Friday, October 12, 2012

Atlantic City for the Non-Gambling Beer Snob in Search of Culture

My wife had the opportunity to attend a conference in Atlantic City this month, and I tagged along with her.  We drove there via Norfolk, Virginia, across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel, up 13N through the Eastern Shore into Maryland and Delaware, caught the Cape May-Lewes Ferry in Lewes and took it across the Delaware Bay to Cape May.  From there we took the Garden State Parkway to the Atlantic City Expressway.  This route didn't save any time and it cost more in tolls and ferry fares, but it was definitely more pleasant than taking crowded interstates all the way there.  From Norfolk all the way to Atlantic City is pretty easy going driving on rural old highways.
Cape May-Lewes Ferry
We stayed at Caesar's in Atlantic City, which is right on the famous boardwalk.  As far as hotel rooms go, it was very good - nice and clean with expansive views for not too much money.  Caesar's of course has a huge casino.  Thankfully, you can bypass the casino and slots altogether when exiting the building by taking the elevator to the 1st floor street level, which puts you out near the boardwalk.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find a way to re-enter the building that didn't require you to walk by the casino, where smoking is still allowed.
Tun Tavern beer taps
The first place on my list to see was Tun Tavern, Atlantic City's only brewery, located near the Sheraton/Convention Center.  We went there twice and sat at the bar each time.  The service was always very prompt and attentive.  The Tun beers were really good, for the most part.  My favorite was the Irish Red, followed by the Munich Dunkel, then the Oktoberfest, the Oatmeal Stout and finally the Maibock.  I didn't care for the Pumpkin Ale, although some might.  They had other beers which I didn't try, including an American IPA, a Pale Ale and the Tun Light beer.  I ate one meal at Tun Tavern as well - a fresh fruit and chicken salad (healthy!) - and it was good too.  Definitely check out Tun Tavern if you are looking for a cool place to hang out that's away from the casinos and is not a dive bar.

Um, dive bars.  I had also heard about The Irish Pub - an old "authentic" Irish pub located a short ways off the boardwalk not too far from the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.  I made a point of going to this place too.  It was just OK.  I'm sure they see a lot of tourists in here but it was still kinda grungy.  The people working there are rather gruff and after one pint of Guinness it wasn't somewhere I felt compelled to linger.  It was kinda moldy and smelly in there too.  Check it out for yourself if you want though.

Speaking of the Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, I was looking for something to do one afternoon so I decided to go in here.  I really liked it; more so than a lot of more serious or conventional museums.  The Ripley's museum had some freaky stuff, like German Wolpertingers - curious flying creatures that live in the woods, and a reproduction of a New Jersey Devil skeleton, based on eyewitness accounts!  I also saw a rooster that smoked cigarettes, a mermaid that was half monkey/half fish, a one-eyed seeing eye dog, a shrunken head, a life-size replica of the world's tallest man, a genuine Iron Maiden, a vampire killing kit, and much, much more.  Believe it, or not!
Ripley's Believe It or Not! - Atlantic City
One evening we were in search of a more "locals" type of place to eat off the boardwalk, and I had read about a tacqueria on Arctic Avenue, a few blocks away from our hotel.  So we walked in that direction but accidentally found our way into another place called La Finca.  This was a wonderful mistake to make, because La Finca turned out to be an awesome Dominican style restaurant.  Not what I was expecting, but even better!  We each got stewed or grilled chicken with rice, beans, salad and fried yucca.  Washed down with fresh pineapple juice.  Huge portions.  One of the best meals I've had in a long time!  When we were walking out I saw the tacqueria we had intended to go to, but now I'm glad we missed it in favor of La Finca.

I later learned that La Finca is located in Ducktown, a small section of Atlantic City that was traditionally Italian-American.  Nowadays it  is probably more Hispanic.  Culture is definitely lacking in AC, but if you want to experience a little bit of it stroll around Ducktown.  Despite its semi-rundown appearance, Ducktown seems to be a fairly safe, family-oriented neighborhood with many off-the-tourist-path ethnic restaurants, bakeries, pizzerias and groceries.

Atlantic City's well known White House Sub Shop is also located in Ducktown on Arctic Avenue, a few doors down from La Finca.  I had intentions of eating at White House for lunch one day, but when I went in there the place was packed and the subs looked like stomach aches waiting to happen.  So, I left and walked around the corner to Atlantic Avenue, where I found Jonuzi's Pizza.  Jonuzi's was pretty empty on this day, which I found appealing.  The pizza was awesome though: authentic New York style.  A massive slice!
Enormous pizza slice from Jonuzi's
Oh yeah, for cheap draft beers and a quirky, people watching atmosphere, check out the Bally's Wild West Bar.  They had Dos Equis on draft for $2 a cup as part of a 24/7 happy hour.  I wasn't really in the mood for pounding back beers when I went there, but at this cost it was hard to pass up having at least a couple of these while watching the baseball playoffs on TV.  Bally's is connected to Ceasar's so it's easy to get from one to the other without going outside.

Lastly, I suppose I should mention the Atlantic City Boardwalk.  You can walk for miles in either direction from the Ceasar's/Bally's/Trump Plaza midtown area.  There's tacky shops, questionable restaurants and, curiously, lots and lots of places to get a body massage.  I didn't get a body massage, but I did get an Atlantic City baseball cap for .99 cents!  The perfect hat for the world's playground!
Souvenir baseball cap - bought for .99 cents on the Atlantic City Boardwalk
On the drive back from Atlantic City we returned the way we came and this time had a couple hours to spend in the quaint, seaside town of Cape May, which I liked a whole lot better than Atlantic City!  We stopped in a little restaurant/bar by the water for soup and a beer.  I could have stayed there all afternoon and into the evening, but we had a ferry to catch.  I would like to go back to Cape May for sure!

Would I want to go back to Atlantic City?  Don't bet on it.  But I was able to enjoy a good brewery, a great restaurant and a fun museum in the midst of all that scuzzy tourism.  Plus, I got in some valuable banjo practice in the hotel room and I'm happy to report that I did not spend the first dime on gambling.  Right better.

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