OUT in AC: Atlantic City’s Big, Gay Weekend
When the grind gets to be just too much, it’s time to throw your sequined hotpants in a bag and head to Atlantic City. Just two and a half hours from New York City by bus or train, AC is a carefree, hedonistic oasis on the Jersey Shore.
Every day is a chance to test your luck, and every night is a party. And with hotel/casinos like Harrah’s and Caesar’s teaming up to present Out in AC -- the ultimate gay party weekend -- LGBT players have more reason than ever to come out and play.
"I hadn’t been back to Atlantic City in 20 years, and I thought it was just about time," said weekend host, drag queen Frank Marino. "I wanted them to do here what we did in Vegas, and they are finally getting it! We are starting off small and will watch it grow."
Marino said he was looking forward to Drag Queen Bingo, and to meeting Nicole Polizzi, aka Snooki, admitting he was a huge fan of reality TV. He will return to Atlantic City for Valentine’s Day weekend, February 12-13, 2011, to stage his hit show, "Divas: Las Vegas," in which he pays tribute to Cher, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry, and more.
At a recent Out in AC weekend, guests were invited to kick off the weekend with a Friday evening four-course dinner with wine pairings, hosted by The Hearty Boys. In the sultry darkness of the Showboat’s House of Blues Foundation Room, the two famed gay chefs served up deconstructed crab cakes, Waldorf salad, cream of parsnip soup, braised short ribs with spaetzle, lavender chicken, and ravioli with anise sauce.
Sated and back at Harrah’s, guests had the opportunity to wander through the capacious casino, where high-stakes rollers sit at pristine blackjack and roulette tables, and the more risk-averse can try their hand at the nickel slots.
Located in the Marina district, away from the Atlantic City Boardwalk, Harrah’s is a step above the competition. The sprawling complex literally beckons like a torch in the darkness, with its sleek towers flashing hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs, welcoming guests to enjoy all that it has to offer.
And those offerings are considerable. In addition to clean, spacious suites with king-sized beds and flat-screen TVs, the hotel features gambling, shopping, fine dining, and The Pool, an enclosed super-dome of fun, complete with palm trees and deck chairs. On Saturday afternoon, guests sat poolside and enjoyed an all-day Pool Party, featuring hot tracks by DJ Nathan, free gay swag by Absolut, and several savory cage dancers.
After the pool party, select guests (and lucky ticketholders) were invited to The Loft to join Chocolate Happy Hour, a wine and cheese event hosted by award-winning company, 2 Chicks with Chocolate. In addition to wine and Champagne, the event featured assorted cheeses and chocolates. Guests dipped maraschino cherries, strawberries, pretzels, and other tidbits into a deluxe, gurgling chocolate fountain that would be the envy of any top-notch bar mitzvah.
As the wine and chocolate flowed, guests also began dipping into the chocolate with paintbrushes as part of the "Sexual Chocolate Body Paint" portion of the afternoon. Couples daubed each other playfully with colored chocolate and got frisky, smearing goo in bubble-gum hues all over taut, bared midriffs.
Go-go dancers kept the mood light and sexy, but it seemed that straight guests outnumbered the gays. (In future OUT in AC events, the brand might be better served if there were more gay-exclusive events).
Atlantic City Brings the Nightlife to Life
Later that evening, the pool dome was transformed, pulsing with sound and color as fabulous gays donned their dancing pants for a poolside party with "Jersey Shore" star, Snooki. As the crowds snapped photos, danced, and tried to keep their cuffs out of the shallow end, Snooki and her coterie of hangers-on tipped cocktails behind the velvet rope.
The Situation chatted up a cute blonde a few feet away from where we were reclining on some VIP couches, and some fellow gay revelers enjoyed having the guest of honor dump their cocktails on the floor, then dance with them until the bouncer broke things up.
When dinner time rolls around, Harrah’s hosts a variety of dining choices, from seafood at McCormick & Schmick’s to New York favorite Dos Caminos, to hot wings at Bill’s Burgers. Casual dining options are available at Reflections, across from The Pool.
A mid-morning weekend brunch began with a long wait, but once guests were seated, service was good. The café featured seven variations on the Bloody Mary, eight types of omelets, and eggs Benedict six ways.
A Saturday evening dinner at Luke Palladino’s highlighted the talents of this New Jersey chef who relies upon locally sourced ingredients to create exquisite dishes. Although the chef was in Italy when we visited, his staff treated us like royalty, starting us off with delicious antipasti of lobster tails and shrimp, olives, fried mozzarella triangles, and delectable arancini, the cheese-stuffed rice balls gently breaded and fried.
That was followed by perfectly rendered Caesar salad, insalata caprese with silky-smooth buffalo mozzarella, and mixed greens. A pasta course featured delectable tomato tagliatelle, pillowy sage-flecked gnocchi, and spicy sausage strozzapretti, which literally translates as "strangle the priest."
We supped on oversized veal shanks topped by a mushroom ragout, while other guests tucked into whole branzino, cooked to perfection, and additional selections from the restaurants fine offerings. We finished with espresso, zeppole, cannoli, and other sweet confections.
This is Not Your Grandfather’s Casino
Harrah’s Casino and Hotel is a popular spot for bachelorette parties. The hordes of young women in tiaras waving penis balloons and the gaggles of young, drunken revelers give the place the insular feel of being in a college dorm at some Big East party school. It allows guests the safe anonymity to do things they wouldn’t normally do. But as they say, what happens in AC...well, fughedaboudit!
Taking a tip from Vegas, Harrah’s has had success with their many non-gambling options. The hotel has opened an outpost of the tony Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spas, offering massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, shampoos, and "makeup refresher" packages for women, men, and couples. Although the price tag is for high rollers, it is exactly this exclusivity that has made Arden’s Red Door an icon in our time.
For the more hands-on types, Harrah’s also offers educational opportunities via the Viking Cooking School. In state-of-the-art kitchens whose plate-glass picture window overlooks the casino, guests can choose from popular classes like cooking for a French dinner party, Girls Night Out: Rome, steakhouse cooking, Best of Class: Thai, Date Night: Enchanted Evening, and many more.
Guests dress in whites and gather around the Viking ranges to create their masterpieces, then adjourn to the large dining room next door to feast on their creations, and hopefully take that newfound knowledge back home with them.
The hotel is home to numerous high-end shops, from Swarovski to Swatch, Park Place Jewelers, Studio and Studio Shoes, Pandora, and Temptations Chocolate, which features the exquisite Jacques Torres Chocolates.
Harrah’s also offers guests a complimentary shuttle to the Boardwalk, where visitors can stroll along the shore, pop into local shops and casinos, and pick up some salt-water taffy for the friend back home. Nestled between casinos like Bally’s and the Taj Mahal are the areas’ outlet stores, a bargain-shopper’s dream featuring individual outlets for top brands like Coach, Eddie Bauer, Converse, Banana Republic, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole, Michael Kors, Van Heusen, Jones New York, and many more.
The OUT in AC weekend wrapped up with a deluxe Hangover Brunch, complete with omelet stations and specialty Bloody Marys. Frank Marino held court while seasoned drag queens belted out hits and shook their fringe.
Gay Bingo followed, hosted by Marino and featuring a bevy of prizes for the winners. With the full gay contingent of OUT in AC safely ensconced in the casino’s upper ballrooms, the weekend could officially be called a wild success.
As we quietly slipped on to a New York-bound bus, we breathed a sigh of contentment at our stolen weekend, and none was the wiser.