I Almost Liked Atlantic City

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I’ve never been a huge fan of Atlantic City the few times I’d gone — usually for a friend’s birthday or to see a martial arts event. It felt rather like a poor man’s Vegas with aging buildings mixed with one or two newer flashier ones of glass and steel and dominated by a slight air of desperation.

But when some lawyer friends working on a case there invited me to come hang out for a night and see stuff other than the casinos, I decided to give it another try.

I did the obligatory walk down the boardwalk, passing all the elaborate but generic looking casinos and restaurants.

Atlantic City Boardwalk

Atlantic City Boardwalk Steel Pier

Atlantic City Boardwalk hotels
There were a decent number of people, but it had a tired, slightly deserted air. I did get a big kick out of watching the Boardwalk Cats stalking sea gulls.

Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats watching gulls

Once I was past the last building, it started to get interesting. The beach was rather pretty and there was a lighthouse, the Absecon Lighthouse, I’d never noticed before.

Atlantic City Beach

Absecon Lighthouse Atlantic City Keri

I strolled on down to the end of the boardwalk which had fallen into disrepair even before Hurricane Sandy destroyed it.
End of Boardwalk Atlantic City Keri

The lighthouse was only a few blocks away, unfortunately I’d missed visiting hours (closed at 4PM).

Absecon Lighthouse Atlantic City eminent domain
It still wasn’t amazing, but I was starting to feel more positive and dinner definitely helped! It was a little sub shop on the next block — Tony Boloney’s which happened to come in 1st place in Guy Fieri’s Cheesesteak Battle.

Tony Boloneys atlantic city far

Tony Boloney Atlantic City sign

The menu is extensive and there were too many good looking options! I highly recommend the Gindolune and S#itface pizzas (just be aware that one large feeds about 4 people comfortably)!

Tony Bolony Atlantic City

Tony Bolony Atlantic City S#itFaced Pizza

It was at dinner I got the chance to chat with their clients — Charlie Birnbaum and his wife. Charlie’s parents owned a residence across the street from the restaurant since 1969 and he/it had a long history.

After dinner they invited me back for homemade apple cake and see photos of the family and Atlantic City from past decades. I found myself much more interested in the city than I ever thought it could be. My impression had always been nothing but casino hotels, tourist shops, and seedy buildings from better days.

homemade apple cake

Charlie was a brilliant concert pianist earlier in his career and now worked as a piano tuner using the house as his “studio”. I was touched by the painstaking care with which he maintained the house over the years, enjoying it as a living memory of his parents and a respite from Atlantic City’s hectic atmosphere.

And it was heartbreaking to know that it might all be taken away and torn down. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is attempting to use eminent domain to take his property for a yet-to-be-determined “better” use.

It apparently didn’t matter that there were plenty of empty lots for sale across the street and closer to the boardwalk and waterfront.

Empty Lot Across from Birnbaums Atlantic City

Nor did it matter that his place was just as old and in better shape than most of the few buildings left in the proposed “historic district” only a block or two away.

I was sad before, but after walking around the area and meeting them in person, I wanted to cry. People like the Birnbaum’s are why Atlantic City has survived with some soul, if it has any. And now some government agency is trying to take it away from them in the name of future tourism.
Keri with the Birnbaums

If these plans succeed, the area will probably become even more barren and bleak, adding nothing but another empty lot. This probably has happened at other locations I’ve visited, but it was the first time I’d had a close encounter.

If you want to find out more about Charlie’s plight, or just hear his amazing piano skills, you can find out more at http://ij.org/images/atlantic-city-eminent-domain.

Have you ever visited an area where good intentions ruined the natural charm?


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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world. www.twitter.com/klatravel


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