An Artisans' Oasis Away From the Action

Sunday, June 24, 2007

In Atlantic City, Gardner's Basin doesn't care about your bankroll, baby. The waterfront area is too busy fostering artists, feeding sharks and toasting sunsets to worry about gamblers having a good time.

The basin, which lies north of the boardwalk near the Absecon Channel, has undergone multiple transformations over the decades. During Prohibition, rum runners operated out of the harbor, and more recently, residents used the surrounding land as a baseball field. Today, the stands are quiet and the Back Bay Ale House (609-449-0006) serves Long Island iced teas in Mason jars. The restaurant also holds sunset toasts on its porch, handing out free shots to patrons who raise their glasses to the setting sun.

Near the restaurant, a small artisan community has sprung up. Craftsmen work and display their art in a dozen brightly painted sheds with dollhouse details. A puppet maker from Manhattan sells balsa-wood Frank Sinatras, seahorses and skeletons that would give a child nightmares. An Absecon artist constructs bold masks for Carnival or people whose interior designs include horse heads.

"You don't feel like you're in Atlantic City," said Al Cerino, a resident artist who was working on a copper wall hanging on a quiet Monday. "This is a place to take a break."

When you look across the harbor, the sight of Harrah's and Borgata reminds you of the Zip code. (For skyline views from the water, book a tour with the basin's Atlantic City Cruises, 609-347-7600, Yet it's easy to forget the boardwalk clatter while tossing raw mackerel to the sharks at the Atlantic City Aquarium (609-348-2880, or kicking back on the patio of the Flying Cloud Cafe (609-345-8222), watching the boats drift by the casinos on their way out to sea.

-- Andrea Sachs

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