For Atlantic City, HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" is the gift that keeps on giving.
After HBO's historically based drama about the town's naughty, bawdy days under early 20th-century crime czar Enoch "Nucky" Johnson debuted last September, Atlantic City basked in plenty of reflected glory.
The [Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority "]fielded a lot of calls. People wanted to know how similar [the show] is to our actual history," said Stephanie Schwartz, charter and convention sales manager for Cape May, N.J.-based Great American Trolley Tours.
The casino industry wasted little time jumping on the "Empire" bandwagon. Within weeks of the series' debut, Bally's Atlantic City introduced a historical exhibit focusing on the town's 1920s heyday. And veteran casino executive Dennis Gomes went even further, announcing that Resorts Atlantic City, which Gomes and his partner, Morris Bailey, purchased late last year, would be re-themed to cash in on "Boardwalk Empire's" pop-culture profile.
As the casinos were doing their "Boardwalk Empire" thing, so was Schwartz's company. Teaming with the convention authority and AyCee historian Allen "Boo" Pergament, Great American Trolley Tours devised "The Roaring '20s Tour of Atlantic City."
"We began working with the ACCVA prior to [the series' inaugural broadcast] because we knew it would increase interest in Atlantic City," Schwartz said.
The two-hours-plus tour, which opens June 2, will depart from Historic Gardner's Basin off New Hampshire Avenue in the city's Inlet District, and take passengers to nine local landmarks. That may not sound like a lot, but the sad truth is the advent of legal casino gaming in the late 1970s led to the demolition of many historic buildings.
Each location features commentary by a tour guide who also discusses other aspects of Atlantic City history between sites. Points of interest are:
Two Inlet boathouses, one owned by Johnson, the other by Al Capone. Both were used to smuggle liquor during Prohibition.
The Absecon Lighthouse: It predates the 1920s, but it's an important historical structure.
St. Nicholas-Tolentine Church, built in the style of ornate European cathedrals.
Resorts Atlantic City: The first legal casino opened in May 1978 on the site of the Haddon Hall Hotel (part of the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall complex), one of the grandest of the early-20th-century hotels.
The Irish Pub, which was a speakeasy/casino/brothel during Johnson's reign. (See related story here.)
The Dennis Hotel (now part of Bally's), the oldest existing hotel in Atlantic City.
Madison House: One of few remaining hotels from the era is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Ritz-Carlton: Johnson lived in and presided over his criminal caliphate from its ninth floor.
The Knife & Fork restaurant, which defined gracious dining back in the day.
The trolley makes three stops on the route.
The first is at the Irish Pub, where lunch (included in the admission) is served. Passengers also disembark at Boardwalk and Park Place for a look at the Dennis Hotel from the boardwalk, and at the Ritz-Carlton (Boardwalk at Iowa Avenue), now a condominium complex.
At the latter stop, the tour includes a visit to the posh lobby. It remains pretty much intact from the days when Johnson played host to all manner of celebrities, from Broadway stars to most-wanted gangsters.
"Boardwalk Empire" came along at a most propitious time for Great American Trolley Tours because, Schwartz said, "We like to always bring something new and fresh [to encourage] repeat trips."
"The Roaring '20s Tour of Atlantic City," 11 a.m. Thursdays starting June 2, departing from Historic Gardner's Basin, 800 N. New Hampshire Ave., Atlantic City, N.J. Admission $25 (includes lunch at the Irish Pub). Reservations and info at 609-884-7392 or gatrolley.com.