ATLANTIC CITY — Mayor Marty Small Sr. signed an executive order Monday that will allow people to drink alcohol openly on most of the city’s iconic Boardwalk, at lesser-known Gardner’s Basin, and on Tennessee and New York Avenues and St. James Place.
Standing in front of the Boardwalk Biergarten, where people have been buying alcohol to go for weeks and sitting on benches drinking anyway, Small said the action was a way to boost the city’s businesses, which have been struggling under coronavirus shutdowns and the widespread looting that took place May 31.
With many of the city’s businesses still boarded up or, in the case of the casinos, still shut down by Gov. Phil Murphy, the move was a welcome relaxation of restrictions, and was endorsed by the police department and by business owners.
Small said it will help spread people out, as restaurants are also allowed to seat people outside beginning Monday. The open-container zones stretch from Sovereign to Rhode Island Avenues and include Gardner’s Basin, home of the Back Bay Ale House and the Fish Heads food truck.
They will also include the beach blocks of Tennessee and New York Avenues, home to several new bars, including the Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall and Bourré, and St. James Place, home to the Irish Pub.
“We’re trying to bring our economy back," Small said. “This is a small step in the right direction for the city of Atlantic City, to keep us on par with other entertainment zones.”
The City Council already had adopted an open container law, but it was not acted on by the state legislature, as required under pre-pandemic circumstances. Small said the city will advocate to make the change permanent.
His executive order, which takes effect Friday, allows alcohol bought from businesses in the zones and labeled as such. It will expire in November, six months after Murphy’s order allowing to-go alcohol, officials said.
Steve Callender, senior vice president of the Tropicana Casino and head of the city’s Casino Association, said the open container law was a long-sought amenity that will help as the casinos prepare to reopen, possibly as early as the July Fourth weekend.
“It’s going to be difficult to ramp back up again and regain some of the momentum that we have captured over the last few years,” Callender said. “Everything we have in our arsenal can help us."
He said customers are always asking him why they can’t take “an adult beverage” out to the Boardwalk.
“I’ve been on the Boardwalk my whole life," he said. “I have customers asking me all the time: When I go out to watch the beautiful fireworks at Tropicana, why can’t I have an adult beverage?”
The police have been basically looking the other way in Atlantic City at the open-container drinking outside the Biergarten, Bungalow Beach, Celebrity Corner, Bill’s Gyro, Landshark Bar & Grill, and even the Rainforest Cafe since they began offering to-go beverages.
Deputy Chief James Sarkos said Monday the department supported the order.
It was a dizzying pivot from the widespread looting and its aftermath that Small previously characterized as “Atlantic City at its worst.”
With nearly every store in the city’s Tanger Outlets, known as the Walk, and many smaller businesses around town boarded up, city officials still brought optimism to Monday’s sunny Boardwalk announcement.
Callender said he hoped the boards would come off the storefronts at the Outlets, which is basically the entryway leading to the Boardwalk from the Atlantic City Expressway, making the sight not the most welcoming for a tourist town. There have been protests, but no unrest, since May 31.
“Once they get to town, we’ll all do OK,” he said.