Dive on in
On Wells Avenue, there’s a small brick building (circa 1957) that could be called an Irish bar, a music bar, or perhaps a dive bar. I prefer the term “neighborhood bar.” There are wooden plaques on the walls in memory of friends and family passed on, and plenty of memorabilia sure to spark stories for those who remember. A newcomer might feel out of place, but if you’re like me and appreciate above-average bar grub with a healthy dose of character, Ryan’s Saloon & Broiler (est. 1974) is a must-visit part of “old” Reno.
I’ve been to Ryan’s for live music nights, but felt it was time to try the food during the light of day, and with perhaps a higher degree of sobriety. The broiler and bar space are one and the same, usually with a single person doing double-duty as bartender and short order cook. Fast food this ain’t, but your patience will be rewarded if you’re looking for a meal of comfort food made fresh to order.
Upon entry during a Saturday afternoon, my wife and I were met by a group of men well in their cups, singing jukebox tunes with enthusiasm and—surprisingly enough—three-part harmony. I ordered our food and some draft beer in order to catch up with the crowd. Bud, Bud Light, and PBR is drawn in $3 pints and enormous $6 schooners.
Deep-fried cheese curds appeared first ($5), little nuggets of chewy, cheesy goodness served with ranch dressing. It’s a good thing we were hungry; you could easily split one order between 3-4 people. There’s nothing fancy about this snack, making a perfect pairing with mass-market American lager.
My wife and I were torn between the giant cheeseburger with fries ($8) or Mac’s famous Reuben ($7.75), so we ordered both and split them between us. The burger was served medium rare with big slices of onion and beefsteak tomato, iceberg lettuce and pickle chips on a giant bun. The cheese and beef were melded just as they should be, with a house “secret sauce” adding a little extra tang and zip to one of the better burgers in town.
The french fries are made to order, cut from fresh potatoes with the skin left on and fried golden brown. Requiring just a sprinkling of salt to be perfect, frozen potatoes can’t compete with fries this honest. Not to be outdone, the Reuben’s expertly-grilled rye bread was crispy, stuffed with lean and tender pastrami, sauerkraut, and melted Swiss cheese. The sandwich was served so fresh and hot, there was no time for it to get soggy on the plate.
While eating lunch, we noticed breakfast is served on Sundays, so back we went the next morning. Chicken fried steak is served with three eggs, toast, and an entire skin-on potato, cubed by hand and turned into home fries. The steak was easily cut with a fork and the gravy had good flavor, though not as much sausage or black pepper as I prefer. The only misstep were eggs cooked “over hard” rather than medium as ordered. I gave this a pass being the man cooking breakfast was also serving drinks in rapid fashion to several people watching the game. The Bloody Mary accompanying my meal had a decent level of heat, amplified by a noticeable quantity of garlic ($5). I do like 'em chunky.
As we paid the check and headed out, I noticed an older gentleman sitting in the same stool he’d been in the day before. I don’t know if it was the red T-shirt—wink, wink—and sweats or his long gray and white beard, but any place that’s good enough for Santa is good enough for me.