1 Ron and Gino Garofalo opened Atlantic City Bar & Grill in 1976, the same year that New Jersey voters approved casino gambling in Atlantic City. Decades later, their bar is a standout destination for people simply looking to buy a reasonably priced drink and have an easy conversation with friends, something that's not always possible in the noisy, glitzy casino clubs that now dominate the resort's nightlife scene. Dress is casual, cover charges are rare, and parking, if available, is free. Most nights, it's a laid-back environment with people watching whatever games are on TV, but it can be packed to capacity on the weekends with a younger crowd dancing on the second level.
2 Witness living history. The original structure dates to the early 20th Century, and it was a fur coat store before it became the bar. "They must have had Nucky's wife's coat in here," says Ron Garofalo, referencing the real-life gangster Enoch "Nucky" Johnson, who ran Atlantic City in the 1920s and beyond. After they got rid of the massive safes that held the coats, the Garofalos remodeled the whole interior, putting in the solid oak main bar that remains today. The walls of the rooms are lined with black-and-white pictures of the city's past, as well as more recent pictures of celebrities who have visited.
3 If it ain't broke, make it bigger. The bar's gone through three renovations during its lifetime, most recently around 2000, when the upstairs, called "Level II," was added, along with new flooring. The second floor is used for both private parties as well as overflow if it's looking like a big night. It is also where you can find DJs and bands when the bar brings in special performers.
4 With character comes characters. The bar is certainly a favorite among locals in a range of ages, and there isn't any real telling who you'll see on a given night. On one recent Saturday, an older crowd filled the bar and restaurant area, but then a 21st birthday party rolled in and got a few free drinks from the 30-something-year-old guys at the bar. That's typical, as it's a place where nearly anyone can feel welcome.
5 If there's a big game on, get your seat early. When events like March Madness roll around, Ron Garofalo says people fill every inch of the downstairs bar area, jumping and cheering for their team or whoever they have moving on in their brackets. "The atmosphere is like you're at a college game," says Garofalo, who said he tosses out T-shirts on the first day of play.
Heard on a Saturday night: Classic rock 'n' roll played over the sound system as a background to the noisy bar area where old friends and new acquaintances shared stories and laughed over drinks.
Scene at 9 p.m.: Packed. The biggest crowds most of the year can be found in the transition between dinner and midnight as people grab a drink after a meal or before a big night out at the casinos. On a Saturday in February, for instance, people filled every seat in the house, many by the bar pre-gaming while watching some college hoops on the flat-screen TVs behind the bar and tapping their feet to the music.
Club Owner: Ron and Gino Garofalo
Debuted: 1976; expanded and remodeled three times. In 2000, they added a second floor, new tiles and floor. Building was here since 1900, when it was a fur coat store.
The look: There are five separate rooms on two floors with three bars. From the main entrance, guests either go through one door into the main dining room or another up into the main bar. The walls throughout are painted green, except they're hard to see at times because they're covered by countless framed photographs of historic photos, memorabilia or pictures of the owners with celebrities who have visited. The upstairs is more spacious than the narrow downstairs rooms, but similarly styled, with walls painted green between oak framing that surrounds hardwood floors.