Newcomers and weekenders seek it out, but it’s the locals that help give the Atlantic City Bar and Grill its down-home charm.
Walking into Atlantic City Bar and Grill on a warm, late-summer weekday afternoon, the very first person we encountered was former state senator and political power broker Bill Gormley. Hunkered down, deep in conversation with a colleague, he looked perfectly at ease.
Yeah, this is that kind of a joint.
Or, in the words of co-owner Gino Garofalo, who along with elder brother Ron now runs the venerable restaurant, “it has developed into a landmark, one of the places that has to be visited when you come to A.C.”
The brothers, whose parents Eris and Vittorio opened at this site as Mama Tucci’s Pizzeria 36 years ago, have since expanded to create an enterprise virtually serving as a microcosm of the city itself.
Glance at the walls of the main bar/lounge and you’ll see them chock full of photos of celebrities captured while they reveled here in town. But don’t be confused — this remains a decidedly blue-collar place, popular with tradesmen enjoying a hearty midday meal on any typical day.
Along with a main dining area, Atlantic City Bar and Grill accommodates about 150 patrons, with a private party space upstairs for another 200. Another major draw here is its accessibility as one of the few places in town that remains open well into the wee hours of the morning.
When asked how this enterprise has developed, Gino explains that he and Ron “grew up making pizzas and Italian specialties.” It’s a Calabrian family heritage that translated as authentic southern Italian cuisine, in all its tomato- and pasta-based glory. These days they split up responsibilities, Ron handling the books and day-to-day operations, while Gino takes on marketing and events.
The story of how their current business came to be really starts in 1985, when a building next door was purchased, allowing for expansion. At that time, they renamed the eatery Tucci’s Restaurant and Bar, keeping that moniker for just over a decade.
In January 1997, a third phase was ushered in with the establishment’s re-branding as the Atlantic City Bar and Grill. While wisely maintaining the pizza and Italian dishes that made them famous, the menu expanded dramatically. That meant the addition of seafood … lots of seafood.
Quickly rattling off names of multiple fish purveyors used by the establishment, Gino allows that purchases — made daily — depend upon “who’s got what we need.” Among the most popular items are zuppe de pesce — shrimp, scallops, calamari, clams and mussels over linguine with a choice of either marinara or aglio olio (garlic and olive oil) sauces.
Lobster is another big draw, with a house specialty pound-and-a-half whole crustacean value-priced at only 25 bucks. Garofalo similarly raves about their Maryland-style, pan-seared crab cakes, describing the jumbo lump-based creations “out of this world.”
From the selections of land-based dishes, he talks up their BBQ baby back ribs, available either solo or as “Boardwalk Surf-and-Turf,” served alongside a full pound of snow crab legs. The pork ribs are, says Garofalo, “slow cooked for six hours” prior to being finished with “our homemade BBQ sauce, a secret recipe.”
When asked about the nature of their extensive customer base, Gino explains that roughly one-third are locals — often regulars — another third are out-of-towners who make a habit of patronizing while in town, and the final third are first-timers.
And why not?
Along with having a wide variety of affordable, terrific food in prolific portions, the place practically screams ‘Have fun!’ from the moment you arrive. Interiors, in addition to those photographs, are filled with a colorful, entertaining assortment of Atlantic City-based historic memorabilia. This includes an original, wrought-iron street sign from the location’s Pacific and South Carolina intersection, anchoring the bar’s furthest edge. It’s an ambiance not unlike stepping into a living, breathing, beverage-and-victual-serving version of a Monopoly board.
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