While I cheered Coking’s fortitude, Bryant explained that some folks contested her heroism, claiming that she was motivated by something other than the spirit of David.
No one, however, would venerate Paul “Skinny” D’Amato — except Atlantic City.
Across the street from Jay Z’s nightclub, a bronze plaque honors the 500 Club owner, who was allegedly linked to the mob. “Mr. Atlantic City” ran an illegal gambling den in the back of the club on Missouri Avenue. (It burned down in 1973.) The friend of mobsters — and Sinatra — hired such crooners and cutups as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to draw crowds. The sign recognizes D’Amato’s legacy as a club impresario; neither Martin nor Lewis earned such commemoration.
(Just so you don’t think that AC is completely delusional, the city does not exalt the legacy of Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, the corrupt Prohibition-era politician/racketeer whom “Boardwalk Empire” celebrates.)
Atlantic City never gained the same notoriety or criminal lineup as Philly, Chicago and New York. “This was a dumping ground for the mob,” said Bryant, referring to the town’s secondary status in the mobster world. It did, however, exercise some control over the cement mixing and trash removal industries and provided, well, protection to the gay clubs that flourished in the 1960s and early 1970s.
New York Avenue was the place to throw a boa around your Adam’s apple and slip your man paws into a pair of stilettos. Gay and drag clubs abounded, including one venue decorated in velvet erotic art and Val’s, which was embroiled in a legal case that predated Stonewall. When officials shuttered the bar, Val’s fought back — and won. An early victory for gay rights.
“This became a gay resort destination after they clamped down on Cape May’s gay scene,” said Bryant, as we stood near the Babes! sign of a strip club on New York Avenue. “But it was blown out by gambling.”
Casinos, now numbering a dozen, performed dramatic plastic surgery on Atlantic City. The behemoths, unnaturally blinged-out with neon, created an impenetrable wall between the boardwalk and, well, everything else. The hotels’ elevated walkways — fresh air is so overrated — further divided and darkened the city. Walking under the bridges at high noon feels like midnight.
“Atlantic City became as themed as anything at Disney,” said Bryant. “You have a Moorish castle and a French chateau. They’re ripping Vegas off.”