Besides being a beer aficionado, I also have a love for the history of Reno and Nevada in general. I don’t know what it is—more than just nostalgia or pride in my home and its heritage, I just find the tales of the past that form the story of our state compelling. Given that, in hindsight I’m a little surprised that I took as long as I did to visit the 1864 Tavern on California Avenue for a drink. Maybe my subconscious was avoiding it, fearing the potential for a lame attempt to cash in on the past.
An impromptu date night led my wife and me into 1864 on a most serendipitous evening—Lincoln’s Birthday eve. For those not in the know, it was our esteemed 16th President who signed the papers making Nevada a state, granting him a special place in our history. The awnings over the windows looked a particularly deep shade of Battle Born blue this night.
Board games and popcorn were the first things I noticed—nothing especially Nevadan about those—then the list of draft beers in chalk above the bar. A selection of beers not particularly long or short, just enough choices and variety to appease most tastes, with a somewhat-better-than-average number of local or regional brews, a home state advantage I can appreciate. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ruby Mountain Amber on tap before. As I looked around, my eyes took in more and more details—antique furniture arranged to form little “parlors,” almost like individual train cars throughout the room, varied lanterns and chandeliers. Despite the modern music filling the room, in my head I heard cliché player piano music as in every Western movie saloon.
The friendly barkeep asked what we would like, but we paused to consider the cocktail options on advice from a friend. The varied ingredients—egg whites, fresh citrus, house-made syrups and more—formed more of an apothecary’s pantry than a simple bar. But wait, which beer list do I use, the chalkboard or this menu book?
Over my local coffee stout and my wife’s Pahranagat Punch, I impressed her with my wealth of knowledge, nailing the Nevada trivia questions she found nearby. The longer I sat, the more I appreciated the surroundings, every little detail just right. It was hard to tell what was authentic and what was faux antique, a sign to me of much thought and effort in the decor. The illusion took me away from 2017 Reno and delivered me to the Comstock Lode. I wonder how this sells to a young urban crowd—most of whom I assume don’t share my love of history—when it seems such a perfect fit for the Virginia City tourist.
You could have knocked me over with a feather then, when, as if on cue for my old Nevada reverie, a Union officer strolled into the bar. No hallucination, just a gathering of local reenactors for Lincoln Day in this appropriate venue. The timing of our visit couldn’t have been better. Old Abe gazed down approvingly from his portrait on the wall.
1864 Tavern escapes campiness with what seems to be a genuine love for the Silver State, the past, quality craft beer, and modern handcrafted cocktails. Further on my list of appeal factors—nonsmoking, tab opened, card returned and popcorn. I think I actually said, “This is my new favorite bar,” I enjoyed it so much.