When Nicholas Dismang decided to buy the Polo Lounge, he knew he was getting a place with a lot of history. Not that he was familiar with the bar—in fact, he’d only been there once prior to making the decision. But a look at the walls inside the Polo Lounge would tell anyone that this is a place with a storied past. They’re packed with photos of longtime regulars and celebrities the bar’s original owner, Frank Perez, has known over the years. Some of them show the original Polo Lounge, which Perez ran in San Francisco before coming to Reno.
Dismang wasn’t surprised that some people wondered what would happen to the Polo Lounge after he purchased it.
“A lot of people worried we were going to take it out and really rip it out and redo it,” Dismang said. “But after we thought about it, it really didn’t make any sense. Everybody is so quick to ruin things that have meaning in this town. And this bar has a lot of interesting history.”
Still, the Polo Lounge wasn’t entirely what Dismang envisioned as its new owner. So, when he bought it last July, he decided to strike a balance between what would change and what would remain the same. The cocktail lounge atmosphere with tables and comfortable chairs was something he kept—as were the photos covering the walls—and regulars expressed relief that the bar’s character remained unchanged. He even kept the old, tiger-print carpet.
“It’s funky for sure,” Dismang said. “Even when we cleaned it, it didn’t look much better. But people love the carpet. When I first got here, I hated the carpet. I thought, ’This thing’s got to go.’ My tastes are very contemporary, very modern looking. So this bar, for me, is very hard. But I love it.”
In the end, the biggest alteration was the addition of an entire new room—formerly an adjacent retail space—in which Dismang built a new dance floor and stage.
“Our goal was to make the dance floor and the stage a bit bigger,” he said.
Dismang likes to refer to the original dance floor and stage area in a corner of the bar as the “world’s smallest.”
“It was great because you could have 10 people, and it looked busy,” he said. “But, it was so small, it almost got insane, and it deterred business at a certain point.”
These days, Dismang is trying to draw a larger crowd—especially on weekends, when he brings in DJ Bobby G from Alice 96.5. But even this is done with respect for the bar’s longtime regulars. A fair amount of the music that’s played on Fridays and Saturdays is from the ’70s and ’80s.
Longtime Polo Lounge bartender Jack Sosnowski is glad for a DJ presence on the weekends. According to Sosnowski, Bobby G’s sets are far preferable to a house band, which the bar had for years.
“It’s like, ’What record would you pick to take on an island with you?’” he said. “Who gives a shit? In 30 days, you’re probably going to feed it to the sharks anyway because you’ve heard all you can hear.”
According to Dismang, the new music and new space are bringing in new customers to join with the regulars.
“It skews a little younger than it used to,” he said. “Our 50 to 70 age range kind of complains now that we’re skewing too young—but we really don’t drop much below 30. … And you can’t blame the younger group for liking the older music. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a lot different than going to a club.”