ATLANTIC CITY - Carolyn Saia had heard enough hype about Atlantic City's beach bars.
"I had to come down to see what the so-called 'catch' was," Saia said.
She's glad she did.
"It's terrific," said Saia, a Mullica Hill resident, perched on a stool at the Hilton Beach Bar on a recent Sunday afternoon. "It's nestled right in the sand, you have a great band, you have a nice breeze -- you feel like you're in the islands."
That's exactly the point.
And it's a big reason why business at the surfside saloons is booming.
"Where else can you go that bills itself as a beach destination that doesn't have bars by the water?" said Elaine Zamansky, media relations manager for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority.
"Beach bars were lacking for a long time, but they have been great for Atlantic City," Zamansky added. "It's one of the things that makes us a real beach destination, and it's one more thing that sets us apart from other gaming destinations."
Casino executives -- who viewed the outdoor lounges as one more amenity to help retain existing customers, attract new ones and even lure nongamblers -- lobbied city leaders for years to relax a municipal code that banned alcohol service near the beach.
City Council did so in September 2002.
The first hotel-casino beach bars opened the following summer, and seven offered sand-side service by 2005.
But complaints that the establishments consumed too much beach space prompted the state Department of Environmental Protection to tighten restrictions on how far bars could extend from the dunes in front of the boardwalk.
Now only three beach bars remain -- the Hilton Beach Bar, Bikini Beach Bar at Bally's Atlantic City and The Beach Bar at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.
All three offer food, stage live entertainment and serve an array of signature tropical drinks in addition to beer and cocktails.
The smaller concentration of venues, increased promotion, and efforts to appeal to a cross-section of guests all get credit for the bars' success.
Plenty of blue sky this summer also has helped bar operators see green.
Business at The Beach Bar at Trump Plaza for the month of June was up 40 percent over the same month last summer, said Mark Sachais, the casino hotel's vice president of marketing.
If current trends continue, the venue will generate about four times as much revenue this summer as it did in its debut season in 2003, Sachais said.
The bars' popularity continues to increase in conjunction with the meteoric rise of shopping, dining and entertainment options in Atlantic City -- an example, Sachais said, of how all aspects of the resort's rejuvenation can benefit one other.
They are helping gaming halls in "America's Favorite Playground" compete for gamblers who no longer have to drive down the shore to try their luck.
"The biggest assets Atlantic City has over a lot of other markets, including Philadelphia and Connecticut, are the beach and the ocean," Sachais said. "The beach bars are one more way we can leverage those assets."
Perhaps more importantly, they also appeal to people who have no intention of stepping foot on a casino floor.
"I don't gamble, but I come to A.C. for this," said Mike Sierota of Turnersville, enjoying a beer at the Hilton Beach Bar.
"In Philly, you're stuck inside some cramped bar," added Sierota, 25. "Here, the atmosphere is outstanding. You have plenty of room, you're outside on a nice day with a really good band. As far as I'm concerned, this is the place to be."