Leaving work just after 5 p.m. on a Sunday, I had an hour to kill before meeting family for dinner, so I decided to make the best of that time and find beer. I considered a few places I’ve been wanting to try, but nothing really grabbed me—everything felt too hip, too divey or too far away. One spot popped into my head and stuck, so I took a short drive to 40 Mile Saloon.
I remembered hearing about 40 Mile when it opened in the old brick building at the corner of South Virginia and Mt. Rose streets. After successfully running Chapel Tavern there for five years, owner Duncan Mitchell moved that bar north a few blocks to focus on cocktails, then turned the former Chapel into 40 Mile Saloon, a neighborhood beer-and-shots joint. For no reason at all, I’d never paid it a visit. I just noticed the outside patio deck recently despite it having been there several years.
I learned 40 Mile opened five years ago because when I asked, the bartender confirmed the date by looking at the ceiling,where the first dollar bill spent on a drink in the bar is dated and stapled to the exposed ceiling beams, among many others of its kind. He told me that ownership recently passed to a cousin and founding Chapel employee, so Mitchell’s historic family memorabilia remained on the walls.
Simply calling the place a “saloon” rather than bar, tavern or pub gives a hint to the atmosphere they’re going for. Throw in those family antiques, the wooden ceiling beams, and the bar’s name—a reference a harsh pioneer route—and it’s clear: Old West. Fortunately, they avoided pretense and corniness, but the problem is taking over a space that previously housed a cool, urban bar. There’s definitely some Chapel remaining in 40 Mile Saloon, but that’s not a bad thing.
A knowledge of and enthusiasm for whiskies of all sorts is on display behind the bar, multitudes of brown liquors from around the world. A concise menu of handcrafted cocktails is available for those so inclined, but I was directed toward beer listings—chalk-scrawled on an exposed steel beam for drafts and a nearby chalkboard for bottles. The beer selection straddles the line between simple saloon beer and popular craft, epitomized in the first two tap options: basic retro Hamm’s and Imbib’s sour Blackberry Weisse. I ordered a slightly fancier but fairly basic lager and settled in, my attention divided between a baseball game, people-watching drivers at the stoplight outside, and mindless smartphone fiddling.
Despite low expectations for socializing early on a Sunday evening, a few friends were there, wrapping up a low-key day-drinking stop. We made small talk until their tab was settled, and they moved on. A few regulars continued their discussions at the bar while I considered the thematic mix—it’s hard to really feel Western while the bartender crafts a cocktail with ginger-honey syrup and fresh lemon from behind a raw concrete bar in an establishment with DJ nights, where old chaps hang on the wall and basic lager beers like grandpa used to drink are served alongside modern microbrews.
An epiphany came to me with my second beer, while I asked about the R&B I was enjoying in the background (Otis Redding)—40 Mile Saloon is like a microcosm of Reno itself. The Old West subtly meshing with the hip and modern. Cows grazing near tech startups. Throwing craps after white-water kayaking. Satisfied, I left the saloon and went for some sushi.