The new Live! Casino Hotel Philadelphia Event Center expects to host meetings, concerts, comedy, boxing, and more.
The new Live! Casino Hotel Philadelphia Event Center expects to host meetings, concerts, comedy, boxing, and more.Live! Casino Hotel Philadelphia

The Casino File: Live! Philly debuts Event Center; Nero's at Caesars AC; Miss'd America back, now at Hard Rock

Live! Philadelphia’s just-unveiled multi-use facility ups the amenity ante for the region’s newest gambling den, plus top-notch steaks at Caesars and Carson Kressley and drag queens at Hard Rock.

Live! Casino-Hotel Philadelphia has taken a big step towards its goal of being a full-service resort destination with the official opening of its Event Center.

When it opened last February, the adult playpen located adjacent to Citizens Bank Park on the northern perimeter of the city’s stadium district did so without the 15,000-square-foot, multi-use facility that sits on the property’s second level.

The space is anchored by the 10,000-square-foot Market Ballroom, which can be utilized for everything from performances to Bar Mitzvahs to large meetings. As for public offerings, there is one date booked so far: A Nov. 18 boxing card promoted by legendary Philly matchmaker Joe Hand. But according to Joseph Billhimer, executive vice-president of the two Live!-branded Pennsylvania properties (Philly and Pittsburgh), two tribute-band shows are expected to be announced shortly, and comedy gigs will likely be part of the show biz bill of fare going forward.

Market Ballroom is not unique as a multi-functional space, but it is different than many similar, mixed-use casino halls as it is lushly appointed with carpeting and five chandeliers. At last night’s opening reception, the flooring and high ceiling provided superior acoustics.

The remaining 5,000 square feet of Event Center space is divided among three boardrooms and two smaller, multi-use rooms.

Visitors can enter the Center directly from the parking garage or hotel tower, which means the casino can be avoided by those with youngsters in tow.

Billhimer noted the Event Center represents a crucial step forward towards fulfilling the casino’s goal of being a full-service resort, and he suggested it speaks volumes about a bigger picture. “It means,” he reasoned, “we’re on the other side of the pandemic and people can start coming out and enjoying themselves.

“And,” he added, “we now have a perfect venue for that.”

Thumbs up for Nero’s

This has been a particularly active year on the Atlantic City casino-cuisine scene, with six major new dining concepts debuting since the spring and at least two more on the way. And that’s as it should be; next to gambling, eating is clearly the second-most-popular public activity in a gaming hall, and the industry has to keep up with trends and demand. But a recent visit to Caesars Atlantic City was a potent reminder that there’s something to be said for the old-school way.

Only Capriccio at Resorts Casino Hotel has been doing business inside an AyCee casino longer than the 42-year-old Nero’s Italian Steakhouse. Located in its own space at the top of an elegant, winding staircase (not to worry: there’s also an elevator), Nero’s—which added “Italian” to its name and format when Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill opened in early 2015-- provides a really cool peek into the way things were in town before the era of celebrity chefs, small plates and “fusion” cooking.

The eatery looks out on the Atlantic Ocean via large glass windows, and the low-key, upscale décor is welcoming and comfortable. As its name suggests, Nero’s has an Italian accent with antipasti, a meatball appetizer and linguine dishes on the bill of fare. But the emphasis is on the traditional: Steaks (four different cuts), chops and shellfish predominate, with quality, rather than culinary theatrics, the obvious priority. While the price points are where you’d expect from a high-end casino eatery, portions are generous and the preparation—at least judging from our recent visit—is impeccable.

The same can be said of the service: Even in these COVID-challenged times when restaurants have been especially hard-hit by the “Great Resignation,” the wait staff is efficient, accommodating and eager to please. And if you’re particularly lucky, you’ll have as your server Tony Andaloro, a 42-plus-year veteran of local casino gourmet rooms who has plate-loads of stories from his career.

Of course, establishments like this aren’t unique in Atlantic City. But Nero’s has a secret weapon: Room Manager Betty McHugh.

The vivacious, longtime Caesars Doyenne of Dining has an ever-present smile that can light up the entire Boardwalk, more energy than seems possible given the demands of her job and, perhaps most important of all, the knack of making regulars and first-time patrons alike feel welcome and appreciated.

Miss’d America Pageant returns

One of AyCee’s great traditions is the Miss’d America Pageant, the most prestigious drag competition on the East Coast. As it did to so much else in town and elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic put the kibosh on last year’s edition. But it’s back, this year at a new location: Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City. It’s set for Oct. 23 at the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena.

Hosting the 30-year-old gender-bending party, which raises funds for several LGBTQ-focused charities and organizations, is perennial emcee Carson Kressley of Queer Eye For the Straight Guy fame. Catching his act at the funky, funny, fierce and fabulous rave-up is always worth the price of admission.

For tickets, click here.

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