If you listened to Episode 32 of the podcast, you know that we made some choices for what we’re calling the “Best Of 2016.” This is not meant to be a definitive list, but a selection of our favorites to foster a (hopefully positive) discussion about some of the awesome stuff in Atlantic City. We chose categories based on what we know, so we focused a lot on the gambling/casino categories while nightclubs are nowhere to be found. But let’s be honest, Boogie Nights would have won in a landslide.
The discussion stretched over an hour so there’s a lot more detail in the podcast than there is in this post, but below is a more concise version with some quotes from the episode. As always, feel free to let us know what you think by commenting here, on Twitter, or in our Facebook group.
Best Gaming Overall — Borgata
This wasn’t a particularly tough choice. With a beautiful casino, great selections of both tables and machines, tons of full-pay video poker, and the friendliest service in town, we had to choose Borgata. Hopefully MGM doesn’t screw it up.
We also broke the gaming category down into quite a few sub-categories:
Best Table Games — Borgata
It was a close competition with Caesars, but Borgata won out thanks to a strong selection of games and surprisingly affordable tables given its popularity. As a bonus, they almost always have $20 Pai Gow poker and tiles tables, meaning commission is a simple $1 instead of the weird $1.25 commission at $25 tables elsewhere in the city. But maybe Craig is the only person who cares about that. Resorts earned an honorable mention for their low limits and player-friendly rules.
Best Slots — Harrah’s (Kyle), Tropicana (Craig)
Kyle chose Harrah’s because he likes the transparency that Total Rewards offers with tier credit accrual displayed on the machines, as well as the ability to order drinks with the press of a button (well, touch screen). While that’s also true at Bally’s and Caesars, Kyle’s played more slots at Harrah’s than either of those properties.
Craig picked Tropicana, crediting them for a good vibe in the casino as well as their consistent updates, including a new batch of machines that came over from Trump Taj Mahal.
Best Video Poker — Borgata
With the most full-pay video poker machines in town and solid cocktail service, Borgata easily claimed this title. Add in 9-6 bar top Jacks or Better at B Bar and no one else stood a chance.
Best Asian Room — Caesars
Kyle and Craig both used the word “incredible” to describe the service in Caesars’ Asian room. The table minimums are usually reasonable, the cocktail service is quick, and if you catch them at the right time they might hand you a free breakfast sandwich while you play.
Best Service (casino floor) — Borgata
If this category was specifically drink service, Caesars would have won easily. But Borgata’s friendly dealers, pit bosses, and servers create an upbeat atmosphere. Kyle said, “Some of my most pleasant gaming experiences have been at Borgata,” because more often than any other property you will end up with a great dealer and a great pit boss who are conversational and fun to talk to. Craig said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had an unfriendly dealer at Borgata.”
Best Comp Program — Total Rewards (Kyle), Resorts (Craig)
With a big stock of rooms in Atlantic City and elsewhere, Kyle said “I don’t think you can beat Total Rewards.” The ease of checking your rate calendar across properties and booking online — and getting rates changed if the price drops — all keep us using the program over and over.
However, Craig chose Resorts because of how much you can get for very little play. Despite only earning a couple of tier credits in 2016, Craig gets free rooms Sunday through Friday off-season, as well as free slot play, plentiful food discounts, comped show tickets, and accessible giveaways.
Best Hotel Overall — Borgata
With the best rooms, the friendliest service, and the nicest common areas, Borgata was the easy choice. Maybe TEN will make this more of a competition in 2017.
Best Rooms — Borgata
Kyle succinctly explained, “Hands down, the nicest rooms I’ve stayed in are the Borgata’s.” We do like Caesars Centurion Tower rooms, but even Borgata’s basic rooms are some of the best rooms in the city. (In fairness, we haven’t stayed at Golden Nugget.)
Best Service (hotel) — Borgata
“It’s just like it is on the gaming floor,” Kyle said, noting that his room has always been spotless and he’s never had maintenance or booking issues.
Best On-Site Restaurants Overall — Borgata
Kyle dinged Borgata for their redone Cafeteria/Marketplace (shed a tear for Fatburger) but Borgata was still our winner. The unbeatable list of restaurants from fancy-ish to upscale more than made up for somewhat disappointing casual options, and Bread + Butter is a must for breakfast.
Best Fancy(ish) Options — Borgata
Craig cited “celebrity restaurants out the wazoo” when saying that Borgata “completely knocks everybody out again.” While Caesars and Tropicana each have decent restaurant selections, Borgata’s chef lineup of Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Geoffrey Zakarian, and Michael Schulson is incomparable among AC hotels, and they’re adding Michael Symon to that list in 2017.
Best Casual Options — Tropicana
Between The Quarter and the Marketplace, Tropicana has a huge stable of casual dining options. Rí Rá Irish Pub and Chickie’s & Pete’s have both been solid every time we’ve gone, while Casa Taco & Tequila Bar offers up huge breakfasts (and presumably tacos). That’s not to mention Hooters, A Dam Good Sports Bar, Broadway Burger Bar, and the big selection of fast options just off the Boardwalk.
Best Entertainment — Borgata
Borgata features top-flight musical acts and comedians more frequently than anywhere else in AC, and The Music Box is a great place to see them. Tropicana provides good value with lesser-known acts and has an IMAX theater showing blockbuster movies, but Borgata’s event calendar is the most likely to get people to come to town.
Best Bars — Tropicana
Chickie’s & Pete’s for sports and craft beer, Casa for tequila, Cuba Libre for rum, Wet Willie’s for frozen drinks, 10 North Lounge for video poker, Rí Rá for a classic pub, A Dam Good Sports Bar and Firewaters for more of a dive vibe, Tango’s for live music in a cozy atmosphere, Hooters for Hooters, and on and on. Tropicana has the largest variety of watering holes in AC, so there’s something there for every mood. (Note: Golden Nugget’s bars get great reviews but we haven’t spent much time there. We have made a resolution to do more “research” on bars in 2017.)
Best Value — Resorts
Cheap room rates, low table game limits, and plenty of super cheap, super fast food options make Resorts the best value in town. Bally’s is in the conversation, especially with Wild Wild West offering up $3 beer and $5 tables, but if you’re a low roller looking to play a little and get a couple drinks and maybe even end up with a comp room offer for a future visit, Resorts is the place to play.
Best Casino Property Overall — Borgata
Was there ever any doubt? Caesars is a closer second place than the categories above might indicate, but Borgata has the best atmosphere, service, gaming, restaurants, and entertainment, all in the most classy and cohesive package of any casino property in AC. We end up at Caesars more often because we prefer the Boardwalk location, but we can’t deny that Borgata’s the nicest joint in town.
With all that said, it’s time to get out of the casinos (or at least get more specific):
Best Restaurant that we’ve been to —
Dock’s Oyster House (Kyle), The Continental (Craig)
This category comes with the huge caveat that we haven’t been to Chef Vola’s, Cafe 2825, Knife & Fork Inn, or The Iron Room. We’d love to hear if your favorite is one of those or somewhere else in town that we might have missed.
Kyle went with upscale staple Dock’s, calling it “one of the best dining experiences, period, in my life.” He cited the impeccable service and the amazing food. “The whole experience was fantastic for me and my wife when we went.”
Craig seriously considered Izakaya based on a recent excellent experience, but instead went with the The Continental for the broader menu and inventive cocktail list. “If somebody asks me … ‘I’m going to Atlantic City once, where should I go for dinner?’ The Continental is my default suggestion.”
Best Casual Restaurant — Harry’s Oyster Bar (Kyle),
Souzai Sushi & Sake (Craig)
Craig gave honorable mentions to Chickie’s & Pete’s, Wingcraft, and Bread + Butter before choosing Souzai. “I’ve never felt let down by a meal at Souzai. … It’s someplace that I go so frequently on my Atlantic City trips.” Kyle added that “you can’t help but be enamored with Atlantic City when you’re looking out on that view.”
And while Kyle said Souzai was “right up there” for him as well, he chose Harry’s because of the very good food and reasonable prices. “The value that you get there is pretty much unmatched,” Craig added, noting that it’s somewhat overlooked because of it’s location in the Dennis Tower, away from the casino floor and other restaurants at Bally’s.
Best Non-gaming Attraction — The Boardwalk (Kyle),
Tanger Outlets (Craig)
Kyle went with AC’s most famous attraction. He called the Boardwalk “my favorite thing to do in Atlantic City if I’m not at the tables. … I expect it will be in all years past and in all years future, as well.” There’s a reason books about Atlantic City’s history have been titled Boardwalk Empire, Boardwalk of Dreams, and Boardwalk Playground.
Craig chose a newer attraction, relatively speaking. “I feel like I get a lot of time value out of wandering around the outlets. It’s a very, very good outlet mall.” (Can you call it a mall?) He also gave the outlets points for “taking Atlantic City in a different direction” than the city’s vice-centered past.
Best New Thing — Boardwalk Saloon at Wild Wild West
After panning the Boardwalk Saloon when it first opened, we do an about face and select it as our Best New Thing of 2016. “It gives it a bit of a different vibe,” Kyle said, adding that it “improved Wild Wild West pretty dramatically for the positive.” The Saloon has expanded a lot since our initial review, and Craig said that “it feels more significant,” noting that they’ve added seating stretching toward the stage, which makes it feel more like a concert venue than a casino bar. “To see it really lively and fully-realized made me understand, ‘oh, this is what they were going for,’ and I think they did a really good job.”
Biggest Disappointment — Trump Taj Mahal closing (Kyle),
The “new” Showboat (Craig)
Both government and business provided plenty of options to choose from in this category: the state taking over the city, the delayed reopening of Revel, the potential uses of Atlantic Club that never materialized, the failure to bring open container legislation to a vote, the quick closure of WAV Nightclub, increasing resort fees, the cancellation of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, the selection of the name TEN. But yet another casino closure in Atlantic City set up an obvious choice for Biggest Disappointment, and Kyle obliged by selecting the closure of the Trump Taj Mahal. “Even though it certainly was not my favorite casino by any stretch of the imagination … seeing another casino on the Boardwalk shut down” was the most disappointing event for Kyle. He added that the closure made the northern end of the Boardwalk “even more barren and desolate than it already was” with Revel closed and Showboat no longer a casino.
And while Craig agreed that the Taj closure made him most disappointed when it was announced, he went off the board and picked the current iteration of Showboat as his Biggest Disappointment, saying that it’s “the thing that makes me the most annoyed, ongoing,” especially because it was so much fun before it closed in 2014. Kyle said that walking by Showboat means “looking at something that you used to love, and it used to be such an important part of your life” and thinking “wow, that place is just really horrible right now. This just makes me sad.” *Sniff.*
Most Exciting Thing for 2017 — TEN (former Revel) re-opening
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The newest and fanciest property on the Boardwalk is set to re-open in the first quarter of 2017, and we can’t wait to see what TEN has in store for us. “The reopening of the Revel, depending on how it’s done, can really be something that shakes up a lot of stuff in 2017,” Kyle said.
And while we’re retaining our optimism, it’s hard not to look one property over and see a cautionary tale. “I’m so excited for it. I want it to be so great,” Craig said, but added, “If it opens and totally sucks like Showboat it will be our Biggest Disappointment for 2017, hands down.”