, ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey, Oct 30 – Hurricane Sandy plowed into Atlantic City, knocking down trees and smashing windows, but the superstorm failed to crash the party at the seaside casino town’s only open bar.
Forecasters predicted for days that the gambling resort on the New Jersey shore would be Sandy’s doormat, and the state’s governor, Chris Christie, said anyone disobeying his mandatory evacuation order was “stupid.”
Nearly all the seaside resort’s 40,000 residents heeded his call, evacuating before the hurricane made landfall and swelled into a megastorm, bringing devastation to New York City and much of the eastern seaboard.
By Monday the setting for the hit gangster TV series “Boardwalk Empire” was a ghost town.
Traffic lights changed at crossroads devoid of cars and shallow rivers of floodwater poured down ever growing numbers of deserted streets. Visibility was reduced to about one block.
Downed branches and bits of garbage – even an office chair and two mattresses – piled up. As the winds howled, the debris grew more varied: glass from a blown-out window, a toppled fence, dozens of trees, shop awnings.
But those who refused to go made sure not to let the horizontal rain and pounding waves brought by Sandy dampen their spirits.
At Ducktown Tavern and Liquors, the only bar open in town, about 30 people, many of them police officers, camped out around two long bars with beers and large plates of chicken wings, hamburgers and other comfort food.
In a city built for partying and hedonism, where a wall of multi-storey casinos lines the beach and a multi-million dollar advertising campaign urges you to “Do AC,” this modest bar was the last place you could get a drink.
“Ducktown’s a legend,” declared patron Ben Markum, 35. “It’s like ‘Cheers,’ or something,” he added, referring to the eponymous bar in the long-running US television series.
Markum was defying the evacuation order because he has a party to organize for Halloween. “We’re serious in this town when it comes to partying,” he said.
There was a brief, weird calm when Sandy’s eye passed over the town. Several of the young men from Ducktown took the opportunity to head down to the beach.
There, the rising tide, spiked with storm surge and relentless, rolling waves, tore to the top of the sand and swirled around the legs of picturesque beach bar cabins.
“Are you looking to unwind?” asked one commercial aired outside Caesar’s casino, the words instantly blown away on the hurricane. “Why settle for just another happy hour when you can have an even happier hour?” urged another message over the loudspeakers. “Reward yourself.”
“That beach bar was fun. Friday and Saturday nights, it was a fun place,” Justin Altomare, 31, said regretfully. As he spoke, a white hut shaped like a wooden barn began to move out to sea on a receding wave.
But in Ducktown, where the jukebox never stopped and the beer always flowed, there was only good cheer.
Owner John Exadaktilos, 36, said Ducktown had a semi-official role in the town’s response to the emergency situation.
“We have the support of the municipality to stay open to help feed the police, fire, whatever,” he said.
Over at the monster casinos along the boardwalk, a different sort of party spirit lingered.
The establishments had been boarded up and sandbagged, but inside, where fake Roman statues or Western frontier scenes decorated the lobbies, ranks of twinkling slot machines remained on.
Even more incongruously, loudspeakers playing cheerful music and recorded enticements to punters continued to blare out over the desolate, wind-scoured sidewalks.
“Are you looking to unwind?” asked one commercial aired outside Caesar’s casino, the words instantly blown away on the hurricane.
“Why settle for just another happy hour when you can have an even happier hour?” urged another message over the loudspeakers. “Reward yourself.”
One police sergeant at Ducktown apparently took that advice to heart.
Once the eye of Sandy had passed, the storm ratcheted up again. But the officer said he thought the worst was over. And Atlantic City had survived.
“Now you can go and have a cold one,” he said. He headed to the bar.