ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — As the jaws of Hurricane Sandy closed around Atlantic City, there was only one place to be for diehards who hadn’t evacuated: Ducktown Tavern and Liquors.
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.
In fact, it was the only place open. Period.
“Ducktown’s a legend,” declared enthusiastic patron Ben Markum, 35.
About 30 people, many of them police officers, camped out around the two long bars with beers and large plates of chicken wings and other comfort food.
The only immediate sign of Hurricane Sandy, apart from blurry images of horizontal rain through the windows, were the growing leaks dripping through the ceiling into plastic bins.
“It’s like ‘Cheers,’ or something,” Markum added, referring to the eponymous bar in the long-running US television series.
Outside, the front edge of the hurricane and a mandatory evacuation order turned this resort of 40,000 people and millions of visitors into a ghost town.
Clothes shops, hotels, pawnbrokers, strip joints and every other kind of local business were closed.
The gaudy Indian elephant statues, faux Roman sculptures and Western frontier-style facades on casinos were almost invisible in the rain.
Traffic lights swung wildly over flooded intersections as large pieces of debris, branches and abandoned furniture skidded across avenues.
Inside Ducktown, though, there was warmth, alcohol and the convivial atmosphere of a frontline bastion refusing to give up.
Everyone had a different story.
Markum, a big man with a big personality who’d moved from California, said the bar was the best place in Atlantic City to network with real locals and promote his services as a website broker.
He disregarded the state evacuation order because he has a party to organize for Halloween. “We’re serious in this town when it comes to partying,” he said.
Pam Wolfe, 54, was staying on after a shift as a lab consultant at the local hospital. “I’m happy (Ducktown’s) is open because we were stuck. I feel a lot better, because we didn’t want to be trapped there,” she said over a beer.
Dave King, 19, said the cop-friendly bar was not his typical hangout at all, but “word on the street” got around that it was open during the hurricane and he too wanted to get out of his house.
His reason for staying on for the hurricane with his brother? “We’re survivors. I like to survive. It’s a challenge to me,” he said.
Owner John Exadaktilos, 36, said Ducktown remained open because of its semi-official role in the hurricane response effort.
“We have the support of the municipality to stay open to help feed the police, fire, whatever,” he said.
Asked why Ducktown defied the odds, while monster casinos like Caesar’s on the boardwalk did not, he said: “The casinos and everything, they have 1,000 employees and they’re higher up, so they would take more brunt of the wind.”
He motioned to the young men working the bar and trying to control the leaks. “On the other hand, these guys could be anywhere else, but they’re friends and family and they’re helping. We’re going to man out the storm.”