ATLANTIC CITY — Somewhere over the eastern Atlantic Ocean it was 5 o’clock when Jo Christenson and Bob Barone were turned away from the LandShark Bar & Grill on Friday.
Work crews and wait staff hustled in and out, making the final preparations for the restaurant’s opening this week within Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville at Resorts Casino Hotel.
A uniformed guard kept the curious out.
Out on the Boardwalk, Christenson said, “I can’t wait for it to open up.”
“I even have my T-shirt that says ‘It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,’” the 74-year-old Galloway Township resident said.
It will be exciting, added Barone, 75, also of Galloway. “That’s exactly what they need down here.”
Atlantic City’s casinos have struggled in recent years, but this formula has proved remarkably successful for a decade: the Atlantic Ocean, plus music, plus drinks, at Atlantic City's destination beach bars. And now, nearly seven months after Hurricane Sandy raked the resort's dunes, Atlantic City's casinos are readying for the summer and restaking their claims to the beach.
Four beach bars and clubs should be up and running by Memorial Day, including the new LandShark Bar and Grill at Resorts, Bally's Bikini Beach Bar, Revel's HQ Beach Club and the Beach Bar at Trump Plaza.
A fifth, the Beach Bar at Atlantic Club, will be available for promotions and special events, a casino spokesperson said.
This summer marks the 10th anniversary of widespread legalization of beach bars, following years of requests and a limited, one-year experiment. Initial fears that they would lead to rampant underage drinking and other problems have largely proved unfounded.
But Atlantic City's attempts at a South Beach-style makeover haven't been entirely controversy-free.
As many as seven beach bars at a time have been open, leading to complaints from environmentalists and others that they were crowding out the resort's key real estate.
The state Department of Environmental Protection issued new regulations that pushed them off the water in 2006, and some closed. The highest profile casualty: The sprawling, 63,000-square foot Nikki Beach Club at Resorts Atlantic City, which included everything from private tepee cabanas to a concert stage, dining and bars.
Resorts was fined $50,000 in 2005 for building Nikki Beach before it had approval, and then shuttered the bar when it said regulations left it without enough space.
One of the few hardy survivors is the Beach Bar at Trump Plaza, which will return following its apparent death last year.
The 21,500-square-foot bar was one of the largest when casino officials said they would close it for good in September. Saying they were unable to compete with the nonunion work force at the Revel and Resorts beach bars, casino staff allowed patrons to cart off bits of wooden decking, signs, umbrellas and other memorabilia.
Instead, it will be open throughout this summer, with DJs and other entertainment listed on the casino’s website through Labor Day. Spokesman Brian Cahill would not comment on the casino's about-face.
At Resorts, the LandShark Bar and Grill is expected to fully open for this Memorial Day weekend, as part of the $35 million Margaritaville makeover at the casino.
The casino occupies 200 feet of the former Steeplechase Pier, offering seating for about 370 guests. The casino has planned for the 8,000-square-foot facility to be open year round.
At Revel, the nearby HQ Beach Club is being billed as an upscale seaside resort. The “daylife” club at Boardwalk-level will be operated in partnership with Angel Management Group and EMM Group, the creators of the casino’s HQ Nightclub.
The casino said the 45,000-square-foot facility will be the first of its kind in the Northeast, “with inspiration gathered from the beautiful island of Mykonos to the south of France.”
It is scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend, with top electronic dance music expected throughout the summer. The dance club will be augmented by cabanas and a pool lounge.
It is opening, in part, because Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill in March, fast-tracked by state legislators, that closed a loophole in state noise laws that had effectively limited the number of beach bars.
Down the Boardwalk, uniformed electricians were stringing lights at Bally’s Bikini Beach Bar on Friday, as other staff brought in supplies of Miller Lite, Corona and Dos Equis beer.
Signs at the 9-year-old bar indicate it has apparently returned to its old name after rocker Sammy Hagar and Caesars Entertainment Corp. failed to come to an agreement this spring following a two-year partnership.
Chris Woods, 38, was one of three friends who stopped to chat with some of the bikini-clad servers Friday afternoon, while a reggae version of Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” played.
The bar is a great place, the Egg Harbor Township resident said, especially Thursdays, when it features “Rockstar Karaoke.” That allowed him to sing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Radiohead’s “Creep” while a live band wailed behind him.
“They do it (karaoke) right on the stage,” he said. “It’s a great place to hang out.”
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