ATLANTIC CITY - By noon, dozens of people at Revel were bellied up to the bar on neon-colored stools at Jose Garces’ Distrito Cantina, doing shots of tequila, drinking Dos Equis beer and waiting for their fish tacos to arrive from the adjacent Guapas Tacos truck.
It was a similar scene at the truck, where a line of people waited to order modern Mexican cuisine from the Philadelphia-based Iron Chef and then devour them on picnic tables placed on faux green grass carpeting.
Across the hall, Robert Wiedmaier’s outdoor patio at Mussel Bar was even more packed.
“There’s an hour wait to sit outside the Mussel bar and it’s not even 12:30,” the Washington, D.C.-based chef said. “I’m just amazed at how many people are here already. There’s probably 100 people sitting out on the patio.”
Distrito and Mussel Bar were the only two restaurants open for lunch at Revel’s soft opening Monday. And only one other would be open by dinner: the New York-based Italian restaurant Lugo Caffe.
People were told it was a soft opening, so they shouldn’t have been surprised by some kinks being worked out.
Lunch at Distrito, for example, took a long time - more than 30 minutes to receive an order of pork tacos – delicious, but a bit on the cold side - and even longer to receive the accompanying nachos, which were hot, delicious but arrived without meat as ordered. There was a brief power loss. And Wiedmaier couldn’t even serve mussels.
“They came in and they were these little, bitty things that I just wouldn’t serve people,” said Wiedmaier, who only opened the patio of Mussel Bar to control the crowd, promising a full opening by next week. “That’s not how I run a restaurant. We are actually lucky to be open today. We are basically serving pizza and whatever else our kitchen gets out. You might get a filet. You might get a ribeye. You might not be sure, but it’s going to be great whatever it is.”
All three restaurants open Monday pushed hard to open. And workers, despite the issues, seemed eager to please, offering suggestions, apologizing for slow food service and offering smiles through difficult moments. When the power went out, for example, it shut the gas off in the Guapos truck, causing further delays. In turn, Distrito’s restaurant’s manager bought those sitting at the bar a round of frozen margaritas, eliciting a response as if everyone there won a jackpot.
“I thought that was nice and the way it should be,” said Al Jewitt, 57, of Margate, who came to have lunch with his girlfriend and chose Distrito. “I thought the food was good, but I was a little put back by plastic cups. You can’t be serving $11 or $12 margaritas and get a plastic cup.”
When Revel “officially” opens Memorial Day weekend, all 14 restaurants should be open, including American Cut steakhouse from New York-based Iron Chef Marc Forgione, three restaurant concepts from internationally acclaimed chef Michel Richard, a Mediterranean restaurant by New York’s Alain Allegretti, three from Garces, including the casual Village Whiskey that specializes in burgers, and another steakhouse that will be more female friendly, named One, and more.
Revel promises more restaurants will come online each week.
“The buzz of this place is so fantastic, we really pushed hard to open for the preview, but we’re not going to overdo it. We are going to do it right,” Wiedmaier said. “When you have an opening of this magnitude, you always have problems. But it’s all good – it’s great, actually. Hopefully, this morning was the last time you’ll ever see empty seats outside Mussel Bar.”