When Bill Strange entered the stand-up comedy world just about a year ago, he had higher expectations. He’s a bit disappointed.

He says he thought there’d be mountains of cocaine, lots of girls, and buzzing around the city until 4 a.m., a la Quentin Tarentino’s “Pulp Fiction.”

Joking aside, the 25-year-old Ocean City resident and his friend Tim Chivalette, 22, of Galloway Township, have found their own niche in nightlife in Atlantic City. Both are budding comics at Butch Bradley’s Comedy Hideaway on New York Avenue. They ventured out to the Tropicana Resort Casino Thursday night to support their boss, Bradley, as he hosted the AC Weekly Nightlife Awards.

The 20-somethings only perform once in a blue moon — Chivalette said they’re sort of underlings, getting to know the business — but they’ve learned that Atlantic City has more to offer in terms of nightlife than some may know.

“There can never be enough people to come to the club,” he said. “You know how there’s this push to eat local? You should stay local for your entertainment. Don’t go to Philly. We’ve got a lot going on here.”

Thursday’s award show highlighted the cream of the crop of Atlantic City and Atlantic County in performance, music, food and drink, and general ambiance. Those in the industry say nightlife has changed throughout the decades, but it remains an important part of the city, especially as officials push for more non-gaming entertainment.

Nightlife and the local entertainment scene have evolved since Dave Pena started visiting Atlantic City, accompanied by his parents, in the 1980s.

Then, lounges, cabarets and live theater sprawled. Think the since-shuttered La Cage at Bally’s. When he was in his 20s, Pena said, casinos started booking more mainstream, big concert acts to fill their entertainment halls. The 2000s heralded smaller clubs, highlighting deejays and dance music.

Pena is deeply involved with the nightlife scene in the city. He started karaoke club Planet Rose in Tropicana in 2004, closely followed by the throwback dance club Boogie Nights.

He said the trend has closely followed what customers demanded, which could be seen in larger metropolitan areas like Las Vegas, with a mix of large casino venues and smaller, independent spots.

One constant Pena said is important to have in a nightlife landscape are large clubs, gathering places for people to dance, drink and be merry. Large spots such as the Pool at Harrahs and Haven nightclub at the Golden Nugget have grown at a rapid pace, he added.

And more clubs are on the horizon. Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa announced in late December it plans to open an 18,000-square-foot nightclub, Premier, in the spring of 2016. The Playground, formerly The Pier Shops, at Caesars announced Wednesday that it would open WAV in the same time frame.

“I think each casino or hotel should have at least one major club and an active lounge,” Pena said. “I’m talking about a venue that can hold 700 people. That will play a big role in the future of nightlife in Atlantic City.”

The entertainment options in the city are staggering, and Pena said that benefits the consumer, visitors who want to plan out their weekend a little bit. That variety of large casinos and independent businesses is necessary to keep tourists and entertainment enthusiasts within the area, he added.

One thing obvious at Thursday’s Nightlife Awards is the connection between various nightlife business owners, workers and revelers. Handshakes and hugs were exchanged during the VIP hour before the festivities officially began.

Jamie Colon, Jennifer Kennedy and Jessica Weyler all work at Tailgaters Bar in Galloway Township, Colon and Kennedy as servers and Weyler as a bartender. Drinks in hand Thursday night, they all said they were happy to support their business and nightlife in general.

There are a lot of great area bars, any one of which could be named the best local bar, said Gregory Gregory, owner of Gregory’s in Somers Point.

“It’s nice that we can all gather without having to think about competing for each other’s customers,” he said. The restaurant and bar won the Critics Choice for Best Locals Bar. “Nightlife around here helps all of us.”

Pena said nightlife, from bars and restaurants to clubs and other entertainment, provides an escape for customers. Atlantic City, he said, is one of only a handful of cities that can do that.

“It’s a calling where I think it’s our job to show people a great experience,” he said.

Twitter @ACPress_Tracey

Features reporter, Flavor magazine editor

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