Monday, June 27, 2011

Nucky Takes a Stroll on the Boards - A Virtual Tour of Nucky's AC

A Virtual Tour of Nucky Johnson’s Atlantic City. What's left of it.

Those American and international fans of HBO’s “The Boardwalk Empire” who come to town to experience Nucky’s Atlantic City will be disappointed to learn that there aren’t many real, tangible remnants left from when Nucky walked the boards.

Stephanie Schwartz, charter and convention sales manager for Cape May, N.J. based Great American Trolley Tours, started the first “Roarding’20s Tour of Atlantic City,” with AyCee historian Allen "Boo" Pergament.

The two-hours-plus tour, which began June 2, departs from Historic Gardner's Basin off New Hampshire Avenue in the city's Inlet District, and take passengers to nine local landmarks. That may not sound like a lot, but the sad truth is the advent of legal casino gaming in the late 1970s led to the demolition of many historic buildings. 609-884-7392 or

There are a few left however, and because they’ve survived they standout and are gems in the rough, and worth experiencing when you come to town.

Before casinos came to town, and in some cases, until relatively recently, you could easily find Old Atlantic City everywhere - the original Bus Station – marble and tile archetecutural wonder at the foot of the Parkway, and where the trains once brought tens of thousands of visitors daily. Gone.

Then there were the old barbershops, Lloyd’s at South Carolina and Angelo’s Barber Shop at Gordon’s Alley. Angelo once gave Al Capone a shave, not an easy task.

St. Nicholas-Tolentine Church still takes care of the forelorn, but Gordon’s Alley, the first pedestrian mall in New Jersey, is now a shell of its old self.

The Rum Point Pub at the inlet is gone, now a casino, but there are still a few of the old back bay boathouses some owned by Nucky Johnson and Al Capone, reminiscent of Twistie’s in Strathmere, one of the last of the old prohibition joints that’s been pretty well preserved.

But gone are the Inlet’s Tuna Club, Captain Starn’s, the Longport Inn and the Steel Pier, all venerable institutions that, in their heyday, you would think would be there forever.

Snake Alley, the Longport Log Cabin, Club Harlem & Kentucky Avenue as we knew it, are totally gone. Snake Alley, in the shadow of the lighthouse, was a small one-way alley that ran with a sharp chicane between Atlantic and Pacific and among a small slum of French Quarter style apartments and rooming houses where the prostitutes and drug dealers lived. The alley is still there but the buildings are all gone.

At the other end of Absecon Island, where the rich and powerful lived in Longport, there was the log cabin house, a local landmark featured in Louis Male’s film “Atlantic City,” and raised shortly after the premier of the movie, which also included scenes filmed at the Club Harlem on Kentucky Ave., now a parking lot.

At one time there were over 200 bars and restaurants, many ethnic, or named after cities – like the Pittsburg Pub and Hotel, where people from Pittsburgh often met on vacation. Driving down Artic Avenue you could tell when you were in the Irish or Italian neighborhood by the names of the bars. And for the most part, they were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for years and decades.

When the casinos came in during the late 1970s, they were given as many liquor licenses as they wanted and developed a policy aimed to keep people in their buildings, provided everything that was needed for a good time and discouraged visitors from going outside at all.

In many cases the casinos bought up their nearby neighborhoods to build parking lots and garages and only a few local businesses held out and survived. The Trop tried to buy the Baltimore Grill for years, but its owners held out and didn't take the money and run to Florida, like so many others did.

Now that policy has changed, and they want to attract new guests, and get a broad spectrum of visitors rather than just the serious gamblers. Nostalgia is back, and people are anxious to discover the real, and old Atlantic City, the one portrayed in the Boardwalk Empire, or at least what’s left of it.

For beginners, Atlantic City still has many of the things that Nucky Johnson and his contemporaries enjoyed – especially the world famous boardwalk, beaches and the steady roar and lapping of the ocean waves, sometimes complete with broken bottles of booze.

In taking this virtual tour of Nucky’s Atlantic City, we’ll start where Nucky began each day, at the Ritz Hotel. The Ritz is still there on the boardwalk, and though it has been renovated a few times over the years, and is a bit run down, its still pretty much the same as when Nucky lived there.

When he walked out on to the boardwalk and looked up and down, he would see the lighthouse that still dominates the north end landscape.

Walking down the boards, Nucky would see a few big hotels that are still there – Haddon Hall is now Resorts, the first casino, the Dennis is Bally’s and there’s the Claridge, as well as the venerable old Convention Hall. Now known as the Boardwalk Hall, it stands as a testament to Nucky’s commitment to making the town a destination resort, and opened in 1929, the year he hosted the organized crime convention of racketeers.

Just off the boards is the Madison House, one of the few classic, non-casino hotels that survived into the casino era. Down Pacific Avenue is the Carnegie Library building, a granite and marble wonder that was preserved and restored and then pretty much discarded.

Walking off boardwalk, you can find a few old, pubs and taverns that have maintained their traditional style – the Irish Pub on St. James Place, the Chelsea Hotel outside the Tropicana and on Atlantic Avenue there’s the Los Amegos, formerly a German pub with a brass rail and gutter that flushed every time the tap opened for a beer.

Also on Atlantic Aveue, Dock’s Oyster House recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, and continues serving the best seafood in town.

Continuing the tour there’s the Italian Ducktown neighborhood, with Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern, which also has a brass rail and a flushing gutter at the foot of the bar. Angelo’s is one of the last of the old time Italian joints.

Not far away, down Artic Avenue, is the White House Sub shop, nestled among the neighborhood Italian bakeries, which was just becoming popular when Nucky got out of the big house.

Over on Atlantic Avenue is the Baltimore Grill, also a popular neighborhood bar and grill that has a large dining room, good pizza and inexpensive means anytime, day or night.

The same neighborhood sports a few other historic buildings that were there during Nucky’s day, including Princeton Antique Books, the nerve center of all things historical in town. There’s also a few firehouses that have been maintained because of their architectural uniqueness.

Further south is the Masonic Hall, a huge building that was once as police headquarters, and now sits empty. It should be a museum. An organized crime museum.

Down at the circle, where the Black Horse Pike enters town, there’s the World War I monument, meant to honor and remember the America war veterans, like Nucky’s protégé Jimmy.

Oceanside of the same street, just past where old Atlantic City High School once stood (now a parking lot), is the venerable Knife & Fort, one of the oldest and most endearing eating establishments in town and frequently mentioned in the “Boardwalk Empire” as a place to meet.

Across the street from the Knife & Fork is a parking lot that used to be the President Hotel, where many of the mobsters stayed when they were in town. It will be the site of the Hard Rock Hotel, the first casino with less than 500 hotel rooms.

Further south, Downbeach as they say, is Lucy the Elephant, which was a bar and rooming house in Nucky’s day, the Greenhouse on the Margate beach, and over on the bay, Strotbecks, a private club that is now a fine restaurant – Steve & Cookies.

Not all the “Boardwalk Empire” action took place on the island, and there’s still some remenants of Nucky’s Atlantic City left on the Mainland.

Both the Atlantic City Country Club and Seaview were popular get-a-ways, not only to play golf, but for playing cards, fine dining and dancing and both clubhouses still reflect today the style that Nucky and his friends enjoyed back in the day.

Also on the Mainland, and still standing, one of the homes where Nucky lived before moving to the Ritz, and his grave, in the old cemetery down Zion Road.

While much of what Nucky knew is gone, there are a few choice nuggets left, and worth experiencing, especially if you are a “Boardwalk Empire” fan since they give you a good idea of what it was like to live in the days when Nucky ruled and walked the boards.

A Virtual Tour of What’s Left of Nucky’s Atlantic City


1) The Ritz Hotel
2) Absecon Lighthouse
3) Convention Hall – (now Boardwalk Hall)
4) Resorts-Haddon Hall
5) The Claridge Hotel
6) Dennis Hotel – Ballys
7) Madison House
8) Carnegie Library on Pacific Ave.
9) Irish Pub – St. James Place/Pittsburgh Hotel-
10) Doc’s Oyster House
11) Los Amigos - Mexican Pub – former German Pub
12) Angelo’s Tavern
13) Chelsea Hotel – Outside the Tropicana on the side street.
14) Baltimore Grill
15) Fire Houses
16) Princeton Antique Books
17) Masonic Hall
18) WWI Monument at circle where the Black Horse Pike comes to an end.
19) Knife & Fork – mentioned in “Boardwalk Jungle” as a place to meet.
20) Greenhouse /Lucy the Elephant –Drive Downbeach
21) Strotbeck’s (Steve & Cookie’s Margate) -
22) Atlantic City Country Club clubhouse
23) Seaview Country Club clubhouse
24) Nucky’s Home – Birthplace house on mainland.
25) Nucky’s Grave - zion rd on the mainland.

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