very reasonably priced with free wi-fi, located in a very trendy up-and-coming neighbourhood that boasts a couple dozen new restaurants located on the nearby East River waterfront, with spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline and Queensboro Bridge (especially from the rooftop bar of the neighbouring Z NYC Hotel). Most important, the hotel has secure parking and is just three blocks away from the Court Square subway station, which means one is only 20 minutes away from downtown Manhattan.
What to See: First of all, if you want to save 42% on admission to six of the nine best attractions in New York –including the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty / Ellis Island– purchase a New York CityPASS (cost ranges from $89 to $114). We used our pass to check out the powerfully moving 9/11 Memorial & Museum which features 110,000-square feet of exhibition space located below ground, within the heart of the World Trade Center site.
We also used our CityPASS for entrance to the Top of the Rock observation deck at the Rockefeller Center: the unobstructed views through glass panels on the 68th and 69th floors and in the open air on the 70th floor are hands-down the best in the city in all directions.
While you are at the Rockefeller Center, enjoy a meal at the Summer Garden & Bar at Rock Center Café (30 Rockefeller Plaza). The outdoor garden and bar is an oasis in the centre of Midtown Manhattan. The summer garden is very busy, so I recommend reservations. Then when mid-October rolls around, the outdoor garden is converted into the Rockefeller Center’s famous outdoor skating rink. Year-round, overlooking the plaza is the golden statue of Prometheus, created by American sculptor Paul Manship and the most photographed sculpture in all of New York.
If dance and theatre are what you’re looking for, there are many resources to see what shows are currently playing, but my favourite website is New York Theatre Guide.
LGBT nightlife in New York is pretty much second to none. For full listings, visit And if you have never made a pilgrimage to the Stonewall Inn, be sure to at least have a drink at the designated U.S. National Historic Landmark on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.
Finally, no trip to New York is complete without a shopping spree at Macy’s Department Store at Herald Square, a true New York City icon and flagship of Macy’s department stores. Despite the prohibitive Canadian / American exchange rate, Seb and I were still able to find some good deals on shoes, and bought several pairs.
After two nights in Atlantic City and two nights in New York, the picturesque drive back to Canada – with yet more stops at family-run diners – was more leisurely than going, and cheaper too: there are more bridge, tunnel and highway tolls driving into Atlantic City and New York than there are driving out (the Lincoln Tunnel toll driving into Manhattan will set you back a whopping $14 US). So make sure you have plenty of coin and dollars handy.
Lastly, the best resource for all things New York is NYC & Company’s top-notch tourism website with constantly updated news on all you need to know about New York’s five boroughs.
For more about Atlantic City, surf to
The best resource for all things New York is NYC & Company’s top-notch tourism website with constantly updated news on all you need to know about New York’s five boroughs.
Photos by Seb Oran unless otherwise noted.
Read Richard Burnett’s POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette at
Read Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill online at