Out and about

An RN&R writer explores the city’s gay bar scene

(Above) While a little further from the downtown scene, Splash Bar is known for its drag nights.

(Above) While a little further from the downtown scene, Splash Bar is known for its drag nights.

I never go to clubs or bars before midnight. Okay, maybe I might show up at 11:50. Not bad, eh? The reason this matters is because two weeks ago, I had my entire weekend planned. Friday? Five Star and Faces. Saturday? Splash. Sunday? Carl’s Saloon—all after midnight, of course. This was my Reno Gay Club Tour, sponsored by FourLoko drinks (just kidding), my nearly maxed-out credit card and youthful excitement.

I had just two rules: buy a drink at every stop, and talk to at least one person.

On Feb. 29, I wore my best pair of jeans, a nice black shirt and a pair of black heeled boots and felt ready to party all night long. I ordered an Uber to Five Star, and my tour had officially begun.

5 Star Saloon
132 West St.

The saloon is a small building with a modest exterior. I had a slight grin as I got out of the Uber and headed toward the doors. One of the advantages of going to clubs after midnight? There’s no one to card you at the door or charge a cover. I walked in and could already feel the vibrations of the music. Inhale. Exhale.

The crowd inside was a good mix of people, and it was a little less crowded than I expected, but still nearly packed. It looked like it might be an enjoyable night, filled with good music, lots of beautiful people and unabashed fun.

I ordered “Blue Balls,” a sweet, almost fruity drink that reminds me of Hawaiian Punch. Then I headed to the dance floor, drink in hand, ready to make the most of the night. I found a corner and let myself go.

Even on an unmemorable night, 5 Star still feels, as always, like the “it” place for the Reno gay club scene. The drinks are modestly priced. The music is a nice blend of recent hip hop and pop hits, and classics from the 90s and 00s. Importantly, it promises at worst, a decent night, and at best, an unforgettable one. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Faces NV
235 W. Second St.

Faces is about a block away from 5 Star—the sign on the front is solid black against the white front exterior. The space inside is expansive, complete with a lobby, a VIP section, an extra seating section and a huge dance floor. However, there were only a few people in the club and the vibe felt mellow—on Latin Night!

It wasn’t a snoozefest, just somewhat hush. There were some couples on the dance floor dancing to Latin music but I was unfamiliar with the music, couldn’t dance to it, and had no one to talk to. Bad night to come alone.

So, I headed to the bar to buy a drink. I started a conversation with the bartender, Sam, and learned that the drink menu at Faces was made entirely of drinks created and named by the club staff. The names were interesting, including personal favorites, “Holy Shit Balls Miss Long” and “Titty Titty Bang Bang.”

Soon, we were talking about other gay bars in Reno, and I learned that there had been about nine gay bars in Reno in the early 2010s, including The Patio, Tronix, Neutron, and 10-99. It all sounded lovely, and I was left feeling wistful, wishing we still had so many options.

An uncommonly empty dance floor at 5 Star Saloon.

Faces was much more enjoyable than I would have imagined despite the near empty club. Although, it can get crowded during special events, such as bar crawls or regular drag shows, it seems to lack an organic excitement to it. It’s a decent hang, but not nearly as delightful as 5 Star or Splash. At 1:30 a.m., I headed back to Five Star for the rest of the night. “We go again tomorrow,” I thought to myself.

Splash Bar
340 Kietzke Lane

The next morning, I needed a little time to recover from my hangover before I finally felt ready for the second leg of my tour. At 8 p.m., I picked out my outfit—a polyester blue t-shirt, a jacket, a pair of short shorts and sneakers.

Hours later, I was on North Wells Avenue headed to Splash Bar, trying to imagine what kind of night I was about to have. Splash feels like a world away because I almost exclusively frequent downtown. The space is small, but exciting, with a staging area and a patio that’s breezy.

That weekend, drag queen Lily Does Moore had put on a show, Queens of the World, and I was excited to see so many queens in one place for the first time. I arrived just before the show started at midnight and paid the cover. The small space felt vibrant and alive. I should go to drag shows more often.

The rest of the night was made up of my excited screaming. In the middle of the show, I headed to the bar to grab my one drink of the night, a vodka cranberry. One rule down. I tried to see if there’s anyone to start a conversation with on the patio but it was mostly empty, and I decided to make an exception for my rules that night.

At 2 a.m. the show was done, and I headed home. My voice was hoarse but I was satisfied with how the night went. Even though it’s the newest gay bar/club in Reno, Splash is already a space for local drag queens to shine and that’s good enough for me.

Carl’s—The Saloon
3310 S. Virginia St.

The only thing I knew about Carl’s up until Sunday morning was that it’s located at 3310 S. Virginia St. Yes, I’m still just as shocked as you are at the distance.

I was trying to avoid paying for a $14 Uber to South Virginia, so I decided to take the bus, wearing black ripped jeans, black heeled boots and a jacket, and feeling excited about a potentially new experience.

Fortunately, the bus stops in front of my apartment complex, so 40 minutes later, I got off at the intersection of Gentry and Virginia Street. The air was chilly on the short walk from my stop to the bar. The entrance was a little hard to find but I finally got in. It’s on the side with bricks.

There were only five people in the building, including the bartender. It was Karaoke Night and the person at the mic was getting cheered on. I loved it: the singing, and the cheering. After their turn was done, I signed up to sing "Prince Ali" from the movie, Aladdin. The crowd cheered. What a moment!

After I was done, I went to the bar and ordered a vodka cranberry. The atmosphere felt very comfortable and everyone seemed easy to talk to. We all took turns to sing except the bartender, and then the night was done.

I shared a bus ride home with the DJ, and we talked about the bar. Carl’s attracts an older crowd, who are perhaps looking for moresubdued fun than they might find elsewhere. The drinks were priced around the same as others, and the patrons were friendly.

All said, it was an excellent weekend. My Reno Gay Bar Tour may officially become something I do semi-regularly; maybe at the end of each month. Next month’s tour will be sponsored by red wine and my—now officially—overdrawn credit card.