In May 2011, Joel Ballesteros took a huge step for Atlantic City. The former California resident, journeyed into uncharted territories when he became the gaming industry’s first marketing director devoted strictly to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community at Resorts Casino Hotel. With the support of the late CEO Dennis C. Gomes, Ballesteros created the first LGBT nightclub in a casino…anywhere. Was (then-called) Prohibition bar going to be swept out to sea or was it going to reach land and become the epicenter of gay life in South Jersey? No one was quite sure how the community, travelers, or casino regulars would react, but despite the critics, this past weekend the (now-called) Pro Bar celebrated its two-year anniversary. The hundreds of revelers proved that Ballesteros’s plan for an inclusive, 21-century Atlantic City is not only good for the community, but smart business. Two years later and the 13th floor of the 900-room art deco marvel has become a queer playground. Guests frolic from the one-year-old Piano Bar where Matthew Kenworthy will play anything (ask him to play Wicked’s “Popular” it’s his favorite) to the wildly successful female impersonator show “Divas Do AC” has crowds cheering and clapping to the sounds of Dolly Parton, Madonna, Patti Labelle, and Liza Minelli while a snappy Joan Rivers works the crowd with razor-sharp observations. Of course, everyone ends his or her night traipsing the floor’s main star, Pro Bar.
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In typical Passport fashion, we packed our bags and headed south to join in on the celebration. As a treat before the main festivities, we met up with Thea Austin (the soul-clutching diva who fronted the German-created house band Snap!—who are most famous for the songs that Austin helped write like “The Power” and “Rhythm Is a Dancer.” Dining at Capriccio, we devoured the restaurant’s brand-new menu that can satisfy the most insatiable Italian family. Austin was in good spirits and excited about being at the casino to usher in the two-year anniversary. “Are you nervous?” I asked as we sipped cocktails at a table near a piano playing Rihanna. “I am excited! I even brought my nephew up for sound check before!” she said sipping her cosmo. “He wanted to go see the Divas show! So he’s there now.” “Nothing like being the cool, open-minded, musician aunt,” I quipped.
Afterward, we journeyed upstairs where we received light-up cocktails from our adorable and shirtless bartender (…and karaoke all-star) Rocco, and the diverse crowd poured in. I’ve been to gay bars across the world, and what always surprises me about Pro Bar is its ability to truly welcome the entire community. The Divas from across the hall mix casually with gay men and bachelorette parties while lesbians fawn over transgender women’s nails—it is an anomaly in this community. The DJs set the night on fire and the no-reservation go-go boys surrounded the dance floor.
At around 11:30, Ballesteros congratulated his hard-working staff for the past two years and then brought the room to a somber tone when he took a moment to thank former-CEO Dennis C. Gomes who passed away. Ballesteros invited Gomes’s girls onstage, and the crowd clapped feverishly. Of course, what kind of anniversary is without cake? The drag stars, Kenworthy, the bartenders, and the dancers blew out the candles.
At around midnight, when the crowd was getting loose, Austin took the stage. And we quickly found out that the girl can still sing! We’re used to bopping our heads to performers from whom we’ve hadn’t heard anything in a really long time, but the unabashed singer—rocking her studded heels and short skirt—belted out notes that sent the crowd into a tizzy. The room got the power when everyone was fist pumping harder than Seaside Heights. Inviting people on stage with her, Austin could have run screaming from the overly aggressive (and drunk) “back-up dancers,” but she embraced it. When Austin was finished, she didn’t run to her room, she worked the room, took numbers, and danced the floor.
When we walked out the front door, Ballesteros handed us a piece of the cake, and we thanked him. “No thank you!” he said. It is this kind of place, where the customers and the visitors will always want to come back to. This isn’t Resort’s bar, this is the people’s bar, and we can’t wait to come back. Hear, hear for many more years!
For more information about the continuously changing and improving Resorts Hotel Casino click here and get ready for next week’s opening of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.