Some travel is enjoyed, some endured. And then some of it simply confounds. Rolling up to the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City ranks as a strange—and discomfiting—example of the latter category. Located in the city’s Marina District, which is not so much a district as a lonely marsh, the complex defies logic and understood notions of city planning.
Never have I seen a hotel plunked down in a spot so completely unfit for one. Is it any wonder that this location has serious ties to a person who also happens to be entirely unfit for the spot he occupies?
That would be our current president, former reality star and before that, a failed casino magnet, who opened the second casino in the Marina District in 1985, Trump Castle (the first was Harrah’s). Since the Borgata opened in 2003, outshining the previous two even as it mimicked them, the three mammoth hotel casinos have given the area its only reference points, aside from the marina itself. Only people who care only about profit would ever build on a mammoth scale here—there’s no culture or enrichment or city improvement or even an exceptional landscape on the docket.
On a technicality, you are going to Atlantic City when you visit the Borgata. More accurately, you are driving up to a marsh, where you then go from your vehicle into a calculated windowless world where all eyes inevitably turn toward the 161,000 square foot casino floor. From there, at some point, you’ll sleep in one of 2,000 rooms (or in one of the adjoining Water Club’s 800 rooms). There’s only a moderate chance you’ll leave the building again before heading back to wherever it is you came from.
The absurdity of its location aside, the Borgata enjoys its status as the current favorite Atlantic City hotel with young people who like to party. It also seems to enjoy favored status with corporate conferences. I am there to research an article, and will do zero gambling, partying, or business-ing during my stay. My presence here makes no sense within the megaresort’s particular logic.
After a Greyhound bus from New York City, and a ride on a smaller trolley, I arrive to the Borgata. Just inside the entrance lies the first taste of the 13 elaborate class chandeliers by Dale Chihuly that dominate the public areas–both intriguing and appalling, they are the Kardashians of light fixtures, which I mean in the best possible way. Just beyond, the casino floor beeps and whistles like 10,000 R2-D2s drunk at a wedding. It’s surrounded by a number of restaurants, bars and clubs, all of them steeped in a perpetual evening din. All of them serve food and drink up at Manhattan prices.
The staff is perfectly welcoming, and gets me checked in with no problem. I roll my suitcase along the shiny, shiny floors and head up the elevator to my room. Here, the furniture is by Bermanfalk, a company that caters exclusively to the large-scale hotel industry, and it shows, with an overall effect of a Starbucks circa 1998. At its heart, this is a midrange, mass-produced hotel room, comfortable enough but in no way interesting or possessed of a personality.
But there are highlights: The in-room coffee maker comes with real half-and-half. I liked the toiletries from a brand called Lather, especially the bamboo-lemongrass body wash and lavender-lime moisturizer. The desk, surprisingly, is great, a nod to the many people who arrive here because their employer sent them here, I’m guessing. And the bed was notably comfortable. The shower is nice, but the water would have to be hotter if it’s going to suit my tastes.
Other things in the room can be a little wonky – a loose toilet paper holder here, a crooked lamp there. No bottled water to be found, not even for sale. And tiny water glasses to add insult to thirst. A Philadelphia Style magazine on the side table? Could they not track down any style in Atlantic City?
There are no overhead lights except in the entry hallway. Overall, in fact, the lighting is minimal. They want to have a perpetual mood set here, I guess. But the room still feels conceived in a conference room. Continuing the theme of indifference to the outside world, the windows don’t open. Mine provide a view of the endless swath of roof that covers the casino floor. Looking out, I come to the precipice of an existential crisis. There can be no point to any of it.
I try at one point to walk over to the Golden Nugget—the former Trump Castle—and am told by a local in the lobby I’d be risking my life attempting to traverse the only road in this area by foot. He also tells me that the Borgata has the prettiest girls. There’s the trolley, but it runs in only one direction, meaning I’d have to take it to the boardwalk and back before it would drop me off at my destination. I take an Uber the quarter-mile or so instead.
Back at the Borgata, I wander over to the spa, look over the indoor pool which breaks through the funk brought on by the rest of the place to truly impress me. Use of the spa and its Jacuzzis, sauna and steam room will run you $45 per day on top of the room rate. This is mid-March, so the outdoor pool isn’t open, but I’ve heard good things about it, as well.
Atlantic City just off the boardwalk is so dismal that it’s interesting. Swaths of empty lots have been reclaimed by unkempt grass and shrubs—some buildings were cleared out for a redevelopment that never came, others burned down more mysteriously. There’s a ghostly lingering character that makes you want to know it better. The Marina District, on the other hand, has all the personality of a place that never was, and never meant to be, with the Borgata as its crown jewel.