Heating up winter on the dance floor at downtown night spots
“The city has cleaned this place up. People in Reno don’t get it. A bunch are still scared of East Fourth.”
Alex Panschar, Reno Jazz Club owner
“No matter what, I always end up with the meatiest place in town.”
Ray Salaho, Metropolis owner
“There aren’t any nightclubs in Reno worthy of the word,” sniffed my Eurocool friend Milan in his Belgian accent. His hobby is deejaying, and he’s so discouraged he’s thinking of selling his turntables. I shrugged, raised my palms and declared, in my American accent: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”
I had to say something. A trivial knowledge of French phrases comes in handy once in awhile.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. Reno is growing, and more money is being sunk into clubs, with some positive developments resisting the omnipresent undercurrent of Terminally Reno Syndrome. Still, we’re not NY or LA or SF or LV. …
But—Dieu merci—we’re not Sac, either! Reno does rock. A bit. And in the fiercely competitive business of pushing drinks via music and dance floors, the Buggiest Little City always offers a healthy variety of places to boogie down—to live or deejayed music.
I know of this constant because eons ago I covered the club scene for the local daily. Wasted nights. As they say in Latin, res ipsa loquitur. It speaks for itself.
On a recent Saturday night I ventured into the scene for six hours to take notes for this article and discovered the variety still is there. But you needn’t take my word. Check out the Nightclubs grid in the RN&R, and you’ll find bars, clubs and lounges from the North Valleys to Carson. Those in the know know that some places are more for college kids, others for underage ravers or hip-hoppers with fake IDs, or authentic Latinos, or gays/lesbians, or mellow aging boomers and Gen Xers, or the country crowd, or the classic-rock set, or scruffy bikers, skanky artistes, tattoos-and-piercings wastoids. And so on. Your northern Nevada neighbors. And you. And I.
Consider the following report as a small, semi-representative sampling of dance spots. A complete list is too lengthy for this space. A few clubs I didn’t make it to, which are worth checking out: BuBinga Lounge in the Eldorado—dress up for this place, which won the RN&R readers award for best nightclub; Dick and Janes, 1537 S. Virginia St., a hit with the college crowd and the Zephyr, 1074 S. Virginia St. If you’re more of a sedentary sot, two juice-to-music joints of note: Roxy Bistro in the Eldorado and the Sapphire Lounge in Harrah’s.
A final note: Clubs are listed chronologically, in order of my visits with two friends—the photographic Dave and the photogenic Juliana. Josh, a well-mannered tagalong with pointy sideburns, showed up near the end.
Reno Jazz Club, 302 E. Fourth St.
· General feel: Trashy-hip locals’ hangout with thrift-shop sofas and chairs. Part of the boho revival of the east-of-downtown stretch of old U.S. 40. A funky bar on the street level of a 1920s brownstone.
· Music: This night, rockabilly trio Train Wrecks—Stetson-topped singer-guitarist, standup bassist and spare-kit drummer—honky-tonks on the little stage bathed in black light. Cover $5.
· Crowd: Locals, age 25-44, scruffy chic.
· Best features: Hundreds of beer caps and cig butts shape terra cotta petals by the poolroom entrance. “Boxie” the boxer dog-naps on the backroom couch. Roxanne the waitress has the most darling self-designed outfit, with red corset.
· Etc.: Club owner Alex Panschar laments that Fourth Street yet suffers the reputation of weekly hotels/drug deals/transients/streetwalker sweeps. “The city has cleaned this place up,” Panschar says. “People in Reno don’t get it. A bunch are still scared of East Fourth.” Know that cops cruise the beat continuously on bicycles or in cars.
Abby’s Highway 40, 424 E. Fourth St.
· General feel: Also part of East Fourth’s revival, in a brownstone. Working-class with wall-length bar, wire-exposing holes in the walls and historic Reno photos. A feel-at-home hangout with pool, darts and pinball in the back.
· Music: This night, Cosmic Brain Cells, a merger of two fine longtime Reno bar bands, Cosmic Freeway and the Paisley Brain Cells, grooves long Deadhead jams. No cover.
· Crowd: People in the trades, redneck hippies, 30-50 range.
· Best features: Display cases house collections of little bottles of liquor, such as Hiram Walker Extra Dry Martini. The parquet floor is big enough to accommodate couples and the odd pony-tailed aging boomer dancing alone to a beat in his head.
· Etc.: “It’s like one big happy family,” says bald, goateed Tim Johnson, 46, a plumber and Abby’s regular.
The Stock Exchange, 535 E. Fourth St.
· General feel: Large, clean, classy, high-ceilinged. Its 4,800 square feet (of what once was a mom-and-pop grocery) house a four-sided bar in front; spacious dance floor, lined by tables with candles and red cloths, in the middle; and an upscale VIP lounge, with red carpet and plush booths, in back.
· Cover: $5, usually after the stools around the bar are filled, sometime past midnight.
· Music: Deejayed dance tunes. Sometimes a special guest, such as house-music recording artist David Garcia.
· Crowd: College kids when there’s live music. From 3 to 9 a.m., the club picks up 20-somethings and 30-somethings getting off work from casinos, restaurants, strip clubs.
· Best features: Four terminals against one wall provide free Web service. An electronic reader board rolls information on upcoming club events.
· Etc.: “We’re Reno’s after-hours club,” says general manager Jeff Gregg. “Fourth Street is not nearly as bad as a lot of people think. Local people have gotten used to Fourth Street.” The Stock Exchange’s large basement, unused, could one day be converted into an underground club.
Metropolis Nightclub Complex, 45 W. Second St.
· General feel: Reno’s dance ghetto. Large downtown complex, in former home of Eddie’s Fabulous Fifties Casino, with 17,500 square feet upstairs and same downstairs—four clubs in all. The Pulse (the main room) has a big DJ stage, dance floor, main bar and side bar and caters to the young hip-hop dawgs and girlfrenz who kick it to 93.7 FM. There’re also The Lounge, the College Bar and the Underground. Tight security check at front, past the outside cordons. Must have valid or believable ID. Restrooms are through the back-of-club exit and up on the second floor, next to Ichiban Japanese Steak House.
· Cover: $10.
· Music: House and hip-hop in the Pulse, house and trance in the Underground, college-oriented in the College Bar, ‘70s to ‘90s tuneage in the Lounge.
· Crowd: Grinding youths, ages 21 (or thereabouts) to 28 in The Pulse. Diversity. Boyz in baggy pants; girlz in halters. “The melting pot is right here,” owner Ray Salaho says.
· Best features: Roman columns, waterfall, faux cloth fire over The Pulse’s bar. Coat-check girls. The security “hosts” are more controlled than the aggressive bouncers whose violence drew the attention of the Reno Police Department.
· Etc.: Salaho is the dean of Reno dance clubs. “No matter what, I always end up with the meatiest place in town,” he says of his string of venues: the Lime Lite 1989-93, Daiquiris 1994-97, and the current site since 1998 when it was Gators and Las Venus, after which it was Reno Live 1999-2000 and the Metropolis since. Salaho doesn’t mind the word “skanky"—"Depends on how it’s spoken.” He’s removed the go-go cages and catwalks from the main room. He plans to remodel again by New Year’s Eve.
Club 219, 219 N. Center St.
· General feel: Safe, fun, posh. The theme is high-priced psychedelic aquarium in peach and midnight blue. Black-and-white checkered dance floor. Two go-go cages plus a silhouette dancer behind a screen. Monitors flash graphics of pyramids, eyeballs, dolphins. Front-door security guards wield electronic wands and keep out downtown riffraff.
· Cover: Fridays, women free; men $5. Saturdays: $5 women; $10 men.
· Music: Deejayed pop hits of the ‘80s to today.
· Crowd: Not too hip, but happy. Mix of locals and tourists. Slightly more women then men, generally ages 21-32.
· Best features: Jason, the blowfire bartender, shoots a “flare breath” a few times a night. Leggy go-go dancers are sexy (but refrain from really hot stuff). Take a $5 shot in the barber chair. Fish-shaped window looks into Harrah’s Center Street casino.
· Etc.: Started in July in 5,700-square-foot space of bankrupt Planet Hollywood. Open only Fridays and Saturdays. Competes with the Eldorado’s Bubinga Lounge, though patrons are slightly younger and not as dressy.
Blue Cactus, 3001 W. Fourth St.
· General feel: Laid-back bunch of regulars—a lesbian clubhouse where most habitués know each other and gay men feel welcome. The place is on dark, quiet West Fourth a few miles from downtown, in the L-shaped space where Visions was before coming out to Kietzke Lane.
· Cover: None.
· Music: Deejayed dance music plus classics such as AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” to get the dance floor hopping.
· Crowd: Easygoing, mostly womyn, few men. Mostly couples.
· Best features: Two voluptuous bartenders. Pool, foosball and air hockey tables. Big-screen TV.
· Etc.: The DJ stopped the music and hushed the club as a woman got on a knee and proposed to her girlfriend. The DJ played a ballad, “We’ll Be There for You,” while the couple slow-danced to applause.
Visions, 340 Kietzke Lane
· General feel: Reno’s largest gay club, in a long, low room. Decent-sized dance floor with several disco balls.
· Cover: $3.
· Music: Deejayed house music.
· Crowd: Mostly younger men, some in tank tops, some shirtless. Few women. Some straights show up late at night to boogie.
· Best features: Manhattan skyline backing the dance floor.
· Etc.: The line in front of the bar can get long, but the drinks are strong.
The Men’s Club, 270 Lake St.
· General feel: Of the half-dozen strip clubs in town, this one, in a classic old building just east of downtown, is tops, although a close second is the Wild Orchid on South Virginia Street just south of downtown.
· Cover: $20. (Lap dances: $20.)
· Music: Thump-thump-thump. Each dancer has her favorite classic-rock or ‘80s-'90s dance track for the DJ to play.
· Crowd: Your regular Joes. Some sugar daddies. A few mutants.
· Best features: Some real, many augmented.
· Etc.: These days it seems half the single, attractive women in town between 21 and 41 lap-dance or have for stacks of Jacksons. Ginger, you looked good on Juliana’s lap. Crystal, you looked good on mine. Josh, you looked bored. Should have brought more money.