ATLANTIC CITY — When crowds pour into Atlantic City tonight, they’ll have one more option on where to celebrate the coming of the new year.

Harrah’s Resort has chosen the biggest party night of the year to unveil The Loft, a lush, $1 million addition to The Pool, its already popular nightclub.

The opening of the new high-end party spot caps a decade that saw big changes in the Atlantic City nightclub scene.

Ten years ago, the city’s nightlife landscape pretty much consisted of casino lounges, noncasino pubs and clubs, and one major dance club.

Now, nearly every casino has a major dance club. Venues such as mixx and mur.mur at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Dusk at Caesars Atlantic City, and Providence at Tropicana Casino and Resort are aimed at attracting young, cash-spending partiers, much like in Las Vegas, New York and Philadelphia.

The Loft is another way for Harrah’s to capture an even larger portion of the city’s growing — and lucrative — nightlife business. Located on the second floor of The Pool, The Loft will provide an even more “luxe nightlife experience,” said Jay Snowden, senior vice president and general manager for Harrah’s and Showboat Casino Hotel.

The Loft features a new double-sided bar that will serve patrons inside year-round and outside when weather permits. The bar area will be a communal area, but the rest of The Loft will be for those looking for a high-end experience.

Expanding on its downstairs cabana concept, The Loft will feature more spacious cabanas with added amenities such as flat-screen televisions, video game consoles, stocked refrigerators and larger, more expensive furniture.

“The Loft area was always a high-demand piece of real estate because of its great view over The Pool,” Snowden said. “But there was nothing to do up there. So we wanted to create a new vibe on that second level. What we are creating up there is like an ultralounge on steroids. The downstairs is more of a club environment. The Loft is a blown-out ultralounge.”

There also will be areas in The Loft that people can pay to hang out in outside the cabanas that feature “Las Vegas-style daybeds and ottomans,” and there will be two cages that will feature “models” dancing, Snowden said.

“We will also focus on premium beverages, especially more Champagne that will be available by the bottle and the glass,” Snowden added. “This is just the beginning. We will open the outdoor bar in the spring, and then we can add more daytime programming similar to what is offered in Vegas at places like the Hard Rock and Mandalay Bay. There’s more to come.”

A decade of partying

The Pool was part of the $550 million Waterfront expansion that opened in 2006. Since its debut, The Pool has become one of the most successful clubs in the country, drawing as many as 3,000 people on Saturday nights while still serving as a daytime indoor oasis for its hotel guests featuring 40-foot palm trees, tropical plants, hot tubs, cabanas and a bar.

“The idea to expand what we offer at The Pool really started from its success, which has been tremendous,” Snowden said. “We grew over 50 percent in revenue at The Pool in 2009. Right now, when you talk 1 percent, it’s a good story, so 50 percent really shows how healthy a business The Pool is for us. It has become one of the top nightclubs on the East Coast.”

That’s a long way from a city that seemed barely capable of supporting more than one popular dance club less than a decade ago.

In 2000, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort changed the nightlife scene in Atlantic City forever with the opening of the Casbah. With scantily clad dancers inside cages, a state-of-the-art sound and light system, and an overall edge that Atlantic City never saw before, the Casbah was an immediate success and remains so today.

“At that time, we frequented noncasino nightclubs around town like Deja Vu and Studio Six,” said Steve Gietka, vice president of entertainment for Trump Entertainment Resorts. “But when we opened, the Casbah set a new benchmark for clubs in Atlantic City. For lack of a better term, the others in the city were mom-and-pop clubs, and we had the bankroll to take it to the next level. There was certainly unsatisfied demand out there, and we provided a newer, classier and safer club scene. The casino itself provided a heightened sense of security that attracted more women to come out. And when more women come out, men follow.”

It took quite a while for other casinos to catch on that the Casbah was no flash in the pan. The next major dance club arrived when Borgata opened its doors in 2003 and debuted mixx, a trendy, two-story upscale spot with plush furniture, private VIP boxes, and conga drummers and dancers. Mixx was also the first to introduce bottle service, where patrons pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle of liquor and a VIP area.

Other clubs followed suit: 32 Degrees offered the city’s first “luxe lounge” at The Quarter at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in 2004; Cuba Libre and its Missile Bar inside The Quarter offered a nightspot with a Latin flair in 2004; Club Worship was part of Showboat’s House of Blues makeover in 2005; rapper Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club at The Walk showed confidence to operate a club outside a casino when it opened in 2005; Borgata’s swank mur.mur arrived with the casino’s expansion in 2006 and offered the city’s first red carpet area; the New York-based Providence expanded its scope to Atlantic City and opened in 2007 at The Quarter; Boogie Nights debuted in 2007 as Resorts Atlantic City tried to find a niche by offering ’70s and ’80s dance music aimed at an older crowd than the rest of the city was shooting for; and 2009 brought the city’s latest and greatest club, Dusk, a multimillion-dollar, privately owned party spot that was partly owned by celebrity DJ Adam Goldstein — aka DJ AM — who died earlier this year of a drug overdose.

Celebrity hangouts

The advent of the booming club scene also opened another door: the onslaught of celebrity appearances. Although the Taj Mahal would occasionally book celebrity DJs, Borgata and Harrah’s set the bar for offering celebrity appearances, including many B-list reality stars, a Vegas-style formula that other clubs such as Dusk continue to follow. Paris Hilton, Brooke Hogan, Carmen Electra, the Kardashians, Jimmy Fallon, Fergie and The Black-Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani and No Doubt, Eva Mendes of “Desperate Housewives,” P. Diddy, Howard Stern, Ashlee Simpson, pro athletes, cast members of HBO’s “Entourage,” “The Sopranos” and “True Blood,” Lauren Conrad, Audrina Partridge, Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt of “The Hills” are just a few of the names to hit the A.C. club scene, particularly Borgata and Harrah’s.

Those high-profile names sometimes result in high-profile media coverage. For example, mur.mur and The Pool are regularly ranked as two of the best clubs in the country by magazines such as In Touch and People. Celebrities at mur.mur have also been televised on MTV and Entertainment Tonight, not only branding the clubs, but the overall Atlantic City experience.

“The nightclub set tends to gravitate toward where the best DJs are playing and where the hot celebrities are hanging out,” Borgata spokesperson Noel Stevenson said. “Since the opening of Borgata, and then mur.mur, Atlantic City has evolved into a destination that’s now on the radar of places like New York City and more top of mind for celebrities. Since mur.mur’s opening, there are several different types of experiences offered in the city that offer something for everyone and ultimately help further A.C. as a multidimensional travel destination — a Vegas-alternative on the East Coast.”

Fun has its price

All of this fun does not come cheap. Regular cover charges can go as high as $40 any weekend of the year. For New Year’s Eve, of course, it gets even more pricey.

For The Loft’s debut night, an “Ultra VIP” package costs $250 and includes a three-hour open bar; basic general admission is half that price with the same open bar. VIP bottle service, however, ranges from $1,500 for a table to $3,000 for a 10-person cabana to $5,000 for a 16-person “Big Hot Tub.”

Other party options for tonight include: Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort’s Casbah is bringing in the D’Jais Crew and DJ Sizzahandz for a $100 party that includes three hours of open bar; Providence at the Tropicana Casino and Resort is selling $150 tickets for a party that includes a five-hour premium open bar; Boogie Nights at Resorts Atlantic City’s ’70s and ’80s dance party can be had for as little as $40 or as much as $98 with a two-hour open bar; Dusk at Caesars Atlantic City’s $100 bash includes a two-hour open bar and a celebrity appearance by Leighton Meester of “Gossip Girl”; and Borgata is featuring three parties under one roof at Gypsy Bar, mur.mur and mixx, ranging from $35 to $100.

But every night is certainly not like New Year’s Eve. Similar to Atlantic City gambling, the club scene seems to prosper mostly on Saturdays. Although some of the clubs are able to rake in more cash with industry nights such as Borgata’s “mur.mur Mondays,” club business in Atlantic City has its limits.

“I think that the current economic conditions in the town and the depressed room rates in the town are allowing a whole new group of clubgoers to come here and stay in Atlantic City, which hopefully translates to multinight stays and multinight visits in nightclubs,” Gietka said. “Still, at this point, Saturdays are very healthy, Fridays continue to be a challenge, and some of the industry nights do well. But it’s primarily a one- or two-night business.”

With so many clubs in Atlantic City — and at least one more undoubtedly looming with the future opening of Revel — is there room for more clubs in Atlantic City?

“Until we can grow the club business into more than one or two nights a week, it will be difficult for another investor to commit when he is trying to make all or most of his money back in one or two nights,” Gietka said. “That being said, I hope there are more. The more clubs, the more nightlife. And that nightlife breeds more nightlife. It’s good for the city.”

Contact Scott Cronick:


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