Our 12 favorite bars in Reno

My 12 favorite bars in Reno

Our 16th president gets due reverence at the Lincoln Lounge.

Our 16th president gets due reverence at the Lincoln Lounge.

photo by kat kerlin

I’ve spent years doing research on this one, and while Reno has some great bars, from dank dives to ritzy schmitzy to many in between, these are our favorites. In alphabetical order:

Ceol Irish Pub
538 S. Virginia St.; 329-5588

I don’t know what it is, but there is just something cozy about Ceol (pronounced key-ohl). Maybe it’s the warm wooden bar, or the crowd of people who always seem to be cheerfully talking with their friends. Or maybe it’s the warm feeling the pints of Guinness and Harp Lager induce after downing a couple. It could also be the band playing bluegrass or an Irish jig, or,

OK, really bad cover songs onstage. Whatever it is, it works.

Chapel Tavern
1495 S. Virginia St.; 324-2244

We just have to sing the praises of this place. It’s hard to believe it used to be the very divey dive Mr. O’s. (God bless its crooked heart.) It has completely converted and saved its soul in the process. Enough with the religious cliches. Chapel Tavern is dominated by a red-topped pool table, low lighting, and a 20-30something crowd of hipsters who don’t take themselves too seriously. Chapel also has an impressive whiskey list.

The Chocolate Bar
475 S. Arlington Ave.; 337-1122

There are three locations of the Chocolate Bar, the original on Arlington Ave., and the others at the Summit mall and Northstar at Tahoe. I’ve only been to the original location, so that’s what I’m talking about here. Arts editor Brad Bynum and I had a fiery discussion about whether The Chocolate Bar was a “ladies who lunch” spot (his interpretation) or a “girls night out” spot (mine). Since I’m the one writing this, I emphatically state it’s the latter. Yes, it is one of the more estrogen-filled bars in Reno, and no, I can’t think of a single male acquaintance who actually feels comfortable there (except editor Brian Burghart, who’s very comfortable with his levels of testosterone). But with a saliva-inducing menu of drinks like white chocolate raspberry cocktails, desserts like the Mexican chocolate sampler, and small plate offerings like “cheezee” truffled chips, what can you expect? Happy women.

Great Basin Brewing Company
846 Victorian Ave., Sparks; 355-7711

So it’s not technically in Reno; it’s worth the 10-minute drive. How could you not like this place? They have a beautiful lineup of handcrafted beers, from the famous Ichthyosaur IPA to the Truckee River Red and seasonal varieties that often incorporate sage and pine nuts from the area. The food’s not bad, either, but you come for the beer and the conviviality of what’s usually a laidback group who are ready for beer after a day of work, college or playing in the mountains. Great Basin also regularly has live music, with acts as diverse as Feist, Tom Russell and Brett Dennen to local acts Sol Jibe and the Saddle Tramps having taken its stage.

Imperial Bar & Lounge
150 N. Arlington Ave., 324-6399

There are a few reasons this place is shoulder-to-shoulder packed every weekend. One is the stylish interior of industrial ceilings, brick walls, a long wraparound bar and one of the prettiest bathrooms in Reno. Another is its big selection of beer and cocktails. Then there are its absolutely phenomenal frites (that would be skinny fries), and comfort foods done fancy, like mac ‘n’ cheese. Lastly, it’s all of the beautiful—mostly college-aged—people the above elements tend to attract. Don’t forget your heels and dark jeans, girls.

Lincoln Lounge
302 E. Fourth St., 323-5426

This is one of Reno’s most eccentric bars. Not “eccentric” as in the crazy old man next door but as in something delightfully different. A purposefully lackluster exterior gives way upon entrance to a Victorian-chair laden sitting area, richly textured red walls, and the faces of Abraham Lincoln staring down at you out of well-executed portraits created by local artists. Add to that a rather stately longboard set-up (clear directions of how to play are mounted on the wall), a sizable, light-strung beer garden in the back and Abe’s Mug Club challenge: Drink 69 select Lincoln Lounge drinks within a year and get your own Abe mug to join the other “winners” on the shelf above the bar. Abe would be proud.

Red Rock Studios
241 S. Sierra St., 324-2468

Red Rock Studios is not a dive bar, but it has some of those tendencies. And it’s not a particularly hip bar, but it leans that way. If you’re familiar with the Brüka Theatre crowd, the Burning Man crowd, the local artists crowd, it’s likely you’ll find many of their members here on any given night. A small, low-lit, intimate space, Red Rock’s walls provide a regularly rotating gallery of local art, and local bands are often keeping the crowd on their feet and yelling over each other. A separate room with a pool table is on the lower level, providing a bit of breathing room. A cool little bar.

Saint James Infirmary
445 California Ave., 657-8484

Finally, a Reno bar you can feel comfortable in whether you’re in jeans and a T-shirt or your best club clothes, whether you’re a total dweeb or a total hipster, whether you are 20 or well, let’s say, 50. The plasma screens here play old movies, not sports games and mouthy newscasters. And they take special pride in their jukebox, which is stuffed with tunes any music geek would be happy to hear. Take in the wall collage of old films, the salvaged retro neon signs, and a very pleasurable atmosphere. Can’t wait to get up on the patio this summer.

Se7en Tea House & Bar
100 N. Arlington Ave., Suite 10; and
Se7en on West, 148 West St., 348-9526
www.myspace.com/se7en_ateahouseandbar ; www.seenatse7en.com

Se7en recently opened a second location at the West Street Market, and while that place is nice and seems well suited to live music, the original Se7en still has my heart. For starters, it’s about the only place in town featuring more than, say, six types of tea, be it loose leaf, bubble or matte. And while Se7en part II is a bar that serves tea, the original Se7en is a tea house that becomes a bar at night. And it’s not a red-hatted ladies, pinky-in-the-air kind of tea house. The environs are Asian-inspired and very relaxed, making it great for studying by day and partying by night. And that tea occasionally makes it into their drinks, such as their raspberry tea cocktail. Se7en also serves coffee and baked goods, hosts spoken word nights, screens films and adorns its walls with local artwork.

Sierra Tap House
253 W. First St., 322-7678

There couldn’t be a more aptly named bar. Sierra Tap House serves Sierra Nevada beer on tap. The brews rotate with the seasons. Currently, you’ll find things like Big Foot barleywine, Early Spring Beer, Imperial Smoked Porter, and of course, the ever popular Pale Ale. If beer’s not your thing, you’ll find a wide range of stiff drinks here, too. The décor is heavily wood-based, which provides a warm feeling. And while there’s no food made onsite, it is one of the only places in Reno where you can drink along the Truckee River—especially nice in the summer if you’re lucky enough to grab one of the handful of tables outside. The bar helps foster local brewing talent with its homebrewers contest in June, and it fosters local shit-talking with its feisty Tuesday night trivia nights (hosted by RN&R arts editor Brad Bynum). This is a beer-centric, friendly, riverside bar.

Silver Peak I and II
124 Wonder St., 324-1864;
135 N. Sierra St., 284-3300

We prefer the original location on Wonder St., primarily for its kickass upstairs patio and what tends to be a more relaxed atmosphere than the one on Sierra St. (Someone once remarked that Silver Peak I seemed like the Democrat bar, and Silver Peak II the Republican one.) It’s also where all that beer is actually brewed. However, both are fine establishments to drink some great microbrews, like the Red Roadster—which kicks in faster than most beers, thanks to its generous alcohol content level—and the chocolatey Peavine Porter. Lunch and dinner, featuring pub grub like burgers or finer foods like filet mignon, is sometimes hit and miss, but I’ve never gone wrong with their pizzas, particularly the porcini mushroom. Both locations offer stellar patios, and with warm weather approaching, both Silver Peaks are looking better and better.

310 S. Arlington Ave., 348-9911

Strega is a bar within a cute little 1912 brick bungalow. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that you might feel at home. “A house party you’re not sure you were invited to” is one common description. The colorful rooms are somewhat small and separate, allowing for private conversations to take place on a couch in one area, while larger crowds mill about drinking and looking at the rotation of local artwork. Another room is completely taken up by a pool table. Just pick up a stick and play—it’s free. See what I mean by being like someone’s house? Strega specializes in seasonal agua fresca drinks made from juice squeezed fresh daily. And like any good bungalow, they have a lovely porch to hang out on.