Great Wal

Bartender Ben Zunino pours a beer from the tap wall. There are approximately 52 beers on tap.

Bartender Ben Zunino pours a beer from the tap wall. There are approximately 52 beers on tap.

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With weather recently challenging our ability to get around, I’ve been thinking about isolation lately. Basic necessities cut off when I-80 closes and trucks can’t get through. Despite being a local, I remember when I went to University of Nevada, Reno being tied to campus and frequenting the bars near campus, since that’s where other students went. Realizing it’s been literally decades now since I graduated, I just assume that’s still the case, but aside from proximity, nothing really stands out as a “college bar” to me these days. It’s weird being so close geographically but so culturally distant. That said, since long before my college days, there’s been a constant that anyone who’s attended UNR or followed UNR sports will recognize as an old standby—the Little Waldorf Saloon.

As far as I can tell, there’s just one bit of history on their website that is true—the Little Waldorf has been around since 1922. Aside from that, the legend of Red Waldorf and his cannon is just that, a legend. There was once a bar called The Waldorf Club, opened in downtown in 1910. In 1922, one of the owners opened the Little Waldorf, further north and across Virginia Street. It thrived there for decades, enjoying its popularity with students from the UNR. Over the years, owners have changed, the location has changed (twice), but ties to Wolf Pack sports remain strong, especially in the current location, conveniently near Mackay Stadium and Lawlor Events Center.

My memories of the Little Wal are mostly seeing local or touring bands play on a small stage near the back, swigging whatever beer was cheap and having fun with friends. That stage is no longer a stage, more of a recessed area with a few arcade games. The current owners’ decor is a mix of hunting lodge, Nevada sports shrine, and lots of flair, from signs yelling about drink specials and happy hours to antiques and nostalgic knick-knacks hanging overhead. As I’m not the young collegiate drinker I once was, I now see almost as much restaurant as bar, with a full menu of pub fare to soak up the booze or quash the hangover the next day. The multitude of TV screens are sure to please sports fans but don’t detract from the cozy locals’ joint atmosphere.

A mirror boasts they are “purveyors of fine whiskeys,” and bottles behind the bar confirm the selection of spirits. The chalkboard listing shot specials with crazy names works with the college crowd, if memory serves correct, but as expected for a football-and-fraternities spot, beer is definitely the drink of choice here. In addition to bottled options, upwards of 50 taps, from humdrum to excellent, span the bar. Sadly, I only saw half of them before ordering and missed some great options at the other end—it’s a long bar!

As I sat there at the bar with my beer, I considered my isolation. Former student in a college bar, no crowd to speak of. Ghosts of young drinkers, several generations over, hoisting their mugs at a Wolf Pack victory or drowning their sorrows in a loss. Icy streets and inertia keeping me close to home for this beer. Yes, this place has seen its share of pints filled and emptied, burgers eaten, memories made. At once both always there and easily forgotten, after nearly 95 years the Little Wal remains a landmark for many, local alumni and drinkers alike.