There was a moment, perhaps from around 2008 to 2012, where it seemed like Atlantic City was going to pull a Vegas, and become the cool destination it had always meant to be. NYC nightlife impresarios Paul Sevigny and Matt Abramcyk were even swept up into it, opening the hip Hotel Chelsea there in 2008. The Borgata, the city’s most glamorous new-gen resort, had also signed up big name celeb chefs like Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck, and opened an on-site boutique hotel called The Water Club.
Then in 2012, The Revel, a glittering, spectacular $2 billion undertaking, opened to much fanfare, even amongst the NYC cognoscenti. It would even draw the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna down to AC for live performances.
Yet still there was a sense that something wasn’t quite right. And behold, when Pennsylvania loosened its gambling laws, you could almost hear the $$$$ being rapidly sucked out of AC. By 2015, four major casinos had closed and the financial disaster that was The Revel was sold at auction for just $90 million.
So when we were invited down to see The Killers play the opening of the new Festival Park at the Borgata (a resort that continues to thrive, by the way), we were intrigued to see if we might just get to witness that exact moment when AC begins what we’re betting will be its inevitable turnaround.
Now The Water Club itself (where we were ensconced) is an absolute gem. With its acres of marble and a sharp, almost Asian-zen design sensibility, it feels more akin to a Mandarin Oriental than to the glitz of some of its fellow AC resorts. And you simply traverse a Cavalli and Hugo Boss lined corridor to make it to the Borgata casino floor — where you can also indulge in chic sushi at Izakaya and catch a high profile DJ at MIX or mur.mur (where Samantha Ronson sometimes turns up to spin).
But we were really there to catch The Killers, to see if they could successfully stir up just the sort of new, young energy that the city needs to propel it on from the negativity of recent events. The irony, of course, is that the band hails from Vegas – a city which, during The Killers’ 12-year existence, has pulled off a miraculous revitalization.
The 4500-capacity Festival Park itself is a dramatic setting, with the hulking and strikingly lit frame of the Borgata lording over it. Unsurprisingly, Brandon Flowers and friends wasted no time in ratcheting up the drama factor, catapulting onto the stage with a fierce version of “Mr. Brightside” — while the assembled throngs went utterly haywire.
As they tore through a set that included such female-pulse-stopping instant classics as “Human” and “Somebody Told Me,” you could almost feel the momentum of the city starting to turn. When they closed the show with a particularly anthemic rendition of “When You Were Young,” you really wished you could bottle all the optimism in the air.
It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when Miami was virtually declared a dead city — before a cagey cultivation of the arts scene and the wooing of trendy hoteliers in the 90’s propelled it on to its current status as one of America’s most influential urban centers. The Borgata has pulled off an ostensible masterstroke here, the first step towards perhaps making Atlantic City less about a diminishing gambling industry, and more about zeitgeisty entertainment and, well, the beach.