On tap

Sierra Tap House assistant manager Christian Lees shows off a spiked hot chocolate.

Sierra Tap House assistant manager Christian Lees shows off a spiked hot chocolate.


Learn more at sierrataphouse.com.

The kids were out with grandma visiting a friend in Fernley, so a Sunday evening opportunity for my wife and me to go out for a drink presented itself. In a coincidental do-over of last week, we headed downtown to First Street again, across the street this time, overlooking the Truckee River at Sierra Tap House.

The bar was pretty quiet on this clear, cold evening—an assortment of seemingly regular barfly fellows at the bar, making small talk with the bartender and each other, but tables throughout were empty. Thanks to expansion over the years, Tap House actually has three connected rooms, each with its own front door, plus outdoor seating facing the river. It’s a popular spot in summer months when crowds gather at Wingfield Park during events. The peculiar location, tucked under the back side of the Truckee Lane Building, makes you feel like you’re in a basement speakeasy, surrounded by brick and heavy wooden beams supporting the floors above.

As the name suggests, Sierra Tap House enjoys a partnership with Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, California. Although there’s no formal business relationship, Tap House dedicates all of its dozen draft lines to Sierra Nevada beers. It’s cool to see the full range available from this craft brewing pioneer, from the classic Pale Ale through a full beer spectrum of pilsner, Irish stout, Bigfoot barleywine and more. The decor is heavy on Sierra Nevada swag, from mirrors to burlap hop bags. And, as a sort of extension of the brewery, the Tap House enjoys exclusive special releases, events, vintage kegs and the like. I’ve never seen this kind of brewery-dedicated arrangement for a bar, but it reminds me of a British “tied house,” where a brewery owns the pub and enjoys having a dedicated seller of exclusively its beer. Not to worry, though, Sierra Tap House also offers a healthy selection of other brews in bottles and cans, a well-stocked full bar and a couple of unremarkable wines.

While I ordered beers, my wife got her fix on Ms. Pac-Man. A few other arcade games, pool and shuffleboard are other options, if the piles of board games don’t strike your fancy. Several TVs provided sporting entertainment, but it doesn’t feel like a sports bar at all. I was tempted by a beer I’ve heard good things about, the 11 percent ABV Narwhal imperial stout with cocoa and coconut, but wasn’t up for a full glass of that, so I settled on an old-school Sierra Nevada classic, the Porter, while my wife enjoyed a hoppy pint of Torpedo.

A couple of barstools opened up, and she asked if I’d join her while she played some video poker. We sat at one end, where I noticed a small plaque overhead on the ceiling beams. It was in remembrance of one of the bar’s best customers, a kind, generous, talented guy with a wonderful smile, named Steve. He was also our friend, and he lost his battle with cancer this year. I drank my porter and thought about how many times I saw Steve here, occasionally in person but usually on Facebook, posting triumphant pictures of a four of a kind or a straight flush. Just then, my wife found some unusual luck herself, winning back her original bet several times over.

The kids were en route home by now, so, despite the brief lucky streak, we decided to call it a night and finished our pints as she cashed out her winnings. I couldn’t help thinking Steve had left some of his luck for her at Tap House.