Is it still journalism after you've been to eight bars?
Have y’all met Georgia Fisher yet? She moved here from Texas in fall 2013, and almost immediately started freelance writing for the RN&R. She became our special projects editor in January. She does our supplements, like the family guides, puts together some other features, and writes our weekly story on environmental issues. Nice gal, with a bit of Southern twang and a goofy sense of humor. She’s fitting in nicely at the office, although she does tend to apologize for things that warrant no apologies, like correcting somebody’s grammar or mentioning sex toys, which is especially disconcerting in a newsroom full of hardened journalists accustomed to cussing and yelling at one another.
Anyway, Georgia likes to wax poetic about how much she loves Reno. At least once or twice a day, she’ll drift off into a reverie about how nice the weather is or how friendly the security people are at the airport. But until recently, she hadn’t really taken advantage of one of the great cultural advantages of living here: 24-hour availability of alcohol and generally lax attitudes about public drunkenness. So, being the cordial colleague I am, I offered to show her around a few of the local watering holes, and because we at the RN&R can’t do something simple like take a coworker out for an after-shifter without making a big fucking production out of it, we decided to turn our little bar tour into a game: bar bingo.
We came up with a list of common barroom practices and experiences, like “hearing a song by the Beatles,” “winning a game of pool,” or “talking to somebody named Chris.” We assigned each item a number of points from 1 to 5. “See a bare nipple” was worth 2 points, for instance. “Get punched” was only worth 1 point. “Seeing somebody else vomit,” only 2 points, but actually “vomiting yourself”? 4 points. The first person to reach 5 points at each place would win the round, and then we’d head to the next destination. I had a loosely planned route in mind, which included places I hadn’t checked out yet, beloved old haunts and new favorites. Since we’re responsible about our binge drinking, we headed out on foot.
Brad and I share a cubicle wall, guys, and I rarely correct his goddamn language. But yeah, I’m sorry about it. He’s also the sort of colleague who’ll scream something in the background when you’re doing a phone interview with an elected official, or come to work with glue in his hair because he wore faux horns to a dance party the night before. He’s endearing for the same reasons.
As for our little drinking game, you should know I’m not a party kid at all anymore, but I used to be. And as fast as I’ve fallen for Reno, few of my local friends are alcoholics or mentally ill or wild children or whatever. I miss the crazy, in other words, so it’s time to make some of my own. I also have a distracted way of matching my companion beer for beer, whether that person is a teetotaler or an adult male metalhead who’d put “do cocaine” as an option on our bingo list—which Brad did.
Anyway, the plan was to wrap before midnight, as I was helping host a big baby shower later that morning, and Brad had a full calendar of his own. Spoiler alert: We failed.
—Georgia FisherPIGNIC PUB & PATIO 235 Flint St. 376-1948
Brad: Around 6 p.m., Georgia and I left the RN&R office and headed a few blocks north to Pignic. It was raining lightly, always a welcome novelty in Reno. I’d never been to Pignic before, but I was vaguely familiar with the place’s concept, which includes grills set up outside where customers can cook their own meat.
Georgia: Basically it’s B.Y.O.-food-and-try-to-cook-it, which sounds like one of those creative first dates a nice man plans without realizing he’s making you tired. Still a fun scene, though.
Brad: It seems more like a drinking game that involves food than an actual dining experience, and it might have been fun if I was in the right mindset, but it was raining and cooking anything just seemed like a ton of work at the time.
Pignic seems like a good spot for an after-work beer—maybe watch a game, cook some meat, sit outside on a warm evening. The two bartenders, Jason and Annalisa, told us some funny stories and were very welcoming. I had a beer and a shot of tequila. Georgia drank some nasty beer that tasted like somebody dosed it with a partially chewed wad of watermelon Bubblicious gum.
Georgia: It was Hell or High Watermelon, and I loved it.
Brad: I won the round of Bingo by having two drinks and hearing somebody say the word “awesome.”ROYCE 115 Ridge St. 440-1095
Georgia: Royce is a relaxing place with a dim, cushy aesthetic, and because Brad was the only male patron around for awhile, the mood was almost like that of a girls’ night out. I also thought the bathroom was gorgeous, and a random straight dude said the same thing later, so it must be true.
Brad: Royce is owned by the same guys who own Imperial and Lincoln Lounge, but the atmosphere couldn’t be further removed from those mega popular bars. I came up with an analogy that I was probably inordinately proud of while we were there. (I repeated it several times to increasing indifference.) Filmmaker Joss Whedon directed the two Avengers movies. The first one is one of the biggest money-making movies ever, and the sequel is on target to match that. But between making those two blockbusters, Whedon made a little black-and-white adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. It’s witty, low-key and calibrated for discriminating tastes. Royce is kind of the bar equivalent of that.
I’ve already spent a fair amount of time there because I’m in love with Margot, one of the bartenders. She wasn’t working when Georgia and I stopped in, but Kaitlin Bryson, a great local artist and a dear friend, was behind the bar, and we had a pleasant conversation about bees, vegetarianism and auras, because Kaitlin is a hippie.
Georgia: Kaitlin is a cerebral sweetheart who talked with us about natural food, Vonnegut, her ecologically and artistically minded graduate studies, her love of bees, and the nature of happiness itself. Good company. In time we had a charcuterie plate with a perfect mustard sauce and La Tranche Le Retour, a beaujolais Brad said tastes like “licking a sweaty woman.” That’s a direct quote.
“Wait, this isn’t gross at all,” I exclaimed after a sip. “It’s good!”
“Right. You misunderstand what I’m getting at.”
“Ohhh.”THE LOVING CUP 188 California Ave. 322-2480
Georgia: This up-and-comer was briefly dead when we walked in, populated only by manager Pete Barnato and a pretty girl with platinum hair who looked exactly like him. Loving Cup is kind of sophisticated; the drinks are as high-end as you want them to be, and Pete has near-encyclopedic knowledge of the liquors he peddles, which include a fair selection of Japanese scotch.
Brad: It’s in the former location of the Biggest Little City Club, but it has some of the same fun energy that made another previous incarnation of the location, the Satellite Lounge, the best bar in Reno a decade ago.
Georgia: Pete made me a sazerac in a cool glass, and I nursed it as I took in the scenery: lush wallpaper, velvet art that looked more cool than kitschy, and a growing flood of customers, many of whom knew Brad.
People high-five a lot in this town, by the way. You can be the choicest hipster-whatever in the world, but if you high-five me, it feels like we’re 12 and celebrating the fact that we just threw something out of a school bus window. I love it.
Brad: I won the round quickly, with a rapid succession of hugs, making it clear that as someone who has been drinking in Reno bars for 20 years, I had some unfair advantages over Georgia, fresh off the boat from Texas. (And yeah, I’ve been drinking in Reno bars for 20 years despite only being 35. Back in ye ol’ 1990s, children, crappy fake IDs were tolerated to the point of encouragement. Mine was literally just a Polaroid picture of me standing in front of a poster that looked vaguely like a driver’s license. Nobody cared.)PUBLIC HOUSE 33 St. Lawrence Ave. 657-8449
Georgia: My friend Jason says Public House looks like something from Fight Club, and I’d agree. You can only hear bass lines over the din of patrons, but it all sounds good and feels right alongside the exposed brick, muted lighting, robust beards and so on.
The crowd that night was mostly under 30, present editors excluded, and we drank saison beers and hung out with some polite Millennials who seemed impressed with our jobs and interested in networking. Brad traded business cards with them, disappeared for a minute, and then made a special announcement in front of God and everyone. “I won! I don’t know how much taking a dump or getting a hug or getting a phone number is worth, but I just did all those things!”
Brad: I took advantage of Public House’s nice, spacious bathroom with a locking door to relieve myself of a gut burden. The long line outside of the bathroom as I was leaving might have embarrassed me if I wasn’t already shameless and intoxicated.
Anyway, after I proudly proclaimed my victory to Georgia, she replied, “Oh, I stopped even keeping track. I know you’re going to win every round,” which did make me feel like an ass. We decided to abandon the game.SHEA’S TAVERN 715 S. Virginia St. 786-4774
Brad: Next, we headed to Shea’s, the perennial winner of “best dive bar” in this newspaper’s reader-voted Best of Northern Nevada contest. It’s a strange, beautiful continent unto itself, a real anything-goes kind of place, where nobody would ever worry about feeling like an ass.
Georgia: Shea’s is your quintessential dive with an Irish-y name—a loud, easy sort of place on South Virginia where Brad and I had our own conversations with whomever was around. I won’t peg their names because I didn’t properly warn them about this report, but I met a couple of gracious and talented Reno musicians (one of whom’s going on a European tour, which of course warrants a toast); got a bunch of ideas for our Green beat; drank cheap beer and almost lost a credit card. Whee.
Brad: At the bar, I introduced Georgia to Ryan and Dave from Cranium, the excellent, long-running local progressive rock band. I left her in their noble company while I went to go watch two pretend lesbians make out by the pool table. Dave is interested in environmental issues, and Georgia told me afterward that she got a few ideas for Green stories from him. I replied that, for the arts section, going out to Reno bars is where at least 60 percent of my story ideas originate.
We bumped into a lot of great Reno characters at Shea’s, including local filmmaker and sketch artist Kaleb Temple and legendary Reno party animal Jon Shown, the 90-pound man who can drink dudes three times his size under the table and then steal their girlfriends.
Georgia: I was getting loose enough not to care about the minutiae real journalists are supposed to record. Know what I’m saying? It was time to ambush some strangers with my life story. It was also time to quit pouring alcohol down my gullet.DEATH & TAXES 26 Cheney St. 324-2630
Brad: Next we went to Death & Taxes, a bar with a great reputation that I had somehow never been to before, despite being a big fan of Midtown Eats, the nearby restaurant owned by the same people.
Georgia: I’d heard high praise of this bar, including from a person who buys $100 wines like they’re grape drink, and the Goth exterior is intriguing on its own. The interior was purposefully dark when we visited, with Cuban music on the stereo and a gaggle of universally hot male bartenders sporting embarrassing floral shirts.
I ordered “Fields of Oaxaca,” a sublime $12 concoction with Patron roca silver, cocchi bianco (like I know what that means), mandarin syrup and lemon. I’d planned to just have a sip and write about it, but you know when you’re on a diet and someone makes you a stellar gourmet meal anyway, and then it becomes an art experience that’ll only happen once—not to mention a matter of etiquette—so you might as well eat up? That’s how this drink was—like glowing fairy nectar in a glass.
Ninety seconds later, I was a full-on rogue drunk person. I’m barely even drunk on New Year’s Eve, y’all. Shit.
Brad: Georgia described the bartenders, three handsome guys all wearing bizarrely ugly Hawaiian shirts, as “beautiful, miserable people.” We ordered mixed drinks, which I don’t remember clearly other than that they were terrific. My notes about the place: “The cocktails were delicious; The shirts were horrendous; The dudes were indifferent.”
I might have accidentally been rude to them. I don’t know. In which case, apologies, dudes. It was pretty late at that point, and I was pretty deep in my cups. Besides, it can be difficult to interact with people from the outside world after spending serious time in Shea’s.CHAPEL TAVERN 1099 S. Virginia St. 324-2244
Georgia: This place has a sprawling, floor-to-ceiling shelving unit behind the bar, with a liquor selection of mythic proportions and the sort of rolling ladders that libraries and bookstores use. Chapel also offers craft beers, including one called Yeastus Christ Supersour. Props for hilarity.
Brad: A quick note about methodology: I took my notes on my phone and also recorded voice memos to myself as we went about each place. The memos got increasingly erratic and slurred, and the sequence makes little sense: Bar Bingo 1, Bar Crawl 2, Bar Crawl 3, Bar Bingo 3.
The usually popping Chapel was pretty slow by the time we arrived, though that was probably mostly because it was after 1 a.m., but I recorded some of best voice memos there, all slurred, and with the lilting cadence of a happy drunk: “I don’t even need any more alcohol for like two days. At this point, it’s just fun. … We’re at Chapel now. I ordered a beer. I don’t even know what it is.”
Georgia: “I love you,” I heard Brad say several times into his phone before realizing he was just leaving voice memos for himself. No joke. Around 2 a.m. he also informed me that I’m a bad editor, which was sweet. I was about a cocktail away from believing him, so that made for a good ending note.
Brad: Despite the fact that we’d abandoned the Bar Bingo concept a couple of stops earlier, I was still recording every point-scoring opportunity. As we were walking out, I recorded an addendum: “We had some drinks—we had one drink, and then we decided fuck it with the game because we weren’t going to score any points. It was time to leave”—ominous pause—“I just threw up. That’s worth some points.”40 MILE SALOON 1495 S. Virginia St. 323-1877
Brad: We made it to 40 Mile, the old location of Chapel—now a fun rock ’n’ roll bar. But we weren’t there very long. We went there partly because my bandmate and next door neighbor, Clint, was DJ-ing that night, and I hoped he and I might catch a ride or split a cab together.
I’d texted him when we were at Chapel, and he had still been at 40 Mile. But by the time we arrived, he was apparently missing, which was extra mysterious because he had apparently vanished, records and all. So Georgia and I just called a cab. The cab dropped me off at the same time that Clint arrived with sober driver Tim. Clint jumped out of Tim’s car with what looked like a giant grocery bag of Taco Bell.
“We had to get food,” he said.
I snagged a couple of anonymous tacos and stuffed them down my throat—my biggest regret of the evening—before stumbling inside and collapsing into a heap of snores, saliva and strange odors.
Georgia: I don’t remember 40 Mile, woefully enough, so instead I’ll just tell you about the baby shower I helped with the next morning. It was in an immaculate home full of elegant women, some of whom are my husband’s colleagues. I prepared by vomiting for the first time in years and trying to get the bar smell out of my hair without actually washing it.
“Look at that tiny romper,” people squealed as our dear friend opened gifts and I steadied myself against walls and counter tops, leaving sweaty handprints on everything I touched. “And those itty bitty shoes!”
Not my finest hour, but worth it. This is a hell of a town.