Chuck Darrow 2018-01-10 00:01:56
The new year is shaping up to be a big one on the region’s casino scene as two additions will significantly alter the gaming-hall landscape. Parx, the fun-and-games behemoth in Bensalem, Pa. (it’s perennially among the state’s revenue leaders), is greeting 2018 with the January opening of a 45,000-square-foot, $50 million expansion project. The additions include two restaurants and a new poker room located in the main casino building (the current card parlor is part of the property’s separate horse-racing complex). But the real game-changer is a multi-purpose event venue dubbed the Xcite Center. It seats up to 1,500 for performances by a roster of talent that, at least initially, matches up with those boasted by Atlantic City casinos. As this was being written, the winter lineup features six headliner events: Recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Chicago (Jan. 13); “Blue Collar” comedian Bill Engvall (Jan. 14); classic-rock legend (and former Bad Company frontman) Paul Rodgers (Jan. 20); “Let’s Make A Deal” host/improv- comedy star Wayne Brady (Jan. 26); standup comic Gabriel Iglesias (Jan. 27); rocker Eddie Money (Feb. 24) and country favorites Rascal Flatts (March 3). According to Parx CEO Tony Ricci, the Xcite Center is a must if his gambling den is going to grow its market. The venue, he offered, will “expand our reach” beyond those who gamble, and make Parx more of a regional -- rather than local -- destination. The venue, he continued, boasts stateof- the-art technology and acoustic design, and provides visitors a chance to see headline-level acts in a relatively intimate setting. It can also be used for trade shows, private parties and similar activities. Perhaps the Xcite Center’s most significant feature is geographic in nature: It’s the first such facility in the Lower Bucks County/Northeast Philadelphia region, an area that is home to hundreds of thousands of people who will likely appreciate not having to drive to Center City or Atlantic City to see bigtime entertainers. When guests arrive for the shows, they can avail themselves of two new eateries: The first outpost outside of Little Italy of Lombardi’s pizzeria, a New York City institution for more than a century; and the high-end Liberty Bell Gastropub, which will offer a “farmto- fork” menu emphasizing locally sourced food. The poker room, noted Ricci, is designed not only to make players feel more a part of the Parx action, but to enhance the casino’s reputation among devotees of the game. Using the lavish card room at Wynn Las Vegas as a reference point, Ricci pledged the new, chandelier-bedecked space “will be the best poker room on the East Coast.” For more information, go to parxcasino.com. Hard Rockin’ in AyCee Speaking of game-changers, while the 50 big ones Parx has invested in its expansion is impressive, it is but a fraction of the $400-$500 million Florida’s Seminole Indian tribe is reportedly pouring into transforming the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino-Resort into the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. While casino execs originally touted a Memorial Day weekend opening, the property’s website (www.hardrockhotels.com/atlantic-city.htm.) now puts the debut as scheduled for “summer 2018”). The project was announced last April, and promises to usher in a new era for AyCee’s recovering casino industry, which appears to have finally put the rough times of 2007-2014 behind it. Like its sister properties in various locations including Tampa and Hollywood, Fla., Hard Rock Atlantic City will boast a music-intensive motif. Memorabilia (including guitars, stage costumes and vintage concert posters) will adorn the walls of the public spaces, and all rooms and suites will be equipped with Fender guitars and amplifiers through which they can be played. And with such amenities as a 120,000-square-foot casino; 2,000 hotel rooms and suites (all of which, like the casino, are being remade top-tobottom); a 5,200-seat multi-purpose arena; 1,200-seat theater and tens of thousands of square feet of retail/ restaurant space, it can’t help but have an imposing, industry-altering presence. Not surprisingly, the property will be driven by its entertainment strategies. According to Hard Rock International CEO Jim Allen, an Atlantic City native who has worked for more than a decade to bring the brand to his hometown, his company books more than 30,000 (that is not a typo) performances a year around the globe via partnerships with concert-industry titans LiveNation and AEG. This suggests HRAC should get first crack at virtually every big tour that makes sense within the confines of the seating capacities of the venues. On a related note, Allen hinted that his joint will bring back something that’s been missing from Atlantic City’s show biz scene for many years: weeknight headliner bookings. Revel-ation? Also on tap -- at least as this is being written -- is the reported reopening of Revel, the $2.4 billion pleasure dome that up to this point, stands as the biggest failure of Atlantic City’s casino era. A Colorado-based company has announced that it plans to be in business on the eastern end of the Boardwalk sometime around Memorial Day. While we’ve heard such promises before, if this is does happen, things should get very interesting in AyCee. Eat Beat When you consider how many restaurants operate in the United States, it would be something to claim a spot in the top 1,000 or so in terms of revenue. But to clock in at number 84 is quite an accomplishment. That’s where Carmine’s, the Italian outlet located at The Quarter inside Tropicana Atlantic City, finished in a survey conducted by the trade publication, Restaurant Business. According to the 2016 poll that tracked independent restaurants, Carmine’s at the Trop served a whopping 101,914 meals, earning nearly $14 million in gross revenue. And given the amount of traffic we see whenever we’re there, there’s no reason to believe they won’t be charting at least as highly when the 2017 numbers are tallied. So, what’s the secret to its success? “Carmine’s secret is consistency,” said Jeffrey Bank, CEO of Alicart Restaurant Group, which is Carmine’s corporate parent. “When you go to an ethnic cuisine, you have to be consistent. You don’t have to be the best -- although I think our food is very good -- but it’s consistently the same. “The biggest thing we talk about in our company is, ‘chicken parm is chicken parm.’ Whether you have it at [Carmine’s outlets in] Atlantic City, the Bahamas, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, it’s the same chicken parm. “We haven’t changed our menu in 27 years [since the original store opened on Times Square in New York City]. I don’t stress out over, what’s the fall menu? Or, what is going to be my winter desert? Or what color tart we’re going to have this weekend? We have 170 specials that we rotate daily. We are a made-from-scratch kitchen consistently putting out the same product. We are a ‘food-first’ company.” Nonetheless, Bank suggested that “the real secret is the value. The cost is very reasonable. You come here with four people, you have a great meal. If your wife makes you invite two more people…perfect, because you won’t need any more food; it won’t cost you anymore.” For more reservations and information, call 609-572-9300, or go to http://www.carminesnyc.com/locations/atlantic-city.
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