Atlantic City: The Next 'Next Big Thing'

Trawling for future trends in both nightlife destinations and cheeky rap collectives

While everyone I know spent the weekend amid the crowds, crashers, and rabid bats in Austin, I instead escaped New York two hours to the south, to the gambling mecca of Atlantic City. Buzz there (and here) is growing about the Chelsea, the first non-gaming hotel to grace the boardwalk since the 1960s, set to open after Memorial Day. The New York Times reported a couple of weeks ago that developer Curtis Bashaw was wooing Paul Sevigny and Matt Abramcyk, proprietors of the fancy-pants Beatrice Inn, to oversee the boutique hotel's nightlife options ("It will be Soho House–y," Bashaw said); as of Friday, his people wouldn't confirm whether or not the ink was dry on that deal. But, um, who cares, because the news served as an opportunity to check out Atlantic City nightlife pre– and post–uppity doormen. That doubles my time at the blackjack tables.

We arrived Saturday afternoon (by car; an express train from Penn Station debuts later this year) at the Borgata, which opened in 2003 in an effort to bring the high rollers back to New Jersey, and I immediately tripled my money. Feeling lucky, we made our way to the resort's poker room—the largest in Atlantic City, with 85 tables—where we had a private lesson scheduled with Joe Garber, a manager and native Brooklynite.

"Ray, the girls are here—they're young and beautiful, we're going to have some fun," Garber relayed into his phone to confirm our arrival. Obviously, I loved him. He paraded us through the two connecting rooms, winding back to a corner table where high-stakes games would be played later in the night (the only empty one I saw, even at 5:30 p.m.), and told us of his plans for a poker dating service. "It used to be that the only girls at the tables were there with their boyfriends," he said. "But that's changing. Now the girls are playing, too—and the men love it. It makes the table more fun. I bet the room's around 15 percent girls on any given night now."

"So we're catching on," I remarked.

"Well, yeah—but the odds are still in your favor," Garber said, smiling. "Come back later tonight and join a game—the guys at your table are gonna love you." Pretending your only purpose is to land a man is so much more fun when you're playing out old-fashioned casino fantasies.

Garber spent two and a half hours getting us up to speed on Texas hold-'em, flattering us to high heaven, and explaining further why love matches can be made at the Borgata. ("It's the only place with bottled beer and sexy young waitresses. The young men like the bottled beer—and the other casinos' sexy young waitresses were sexy and young about 35 years ago.") A little before eight, he kissed our cheeks and sent us on our way. "The bosses are gonna be mad I used up so much time at that table," he said. "But they're just jealous."

After a three-hour dinner at Michael Mina's Seablue, we headed to Mur.Mur, one of two after-hours nightclubs at the Borgata (they don't shut down until their patrons do). The party host for the evening was The Hills' Lauren Conrad, following in the footsteps of last month's hosts, Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt. With her (embarrassing) fashion line having just debuted and the show's new season coming up in less than two weeks, LC's face is everywhere—except at Mur.Mur, as far as I could tell. Some hangers-on drinking for free at the press table told me that "the real press people" were apparently still waiting for her, or maybe just still snapping pics outside (no photos in the club). I'm sure she eventually showed, but the place was packed and my champagne flights were in effect, so I stopped looking. And since I'd read that she left L.A. solo, and with no entourage including Whitney or Lo, I didn't care that much anyway.

After I lost my profits the next day, we headed back home, but not before driving past the former Howard Johnson that's set to become Bashaw's latest success. The Chelsea—which is located on Chelsea Avenue, by the way; the owners aren't just reaching for a New York association—isn't much to look at now. We parked across the street and scrunched up our noses, saying, "That's it?"

So, probably the same reaction most of us will get from the doormen when we're trying to get in a few months from now.


Since I was out of town on Saturday night, I again missed Skool, the recent addition to the weekly party lineup helmed by music promoters GBH. The hip-hop get-down, co-sponsored by MeanRed Productions, continues to gain momentum: Last week, Grandmaster Flash joined Q-Tip onstage for an impromptu DJ set, and legendary producer DJ Premier is slated for March 29.

This week's party showcased a mix of new- and old-school tracks by Max Glazer (Rihanna's tour DJ) and Fannypack's Fancy. Perhaps those two dropped a few hints about their latest project, Jackson Swinton. I've been waiting for some noise about the venture since the beginning of February, when Matt Goias (also of Fannypack) sent out an e-mail candidly explaining that "Once you have a #1 hit single (like I did with 'Cameltoe') and are sitting on millions and millions of dollars in a nice house with a beautiful wife-piece, it's hard to get motivated and inspired to make that 'next big thing.' That being said, mark my words, here is the next big thing."

I'm inclined to believe him. Fannypack was essentially a marketing experiment turned worldwide phenomenon, raking in (as he insists) scads of cash and press. With the combined efforts of Goias, Fancy, Glazer, and On the Go marketing founder Ari Forman, who actually discovered the talent (yes, there's talent in the midst of all the masterminding: two turned-out twins and their rapper friend), there's likely more money to be made. Jackson Swinton's MySpace page positions them as a "colorful and fun recording act and creative collective that makes dumb songs about really important stuff like global warming, the crisis in Darfur, shooting sperm on girls, and wearing fashionable clothes." Ew. While I can't imagine this is the last time you'll be hearing the name Jackson Swinton, I hope it's the last time I hear that.

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