A big win at Atlantic City always appeals. But in economic crunch times, who's got the cold hard cash to throw at slot machines, roulette wheels and blackjack tables?
No worries. It's still possible to make a splash in AC - literally. Hoping to entice visitors looking for gambling alternatives, hotel owners have been jazzing up their pool bars and beach joints, creating a tranquil - at some, almost spalike - respite from the tobacco-jonesing hordes on the neon gaming floors. Getting patrons out into the sun is an intriguing shift for casinos, given that most don't even have windows.
We've surveyed some of the best pool bars in town. In most cases, they're open to hotel guests only . . . but anyone can walk in and check 'em out.
THE CHELSEA: CABANA CLUB, FIFTH FLOOR
Rooms: From $209 a night Friday and Saturday; from $80 a night Sunday-Thursday
Pool hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily; nightclub 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Thursday-Saturday
The scene: This is where the pretty people go - hip and hot singles and couples in their 20s to early 40s - for a luxe, boutique hotel experience right on the boardwalk that has, get this, no casino. What it lacks in dice it more than makes up for in jazzy amenities: a Stephen Starr restaurant, spa, and - new this season - a South Beach-worthy rooftop pool bar landscaped with Brazilian ipe wood planters, white-cushioned chaises, a massive tent-covered bar and eight cabanas stocked with plasma TVs, mini bars, PlayStation 3s and a DVD and game library ($150 food/drink minimum weekdays; $500 weekends).
The pool makes for a soft and soothing dip, which you've gotta follow up with a refreshing cocktail (try the Boardwalk Lemonade, $10, with citrus vodka and rosemary; or the Chelsea, $12, with vodka, mint, lemon, Prosecco and cucumber garnish).
Peckish? Try the grilled mahi wrap or Caprese sandwich with prosciutto de Parma and mozzarella, or crab cake-style fries ($6-$12) served up by a staff of young hotties.
While the pool is officially only open to hotel guests, management says if there's room, nonguests can join in the fun after 2 p.m.
After dark: By 10 p.m., the pool turns nightclub. Beams of purple light shoot up the side of the hotel tower, a DJ spins tunes and the place is packed with a cool club crowd (actor Chazz Palminteri recently stopped by, and, look, that guy from "The Sopranos"). A line typically forms by 10:30 or 11, and hotel guests must queue like the locals. The party goes till 3 a.m. Two hours later, a phalanx of fixers is switching out messy cushions and sprucing things up for the morning pool crowd.
Good to know: Before you head to breakfast, place something on a chaise (by 9:30 a.m. to be safe) to make sure you've scored one for later; they fill up quickly. Luxe accommodations at The Chelsea are in "The Tower" - the hotel's cheaper "Annex" rooms have yet to be renovated. Fine if you're desperate to save a buck - but otherwise steer clear.
CAESARS: ROOFTOP POOL AND HOT TUB
2100 Pacific Ave., 800-443-0104, caesarsac.com
Rooms: From $269 a night Friday-Sunday; $219 a night Monday-Friday
Pool hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (adults-only after 1 p.m.)
The scene: This sybaritic getaway offers two levels, a canopied bar, plenty of sleek, modern chaises and a few luxe cabanas ($50 for five hours, $100 a day; deluxe "cabs" including two drinks and a fruit basket are $75 and $150, respectively).
Go ahead - you went all in at poker last night and won, so why not indulge in a spa treatment right in your cabana ($100 for marine oil Swedish massage; $140 reflexology)?
Speaking of which, you've gotta try a strawberry mojito ($10.50) and maybe a plate of those tangy chopped Jersey tomatoes, a Kobe beef burger or veggie lavosh with hummus and flatbread ($9-$16.50).
A quibble: The roof deck offers stunning ocean views, but the music from Caesars' nearby beach bar wafts up in the summer breeze, clashing with the pool bar sound system (imagine Celine Dion's "The Wanderer" from below and the Pointer Sisters' "He's So Shy" from above).
Good to know: The food comes from room service, which gets backed up on weekends by midafternoon, so order earlier if you're famished.
TROPICANA: BLUE PARROT POOL BAR
Sixth Floor of North Tower, 800-345-8767, tropicana.net
Rooms $229-$349 a night Friday and Saturday; $109-$149 a night Sunday-Thursday
Pool hours: 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Friday; open until 7 p.m. Saturday
The scene: The resort's Web site dubs it a "secluded outdoor oasis," but it needs more decor (would it kill 'em to throw a few more flower boxes around?) and a bigger pool. This is a big ol' hotel-casino, which means the pool swarms with kids (splash, squeal, scream) as sweaty adults sit thigh to thigh on the pool's edge. A large, drab deck with old plastic chaises dominates the space.
To be fair, it's spacious, a DJ spins tunes and there's a nifty view of the ocean beyond for those at patio tables, front row chaises and a few bare-bones cabanas ($65-$85 a day) placed smack in the middle of the space.
A basic menu covers snacks, sandwiches and salads. For cocktails, the Frosty Sunbather, with frozen cappuccino and Patron XO Café, will perk up weary gamblers, and Capt. Morgan's Long Island Iced Tea is dubbed "very refreshing" - but we knew that.
Good to know: If you want to swim, use the indoor pool at the hotel's health club, for a fee - $10 a day a room.
HARRAH'S: THE POOL
Rooms: From $219 a night Friday and Saturday; $109 a night Sunday-Thursday
Pool hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily; nightclub 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
The scene: Harrah's went liquid, "Logan's Run" style, two years ago, erecting a dramatic glass dome to house an aquatic wonderland awash in 86,000 gallons of water. Talk about oasis: They've got trees, tropical flowers, large curvaceous pool, plus hot tubs and cabanas (with TV, iPod docking station and gift bags) sprinkled about.
A poolside massage ($71 reflexology; $160 Swedish) is a must.
This place sizzles . . . but you won't burn, thanks to the UV-absorbent glass. You'll also never tan, so sun worshipers must take their bronze bods up to the stylish outside tanning sundeck.
Love the complimentary chips and salsa. Or order from the bar everything from bottle service to smoothies, rumrunners to Philly cheesesteaks and "Mac Daddy" shrimp cocktail (from $9).
After dark: For more wicked watery delights, three nights a week the space turns into a club open to the public.
Patrons come dressed for clubbing, but can change in a locker room into bathing attire for a late-night dip.
Good to know: On Mondays, Harrah's hosts a 7 p.m. Resort Island Luau that includes dinner and an Aloha hula show. Tickets are $49.99.