It seems D.C. super chef Robert Wiedmaier and I agree on at least one thing: Neither of us are big fans of casinos. So why is the culinary mastermind behind such Washington institutions as Marcel’s and Bethesda’s Mussel Bar dishing out mini crabcakes at a special event to support the opening of another Mussel Bar at Atlantic City’s newest casino, Revel? “It’s a resort that happens to have a casino,” he tells me, emphasizing the word “resort.” “My wife and I could stay here and not even know there was a casino.”
Such is the promise behind Revel, which hopes to attract a new kind of visitor to this still-seedy seaside town: those who don’t necessarily gamble. It’s a trend that A.C. developers have been attempting (and largely failing at) for several years, with the glitzy Borgata and its Water Club Hotel, the theme-parklike Quarter at the Tropicana, Caesars’ Pier Shops… the list goes on. But the $2.4 billion (yes, billion) Revel ups the ante like never before. Could the Las Vegasification of Atlantic City finally be upon us?
The hotel certainly cuts a dramatic line. Located at the far north end of the boardwalk, the metallic and glass structure rises out of the beachfront like a Hong Kong skyscraper. Inside, the 11th-floor lobby, 114 feet above sea level, is all curved edges and shimmering tiles, meant to evoke the sea, but its vastness and check-in queues remind me first of a well-appointed Scandinavian airport.
Guests, who stay in one of the 1,898 rooms (all with ocean views) spread across 47 floors (the second-tallest building in New Jersey), don’t have to pass a single slot machine if they don’t want to. My southern-facing room on the 40th floor features a fascinating view, taking in the ocean, the boardwalk and beaches, inland waterways, the Atlantic City Expressway and the past-its-prime Showboat Casino next door.
I spend my first few hours at Revel getting lost. Just outside of the lobby, I explore the “SkyGarden,” a two-acre plot filled with native plantings, fire pits and areas for lounging, all of which sits atop the casino’s roof. From here, I can look out over the beach, currently being remade with new jetties and dozens of cabanas. The final look, I hear, should be more South Beach than Jersey Shore.
The wooden walkway leads me around to one of the resort’s 10 pools, an indoor-outdoor affair that’s already filled with resort guests.
I duck my head into Bask, the resort’s 31,000-square-foot spa, and take a quick tour of its moodily lit, coed bathhouse, saltwater shower, treatment lounges and Himalayan salt grotto built with blocks of salt that supposedly suck impurities (last night’s ill-advised Cosmos?) from your epidermis. It’s a handsome space and a peaceful escape from the glitz on the casino floor.
There’s high-end shopping, of course, but nothing is open yet along The Row, the resort’s 55,000 square feet of retail space. I also pass by Ovation Hall, a 5,500-seat theater that has already hosted four sold-out shows by Beyoncé over Memorial Day weekend.
Snagging top-tier entertainers is an obvious way for Revel to differentiate itself from the competition and draw stronger comparisons to that better-known gambling mecca out west. Its 14 restaurants— many of which carry the names of celebrity chefs— is another. Revel’s roster of chefs reads like a Food Network promo. There’s Philly’s Iron Chef Jose Garces, who has three restaurants here (Amada, Village Whiskey, Diofrito Cantina) and New York’s Marc Forgione (American Cut). From Washington, there’s Wiedmaier as well as Michel Richard, whose name is also attached to three restaurants here. If the restaurants prove as good as their pedigrees, this might be the strongest reason to visit Revel: Really, how often can you eat lunch and dinner at the restaurants of two or more Iron Chefs without moving the car?
Oh, for those of you who do like to try your luck, Revel’s casino is certainly handsomer than most, having been designed by the Montreal-based firm of Scéno Plus— the same folks who do theater design for Cirque du Soleil. The casino floor features several bars and nightclubs— one with a full concert stage— while the French Canadian influence can be found in the multitude of oddball, giant geometric shapes dangling from the ceiling.
I was reminded that I was still in New Jersey, however, by the sight of two female “performers” dressed in glittering gold micro-dresses who shimmied along a centrally located platform as a bored-looking DJ did his thing. Tacky, tacky, tacky. If you want to see scantily clad chicks, there’s already Ivan Kane’s Royal Jelly Burlesque Club, a nightclub located within the casino.
Revel is clearly still a work in progress, but there’s definitely a sense of Vegas glitz going on here. The beautiful people seem to have already migrated from the Borgata, and I didn’t see even a single track suit on the casino floor.
For Baltimoreans who normally head West for hedonism, Revel— whether you’re into casinos or not— makes a solid bet far closer to home.
Revel Resort and Casino
Atlantic City, NJ
Rooms from $239 a night