Call the New Jersey State Tourism office (609-292-2470); 1-800-BOARDWK for information on lodgings and attractions. It would be hard to say that any of the major hotels in Atlantic City are likable; even those that are not casinos have the same glitzy atmosphere, including the Trump Regency, where I stayed. It is difficult to find a room at any hotel in Atlantic City, especially on weekends, so I ended up making a reservation through the Accommodations Express service (1-800-444-7666). Hotels off the Boardwalk are cheaper and definitely worth considering, but if you stay at, say, the Showboat Casino Hotel, you’ll be able to walk out of the lobby onto the Boardwalk with the ocean in front of you. Walking Atlantic City’s streets gives you the chance—theoretically at least—to walk on top of the Monopoly board, as the game’s inventor, Charles Darrow, took all of the game’s street names from Atlantic City.
Many of Atlantic City’s museums have erratic hours, but they are very accommodating. The Atlantic City Arts Center and Historical Center (Boardwalk at New Jersey Avenue) is open from ten o’clock to four, seven days a week; phone 609-347-5837. When I called the number for the Kentucky Avenue Museum, Willie Gainer answered from the flower shop he runs down the street. “We’re open Saturdays ten to four,” he told me, “but if you call and want to come in another time, I’ll open up.” The museum is at 42 North Kentucky Avenue; phone 609-348-8906 to find out about events. Lucy the Elephant is closed during the winter but reopens on weekends from early April until mid-June, after which the exhibit is open daily through Labor Day. Lucy’s Gift Shop has a big selection of unusual souvenirs, and all the proceeds go toward Lucy’s upkeep. Lucy is at 9200 Atlantic Avenue in Margate. Gardner’s Basin (609-348-2880), at North New Hampshire Avenue, hosts a seafood festival each June, and its small touchtank aquarium operates year-round.
I went in search of the few remaining hotels and found the old Ritz-Carlton, now a condominium, slightly worn but still lovely. I walked up the stairs to look at the public room just above the lobby and stared up at the ornate ceiling moldings and looked into the cozy half-moon of a sitting room right below. “You like the old buildings, huh?” the desk clerk asked me. The Claridge Hotel doesn’t give up its treasures quite so easily; while the outside is all stately red brick and floor-to-ceiling windows, the inside is just as flashy as all the other casinos. Farther along, the old Hotel Dennis quietly survives as part of Bally’s Hotel; it is recessed from the Boardwalk and has a restaurant facing a garden on the ground floor. Tucked away back there in its quiet space, the hotel looks forgotten, as though the wrecking crews had simply missed it. Seeing it made me feel glad, as if I knew a good secret.