Movie relics, Roman feasts, Sly Stallone and Tiger Woods: A look back at some memorable Atlantic City casino restaurants; Old Homestead Pop Up pops up at Borgata

This week’s opening of Gordon Ramsay at Caesars Atlantic City has us thinking about some of the town’s casino eateries that no longer exist.

jacket
The commemorative jacket Sylvester Stallone wore to Planet Hollywood’s 1996 grand opening party at Caesars Atlantic City (Photo by Chuck Darrow).

This week’s opening of Gordon Ramsay at Caesars Atlantic City has us thinking about some of the town’s casino eateries that no longer exist (for that matter, some of the properties that housed them are likewise extinct). Some had long, successful runs, others, not so much. But each was memorable in its own right. Here are a few of the more notable establishments:

Bacchanal 

Located inside what was then known as Caesars Boardwalk Regency (now Caesars Atlantic City), Bacchanal opened in 1984. The concept was a communal experience that offered a family-friendly version of decadent Roman Empire dining.

The prix fixe, four-course meal was hardly Michelin-star fare, but the draw wasn’t the food. Instead, it was the fun of eating while magicians, instrumentalists and the like entertained as female servers poured endless goblets of wine (for those of legal age) and gave each guest a brief neck-and-shoulder rub. 

Bacchanal closed in 2009. 

Planet Hollywood

Today, the theme-restaurant format is generally seen as kind of tired and dated, but in the mid-‘90s, the worldwide Planet Hollywood chain had a stranglehold on popular culture. That was due in large part to its front-people being some of show business’ reigning stars of the era, including Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. Borrowing a page from the playbook of the still-thriving Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood, which was located on the second level of Caesars, served show business memorabilia along with burgers, wings and the like. Scores of movie and television artifacts—costumes, props, stills, etc.–filled the restaurant’s walls and display areas, among them Jim Carrey’s “The Mask costume and several items used/worn by Stallone in various “Rocky installments. 

The grand opening VIP bash remains one of the most memorable casino-era events of its kind: Schwarzenegger and Stallone shmoozed the invited guests while Willis’ blues band, The Accelerators, jammed on the Boardwalk in front of Caesars. 

PH’s decade-long run ended in 2005 when, despite its continuing popularity, Caesars bought out the lease in order to redevelop the space as a dance club.

Official All Star Café

The success of Planet Hollywood inspired the chain’s corporate overlords to duplicate the meals-and-memorabilia blueprint with a sports motif. Instead of Sly, Ah-nold and the like, such super-jocks as Tiger Woods, Shaquille O’Neal and Wayne Gretzky lent their names to the chain whose locations included Trump Taj Mahal Casino-Resort (now Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City).

The Taj outlet opened in the late-‘90s and lasted just a few years; for whatever reasons, it just never caught on with the public as did Planet Hollywood.

Epic Buffet

As noted, themed restaurants reached their apogee in the mid- and late-1990s. In 1995, the since-torn-down Sands Hotel & Casino dove into that pool with the Epic Buffet. 

While the movie-souvenir idea was hardly novel, the twist here was that all of the items on display were limited to those from “epic” motion pictures like “The Ten Commandments,” “Ben Hur and “Cleopatra.” A cool gimmick was that such flicks were continuously screened on video monitors placed throughout the space. When one of the props on display appeared in a scene, it was illuminated to call patrons’ attention to it.

The Epic Buffet was intended to be the first step in the Sands’ transition to the “Hollywood” brand (now used by the Penn Entertainment company for some of its properties), but that never happened.

Red Square

The brainchild of Las Vegas nightlife titan Jeffrey Chodorow, Red Square was an original tenant at The Quarter, the Havana-themed retail-dining-entertainment complex that opened at Tropicana Atlantic City in late 2004.

While I always found the place, with its giant statue of Vladimir Lenin and emphasis on vodka and caviar, expensive and too focused on being hip and trendy, it did have a successful eight-year run and a loyal clientele.

Ivana’s 

I always include Ivana’s in any discussion of AC restaurants of the past because to this moment, it stands as my all-time, least-favorite casino restaurant.

Named for Donald Trump’s late first wife, Ivana’s reflected the couple’s obsession with what they perceived to be “class.” But what they saw as “classy” was actually a suffocating pretentiousness that was stuffy to the point of being comical. Add to that a kitchen whose super-pricey “continental” fare was mediocre at best and a condescending maitre d’ who was a German-accented  caricature of a haughty, imperious head waiter, and you had the makings of a truly miserable dining experience.

Scheherazade

When he opened the Taj Mahal in April 1990, Donald Trump was obviously intent on outdoing Ivana’s. Thus was born Scheherazade. 

Located in a space overlooking the casino floor, it was supposed to take exclusive fine dining to new heights. Its hook was that there was no menu. Instead, patrons could—at least in theory–request whatever they desired, be it a corned beef sandwich or a five-pound lobster stuffed with king crab and caviar. 

The food, as I recall, was superb and though the atmosphere was a bit too upper-crusty (but not painfully so) for my somewhat plebian tastes, I nevertheless enjoyed my visits there. 

Alas, the concept never gained traction with Taj customers, and Scheherazade

disappeared within a year or so of its inception, and was replaced by a high-limit table games salon.

Steak House pop-up pops up at Borgata

In more au currant casino-restaurant news, the renovation project that Old Homestead Steak House at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is undergoing doesn’t mean fans of the 19-year-old, high-end dining room have to forego enjoying their favorite dishes.

Beginning Oct. 6, an Old Homestead pop-up location will be in operation. The temporary eatery will be located in the lower-level space once occupied by Fornelletto, which specialized in rustic Italian fare. 

Among the dishes being offered are the 34-ounce Gotham rib steak, jumbo lump crab cake and Australian baby rack of lamb.

“Old Homestead Steak House is a highly regarded culinary offering at our resort,” said Borgata Vice President of Hospitality Anthony Caratozzolo. “While renovations are underway, we wanted to ensure guests could still enjoy their favorite dishes and the famous Old Homestead service they’ve come to adore.” 

The actual Old Homestead is scheduled to reopen later this year. The pop-up will be open 5 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 4 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday.

    • Chuck Darrow headshot

      Chuck Darrow has spent more than four decades as a writer and broadcaster specializing in covering the Philadelphia region's arts, entertainment and casinos. He is still afraid he may one day have to work for a living. 

    More Popular Articles

    Upcoming Philly Events

    More Events