The cool vintage neon sign outside the Elbow Room Bar in Sparks gave me the impression the place has been there since long before B Street became Victorian Avenue, since the corner of 20th and B was just a block south of the Lincoln Highway. As it turns out, the building and the bar do date from the 1940s, giving the retro look I’ve admired driving past for years some authenticity I’m glad to know about.
Still, age doesn’t necessarily equal awesomeness, so after seeing an ad telling me the Elbow Room was celebrating its “Grand Reopening” on a recent Saturday, that seemed like the perfect time to go check the place out for the first time. While it’s been on my radar for a while, I just needed a nudge to get there, and this was it. Drink specials all day, a barbecue starting at 5 p.m., and a band playing later in the evening—I could see the Elbow Room in all its glory, people enjoying themselves, celebrating the place itself after some sort of remodel.
Alas, the reality didn’t live up to my celebratory imagination. My dear wife agreed to join me for a drink before dinner, so we pulled up with few expectations besides those mentioned above. The banner hanging outside had downgraded the 5 p.m. barbecue to hors d’oeuvres. So be it, we weren’t there to eat anyway.
There didn’t seem to be much of a party going on. It just looked like early on a normal Saturday evening, really. Maybe 10 people sat at the bar, Soundgarden on the jukebox, pool table and darts unoccupied, some sports on TV, drinking and smoking like any other neighborhood joint across the city. A fireplace and vending machine both sat cold and empty. It wasn’t obvious what sort of remodel had taken place; certainly nothing looked especially new or renovated to first-time patrons like us. We later learned that the now-white walls and ceiling were recently black, and a major restroom renovation had been done.
We chose the bar over any of the empty cocktail tables, and a cheerful bartender quickly arrived to welcome us and tell us about snacks available at the end of the bar. Happy hour was allegedly still going, as well as the advertised “drink specials all day” for the grand reopening, but no specifics were given and nobody mentioned anything. I didn’t give a lot of consideration to the assortment of bottled beer, so we both ordered pints of the best draft option, Lagunitas IPA. I briefly considered Pabst since it felt like a cheap beer kind of place. A basic selection of spirits was displayed behind the bar, complete with a Fireball Cinnamon Whisky dispenser. There was also Ferrari-Carano wine and prominent signage proclaiming it $7 a glass, an oddly coincidental partner to the large stack of Eldorado napkins at the bar.
While my wife made feeble attempts on the video poker machine in front of her, I took a curious pass by the hors d’oeuvres, finding Wheat Thins, Cheez-Its, and some pretty appetizing rigatoni and meatballs in a slow cooker. Even though dinner awaited, I couldn’t resist just a few nibbles.
While the Elbow Room feels like an old man’s bar, the crowd skewed younger than I would have guessed. Social media and posted signs describe a pretty regular live music scene here. I’d call it a crossroads of old and new, working class, neighborhood rock ’n’ roll dive bar.