A few days before deciding where to drink this week, I dreamt vividly: I was going to the Atomic Bootlegger Lounge inside Sierra Sid’s casino/truck stop, and it was awful—like some kind of third-rate, run-down snack bar, with an alcohol selection so meager I ordered black coffee. By every measure, from the service to the atmosphere, there was nothing good I could have said about it. The rest of the night, in a half-awake fugue, my mind pored over the details, rehearsing what I could say about this wretched place that dared call itself a bar.
The quirky name Atomic Bootlegger was the only reason I knew the place existed—it kind of sticks in my head when I see it driving past the otherwise unassuming Sierra Sid’s, a longtime fixture to locals and truckers passing through the Truckee Meadows. I don’t give much meaning to dreams, but I had to know. Just to be safe, I took a cursory look online before going and saw what looked like a cool spot. And, fortunately, reality turned out to be nothing like my dream.
My wife and I parked and weren’t quite sure where to go. We entered through a central door into a sort of foyer—a new-looking Fuddruckers to one side and an opposing convenience store complementing the gas station out front. Straight ahead, the main casino, with signage to showers—which reminded me that this is a truck stop. Our destination awaited toward the back, visible through a mostly empty, small casino. The old familiar smell of heavy casino cigarette smoke punched me in the nose. I imagined a kind of space-age-meets-prohibition-era Nevada theme, but the displays of antique guns and reclaimed wood said more “Old West” than “Al Capone” to me.
A couple of tables with comfy chairs looked nice, but the bar was mostly free, so we sat there. Pool tables sat idle nearby, bridging the gap between bar and sportsbook, also fairly quiet. My mind always goes to beer first, but the dozen taps weren’t anything terribly exciting—a mix of domestics, ubiquitous craft brands, and, notably, a couple of local brews. Bottled beer was similar—nothing to get excited nor complain about.
The menu listed their “craft cocktails,” what I suppose is the catchall term for modern drinks with fresh, sometimes non-traditional ingredients, handmade rather than premixed, so we decided to go that route. I drained my “Noisy Cricket,” my beloved ginger beer dominating the lemon, vodka and cucumber simple syrup. My wife’s “Pony Express” was too limey for my taste, overpowering the blueberry Stoli and champagne. The seminal—pun intended—detail was the condom garnishing her drink.
“We own that we’re in a truck stop,” our friendly bartender explained before telling us about happy hour pricing, which brought these already affordable $8 cocktails down to $5.
My inordinate curiosity about ingredients turned into a nice chat with our sociable bartender. In our mixology lesson, we learned that my “Victory” is basically a fancified whiskey sour, and the “Pineapple Grenade” is a variation on margarita, both perfectly serviceable drinks.
Catering to the trucker crowd, Atomic Bootlegger works as a novel oasis. For us, though, the smell of cigarette smoke embedded in our flesh kind of overshadowed the good parts.