Inside T Street: Bart Blatstein’s attempt to save Atlantic City with a party, not gambling

Atlantic City has a new nightlife venue, and it’s huge, unique and generally pretty cool, as Jersey Shore spots go. After a less than a month of whirlwind construction, T Street is now open.

The renovated 90,000-square-foot space is the first phase of Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein’s remake of a failed oceanfront mall into The Playground. (The name is a play on AC’s longtime tagline, “America’s Favorite Playground.”) Set on a jetty that shoots out over the Boardwalk and into the water in front of the casinos, the structure was formerly known as the Pier Shops at Caesars. Blatstein’s Tower Developments bought the property for $2.5 million last November, and set about making $50 million worth of changes, including relocating retailers to the front of the building to make room for a section that focuses solely on dining, drinking and entertainment.

Playground reps describe T Street as modeled after music row in Nashville, Beale Street in Memphis and Sixth Street in Austin, but it also recalls New Orleans, because you carry your drink freely between all eight-plus bars and clubs in the complex. (Better than NOLA, even, since you don’t have to use plastic cups when you bar hop, but can tote your martini around in classy glass.)

Each bar has a different theme — Irish pub, Texas roadhouse, Prohibition speakeasy — and each has an area for live music performances. There are also street performers stationed at areas along the main causeway, which is decorated with banners and strings of lights. It can get a bit cacophonous with the various bands cranking out wildly differing tunes, especially since the walls are mostly bare, so there’s lots of echo. That will likely improve as finishing decor touches and soundproofing are added to the quick-turnaround space.

A row of interconnected shops and restaurants along a pedestrian-only street is a concept Blatstein has been enamored of for a while. He’s responsible for Liberties Walk, the stone-paved, mixed-use strip that was instrumental in revitalizing Northern Liberties. He followed up that project with The Piazza, with stores and dining rooms surrounding a courtyard instead of a street. If he had been awarded one of the Philadelphia casino licenses, his plans were to build “The Provence” on North Broad Street, which would top a gambling hall with a roof-level, European-style streetscape enclosed in a glass-walled structure.

That didn’t happen, but T-Street did. Garces Events Down the Shore is the food and drink partner for the project, and created a menu of snacks that are offered throughout all the different bars on the indoor boulevard, plus a different specialty cocktail list for each. Beer lists also vary from room to room. Doors open at 5 PM on weeknights, with music starting a 8 PM, and on weekends everything gets going at 2 PM and continues through the night.

Each venue offers a different vibe.

Monkey Bar

When you first walk in or come down the escalators from casino level, you’re greeted by the Monkey Bar, an L-shaped bar set out in the atrium. On one side is an area where a sign promises “T Street Recording Studio — Coming Soon,” and on the other are floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the ocean. An iPad ordering system is due to be installed at each barstool, but is not yet up and running. This area opens at 11 AM daily.

TAG

Short for “Tonkin’ American Grandstand,” TAG is a Texas-themed space, complete with bull horns on the walls and a bucking bronco you can ride at front.

Go there if you are all about Americana — managers have plans to decorate the walls with all kinds of actual “tags,” from old license plates to antique beach tags.

1921

The roaring ‘20s and Prohibition-era speakeasies are the inspiration for 1921, where the specialty cocktail list includes Manhattan with Creole bitters and a Sazerac with Philly-made Vieux Carre Absinthe. If you like hard liquor and low light, this is your spot.

Bo’s

Dueling pianos are the highlight of rock ‘n’ roll bar Bo’s, where the bar is relatively sleek and modern but the music is definitely old-school (bordering on oldies).

Watching silver-haired pianists belt out their best Billy Joel has its charms, though, and this is definitely the place to be if you love to sing along.

Purdy

Billed as a jazz and bluegrass haven, Purdy has an elegant polished wood bar in one corner, and a pink lit stage in the other.

It’s a good place to sip Sauvignon blanc while digging into shorty loaded fries (with braised short rib, gravy and Sly Fox cheddar beer sauce).

The Bluey

Press materials have called T Street’s Irish pub “The Bluey,” but the sign over the door most definitely says “The Trinity.” Either way, it’s the place you’d hit for pours of Smithwick’s, Guinness, Harp and a Jameson or two.

39 N

At the far end of the the causeway is 39 N, a huge event space where bars and a mezzanine balcony surround a raised stage backed by a huge projection screen. Acts already booked for the 13,500-square-foot space include George Clinton, the Gin Blossoms and Badfish.

Still Coming

There’s more to come at The Playground. The Riviera, a beer garden on the pier’s back deck just behind 39 N, will make its debut on July 4th weekend. Also planned is an upstairs bowling alley — it was originally slated to be called “Bart Bowl,” but signs indicated it would be named “Rocc Bowl” instead.

Hubris may have kicked in to effect that change, but Blatstein has plenty to be proud of here. T Street is an impressively large-scale operation, one that creates its own atmosphere while taking advantage of its oceanfront locale. Also notable: It’s not a casino — the industry took a huge hit in Atlantic City after Pennsylvania and New York legalized gambling, and AC’s future may depend on buttressing its gaming halls with non-gambling entertainment like this.

All photos by Danya Henninger

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