Name that bar
Downtown and midtown are full of colorful neon—but have you ever noticed that they’re full of colorful bar names, too? Ever wondered where those names came from? There are enough curious, quirky or inexplicable bar names in town that you could write an entire typonomy—that’s a taxonomy for place names. We haven’t committed to a leather-bound volume of Reno bar names just yet, but we did look into a few popular ones.
In between receiving deliveries and refilling patrons’ drinks, Shenanigan’s owner Julie Mitchell opened a file folder and took out an oversized postcard that contained a brief history of the bar. The area code on the postcard was still “702,” which means it was probably printed some time before 1998, when Northern Nevada switched to “775.”
“I’m not sure if this is 100 percent true,” she warned. As this postcard tells it, the pub’s heavy, wooden bar comes from the Grand Ballroom of the Castle Shenanigan, outside Southampton, England. Legend has it that a Portuguese captain brought it to America in 1850, that it was used at taverns in Virginia City and Carson City, then brought to Reno and refurbished “to its former state of glory.”
But Mitchell was right to recommend taking the story with a grain of salt. The postcard cites no sources, and an internet search on such a castle and such a bar turned up nothing whatsoever, so it seems likely that the story was the result of, well, a shenanigan. In any case, this super-friendly neighborhood pub, at 77 W. Plumb Lane, is a great place to trade tall tales over good food and pints of just about any kind of beer on any given day or night.
Foxy Olive at 220 Mill St. has low ceilings, red walls, metal in the jukebox, Miller on the menu, and a name that might seem to promise coattails and furs.
Bartender Andrew Warbington said that when the original owners opened Foxy Olive in 2007, they envisioned “a fancy cocktail bar.” This block of Mill Street was—and still is—more about residential motels and convenience stores than upscale watering holes, but, through a handful of owners, the name has stuck.
Foxy Olive, it turns out, has some distinct advantages over bars in Reno’s upscale neighborhoods: refreshingly cheap drinks, welcoming service, easy parking, and Lime Bikes on every nearby block. And while not the “fancy cocktail bar” it was initially conceived as, they will, in fact, make you a fancy cocktail.
On a recent night at 5 Star Saloon, a patron offered this definition: “A goldstar is a lesbian who hasn’t had sex with men.” But no one present at that moment was sure what “5 Star” meant.
Former owner Shannon Dobbs had some history to share, though. He said that the bar started in 1971 as Paul’s Lounge II. Original owner Bill Hegy, who has passed away, told Dobbs, before selling him the business in 2007, that he and four others partnered up “some time in the ‘80s” and renamed it 5 Star Saloon. Dobbs figures the owners considered themselves five stars of empowerment and self-expression—but that is not confirmed by any readily available data.
The “saloon,” part of the name might be a little misleading. It’s not a bar with swinging front doors. Dobbs described it like this: “5 Star is the longest-running continually operational gay bar in Nevada, and is the original starting point for both the Silver Dollar Court drag group and the International Gay Rodeo Association.” It remains an incredibly inclusive place that’s also among Reno’s favorite, late-late-late-night afterparty venues. In summer, it stays open past sunrise.