There was a time when New Year's Eve was a ho-hum affair in Atlantic City. There would be a lounge act or two with a bit of energy, but the casinos would more or less cede the holiday celebration to other towns and other venues.
You want to play a little blackjack, fine, we'll be here, they might have said, and maybe we'll give you a kazoo and a funny hat.
As in many other ways, it is a completely different ballgame in Atlantic City on New Year's weekend these days.
"We want to do a full-fledged entertainment weekend now," said Phil Juliano, executive vice president of the Atlantic City Hilton, who also oversees entertainment at Resorts Atlantic City.
"We are all interested in filling our rooms over a long weekend in what we all refer to as the 'new Atlantic City.' In order to do that, you have to give customers more than what they can get at a Pennsylvania slots parlor, and that means good food and entertainment."
Juliano is starting out his properties' weekend with a fireworks show on the beach at 10 p.m. Dec. 29. It will be choreographed to music that will be played on loudspeakers up and down the Boardwalk.
Though casinos are notoriously windowless, Juliano assures that these fireworks will be visible from the Hilton's club, 10 Til, which will have a $10 cover charge for a light buffet and dancing that evening.
The same night, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa will have British disc jockeys Sasha and John Digweed in its Mixx club at 10 p.m. ($30) and Fergie, the California-born singer (and member of the Black Eyed Peas) who has had four No. 1 hits in the past two years, in its Event Center at 8 p.m. ($75).
On Sunday, Borgata goes local and hip-hop with G. Love and Special Sauce at its smaller concert hall, the Music Box, at 8 p.m. ($39.50). New Year's Eve, it switches gears a little bit again, with comic Lisa Lampanelli doing shows at 7 and 11 p.m. in the Music Box ($50), and various parties in the Gypsy Bar, Mur.mur. nightclub and Mixx, ranging up to $100 per person.
The House of Blues at Showboat is also doing the new-acts-every-night concept over New Year's weekend. On Dec. 29, it has eclectic son-of-folk-singers Rufus Wainwright (mom is Kate McGarrigle; dad is Loudon Wainwright III) at 9 p.m. ($29-$46.50).
Dec. 30 at 9 p.m., see Philadelphia favorites the Roots ($37) and, at 9 on New Year's Eve, get the Samples, a Grateful Dead meets the Police type group, in the Club Harlem Ballroom ($25), or Elvis Costello, in the main show room at 11 p.m. ($68-$128).
Harrah's Atlantic City will take advantage of its new domed pool, known as The Pool, with a party described as "Beyond the Velvet Rope." DJ Jazzy Jeff will be the prime spinner and there will be a video feed from Times Square at midnight, an open bar and a big buffet.
Regular admission from 9 p.m.-4 a.m. will be $99; add your own hot tub for six and a complementary bottle of champagne for up to $250 per person.
For those who seek a little more nostalgia - all right, a lot of nostalgia - Jerry Blavat will host a party at the Atlantic City Hilton, featuring the Trammps, whose hit "Disco Inferno," from "Saturday Night Fever" is itself celebrating its 30th anniversary.
The party starts at 8 p.m. and will include dinner, an open bar until midnight and a 1 a.m. continental breakfast, plus the Geator in all his glory for $110. *