ATLANTIC CITY — When the dancers and bartenders from Ivan Kane’s Royal Jelly Burlesque Nightclub were last seen inside the doomed Revel resort, it was nearly dawn, and the crew was holding court over a dizzy, boozy, occasionally teary, increasingly surreal exercise in futility: the shutdown of a perfectly nice casino.
At Revel, a lot of people and businesses — though not the casino itself — made money before it closed on Sept. 2, 2014, still a toddler at two years, five months.
Ivan Kane, a former-actor-turned-nightclub-innovator brought in from Los Angeles after “drinking the Kool-Aid” of Revel’s original and now banished owner, Kevin DeSanctis, was one of those people.
He killed it at Revel with his unique brand of nightclub: the edgy, sexy, sophisticated, raucous, not-taking-it-too-seriously backdrop of his Royal Jelly — a name in homage to the honey secretions fed the Queen Bee: “I just thought it sounded sort of sticky and a little fun — in a nasty way,” he says cheerfully.
Royal Jelly managed to welcome in the beautiful people plus anyone else walking by from the casino floor, where the club sits, dancers perched on catwalks waiting to draw you in, distract you from your blackjack, make you feel part of something cool.
Now Kane is back, the only one of Revel’s group of successful restaurateurs and nightclub owners to retain autonomy over his little piece of the newly christened Ocean Casino Resort, set to open Thursday, June 28, two hours after the mighty Hard Rock Atlantic City opens in the old Trump Taj Mahal.
(The others, including the successful HQ nightclub, renamed HQ2, and its daytime Beach Club, and all the restaurants, were all bought out by new owner Bruce Deifik and brought in house under management agreements.)
Turns out, Ivan Kane still loves Atlantic City.
Kane is counting on the Ocean — the already search-engine-optimization-challenged reboot of Revel — to succeed where Revel failed.
“It’s surreal,” Kane said in an interview inside Royal Jelly, recalling the moment this spring when he walked back inside “the scene of the crime” — the mega-failure Revel — with a mission to reopen Royal Jelly. “When I walked back in there, I was like, ‘OK. this is weird.’ ”
‘The bones are all here’
The Ocean arrives unburdened neither by debt, a booby-trapped financial structure, aloof management practices nor the odd era of interim owner Glenn Straub, who basically used the 47-story glass tower as his personal beach house before cashing in. Straub bought Revel out of bankruptcy for $82 million in 2015 and sold it for $200 million earlier this year.
“They opened in a hole and they couldn’t dig themselves out,” Kane, who had a role in the 1986 movie Platoon, said. “It was that simple.”
Kane says Straub puttered around Revel and actually made some changes inside Royal Jelly, inexplicably knocking down an elevated VIP area near the center, which Kane reconstructed.
Straub, like a lot of people who walk by, had no idea the club’s casino-adjacent bar and catwalk actually is only the front of the club.
A lot of the action takes place behind a door, where the club opens up to more bars, private bottle-service nooks, a circular descending catwalk designed by Show Canada, the Cirque de Soleil designer, and the main burlesque stage, and an area with a two-sided mirror, so patrons see themselves, and then dancers, and then themselves again. His dancers are recruited from New York and Philadelphia stages, sign contracts, and get housed in a big Ventnor beach house.
The bartenders and steady dancers, the ones who climb catwalks rather than perform choreographed burlesque shows, are regular employees. A lot of his old employees returned, though not the ones observed selling bottles of alcohol at fire-sale prices as the last hours of the casino approached. He’s revamped the laser lighting and sound systems. He’s got two basic stage shows with live bands.
“Creatively, it’s a completely new experience, but the bones are all here,” Kane said. “Why do you want to throw away these bones? It’s a $9 million club.”
Kane maintained control over his club, the music, the programming, everything behind the marquee bulb sign, which also includes a small table-games area, which he says was “always the busiest, most profitable pit on the floor,” with players paying only partial attention to, say, strategy. And he notes that his demographic is 62 percent women.
Kane, who created the Forty Deuce club at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, inspired by his wife, the renowned burlesque dancer Champagne Suzy, says he never lost faith in Atlantic City, and, in fact, opened up another nightclub, Kiss Kiss a Go-Go, inside Tropicana, where he cultivated a coolly annoyed-dancer aesthetic he says he first saw in Bangkok.
But he says he gladly moved on from Kiss Kiss to give Royal Jelly another go-go.
`What feeds my soul’
“From a creative standpoint, this is much more my particular niche in a very saturated nightlife market,” Kane said. “I really enjoy the creative part; it’s what feeds my soul. And to be perfectly honest with you, we did incredibly well here.”
He considers Royal Jelly, with the burlesque element, to be “out of the traditional nightclub box,” especially for Atlantic City.
Or, as Royal Jelly’s general manager, Jason Chandler, says, “You can’t fist-pump all night. You just can’t.”
“So when the rug got pulled out from under us, when Revel closed, it was a sad day,” he said. “Not just because I was proud of the product but” — and here he laughs at the absurdity of making money in a failing casino — “because it was like, oh bummer.”
He’s still based in Los Angeles, speaks with the New York accent of his youth, but recently purchased a home in Margate. He says he’s embraced the life of a local Atlantic City die-hard.
In turn, he says, Atlantic City has never let go of its embrace of him.
Kane enjoys creating a scene that maybe overestimates the typical Atlantic City crowd and what it will go for, then proves the conventional wisdom about Atlantic City wrong.
“The media hasn’t really gotten it right about Atlantic City,” he said. “I do think it’s viable, and I do think it’s relevant, and I do think it’s exciting. I do think there’s a lot to offer here. I think it’s really easy to just write it off. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think this was relevant.”