If a casino’s main interest is to keep people gambling through hunger, thirst and exhaustion, then Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget needs to rethink its rooftop pool. Not even potential riches could have dragged me away from my cushioned lounger high above the boardwalk.
The 727-room hotel, an outlier opposite the boardwalk, occupies the Casino Formerly Known as Trump Marina. The Golden Nugget and its Texas billionaire owner took over in May 2011 and celebrated its grand opening in late April 2012. The unveiling included a $150 million makeover (Trump’s face was dated and sagging) and a fete featuring two priceless rocks: Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood and a 62-pound golden nugget, supposedly the largest in the world. (Wood hasn’t left the building: An on-site gallery sells his artwork, including paintings of his bandmates. The nugget also took up residence in a display case near the Bean & Bread cafe.)
The A.C. hotel, one of three Nuggets in the country, is the rebel in the family: Unlike its sisters in the Nevada desert, the property in the Marina District is well hydrated by the Absecon Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the more domesticated waters on the sixth-floor pool deck.
Despite its beach-resorty setting, the property’s guts are in gaming, so don’t think you’ll get away slot-free. The parking garage, like that of every casino on the map, is massive and requires a hound dog to navigate. I relied on two short-haired employees to direct me to the lobby. I followed an obstacle course that featured a few switchbacks, a small construction site (the Starbucks-in-progress is now open) and an escalator that delivered me into what felt like the center of the sun.
Red and yellow glass orbs dangled from the ceiling. The brown carpet, wildly patterned, resembled Earth as seen from a star. The slots and tables aren’t part of the overall interior design. Most of the temptations, with the exception of a bank of one-arm bandits near check-in, are sequestered in rooms and alcoves off the main artery. You have to seek them out; they won’t stalk you at every turn.
Non-gamblers won’t have to sit in their room twiddling their thumbs while their partners play away their Hawaii vacation fund. Though, to be honest, chilling in the room — updated Burger King palette, splashy modern art, trippy orange wallpaper — holds a certain appeal.
While waiting for my friend to arrive on Greyhound, I busied myself by checking out every cranny of the property. In the Wine and Wifi Lounge, I perused the alcoholic offerings poured from a machine like a tippling coffee dispenser. I scanned the magazine titles on the rack (heavy on business and golfing pubs) and glanced at a basketball game on the flat-screen TV. The volume was muted; the fans on the couch were silent. Maybe their team was losing, but I didn’t want to ruin the quiet or their calm by asking.
Looking for a more energized crowd, I walked down a flight of stairs to the bars and entertainment venues. On a Thursday night, however, the Rush Lounge and its doughnut-shaped bar were empty. I wandered into the Live Bar, where an all-boy band, including a drummer performing behind a giant sneeze guard, was kicking out the kind of pop tunes often sung loudly when you’re alone in your car. Two girls on a couch mouthed the words; I pegged them as girlfriends who loyally attended all their boyfriends’ shows.
The company that runs the Nugget also owns a number of restaurants, including Vic & Anthony’s (a steakhouse), the Chart House (starring things that live in the sea) and Grotto (Italian). How convenient: You don’t need to leave the property to sample the menus, but you will have to take off the robe and put on real shoes. The hotel also pays attention to its casino roots with an all-you-can-stuff-in-your-belly buffet.
Not that I’m judging, but one shouldn’t eat too many carbs before one slips into a bathing suit. Of course, there’s always Option B: Steam and sweat away the calories in the fitness center before your swim. Or Option C: Commandeer one of the loungers that sit half-submerged in the water.
From New York to Los Angeles to, yes, Atlantic City, rooftop pools are all the rage. Four recent college graduates soaking in the Nugget’s hot tub invited my twosome to Harrah’s, the pool-party-of-the-moment. We declined. Gambling had no power over me, nor did youthful partiers who drink booze out of Mountain Dew bottles.
To be honest, I never wanted to leave the pool deck — ever. As large as a football field, it featured a variety of water sources, plus a small community of lounge chairs — some traditional recliners, others white and wavy, a few as fat and round as the moon. I settled on a long couch, feet up on a table, head supported by pillows.
Gazing at the boardwalk casinos, the purveyors of promise, I realized that I’d won my jackpot.
Huron and Brigantine boulevards
A tlantic City
Nightly rates from $59.