New House of Blues venue seeks to draw younger crowd

With the recent opening of a House of Blues venue at the Showboat Hotel and Casino, entertainment in Atlantic City is finally beginning to focus on a younger demographic. Ten years ago you could drive there via the Expressway and see names like Wayne Newton or Frankie Avalon pasted on the roadside billboards. Today, these signs are more likely to advertise concerts by Eminem, The White Stripes or the Black Eyed Peas.

In the 27 years that the city has existed as a gambling resort, its hotels have never made a genuine attempt to book modern, MTV-era rock bands and solo artists for its concert halls. Casinos attracted enough baby-boomers and senior citizens to push the younger crowds down on the scale of importance. That is, until now. The famous “Dixieland” motif of the Showboat’s boardwalk-side interior has been replaced by the largest HOB franchise to date. The complex features a 2,400 seat auditorium, casino, all night dance club, southern-style restaurant, outdoor bar area and members only room. The HOB chain is renowned for its diverse schedule of performing artists in almost every musical genre. With a late summer line-up of concerts featuring everyone from soul legend Al Green to avant-garde popsters Ween, HOB Atlantic City is exactly what people have come to expect from it.

As the only HOB in the Northeast, and the only one to include casinos and a nightclub, the Atlantic City venue is truly a unique venture for the company. With a hip publicity campaign, including an opening ceremony hosted by Dan “Elwood Blues” Aykroyd and the upcoming World Series of Poker events, HOB is bound to draw the biggest and youngest crowds the Showboat has ever seen.

Televised championship poker in particular has reached great heights of popularity among young people. Even those under 21 may still flock to catch a glimpse of the great Hold Em’ players of today.

The change that HOB brings is so drastic that it’s likely to overshadow the Showboat’s traditional casino and entertainment complex. While the properties complement each other with a shared New Orleans style, the Showboat’s atmosphere has always been rather subdued in comparison to the rowdiness of the HOB nightclubs and live performances. This is likely to give the Showboat a versatility that other hotels might be lacking.

Executives at Harrah’s Entertainment, which owns and operates the Showboat and HOB, are obviously following the example of the highly successful Borgata. By introducing the first Atlantic City nightclubs in 2003, the Borgata was the first hotel and casino to pursue the 20 and 30-something crowd. Hot on its heels was the Tropicana, which opened its own clubs as part of the Quarter, an area that also houses several shops and restaurants, in late 2004. Now the HOB stands to take over as the premier hot-spot for late-nighters.

The HOB is also one of the few places in Atlantic City where gambling is not the dominant focus. Although it features the obligatory casino, those who don’t wish to spend their money there have other entertainment options.

“After 8:00 p.m., that place (the traditional area of the Showboat) pretty much dies,” Dave Jonas, senior vice president of Harrah’s, said. “When nothing’s going on in this property, that’s when House of Blues comes alive.”

Whether it’s the HOB, the Borgata or any of Atlantic City’s endless development projects, almost everyone is endorsing this new revitalization of America’s mini-Vegas.

According to acting New Jersey Governor Richard J. Codey, “the House of Blues will be an important step in our commitment to turn Atlantic City into a world-class resort.”