Reno Booze & Review
Three RN&R writers set out to prove Reno is a 24-hour town
Nine years ago, a relay team of three writers from this paper set out on a 24-hour bar crawl to sample Reno’s bar offerings morning and night (“24 bars in 24 hours,” Bars & Clubs, March 11, 2010). But Reno’s nightlife scene has changed considerably in the past almost-decade, so, for this guide, another three-writer team—Matt Bieker, Jeri Chadwell and Luka Starmer—ventured out to drink from midnight to midnight with the goal of hitting 24 bars in 24 hours. Spoiler alert: We didn’t quite make our quota, but what follows is a true account of 24 hours of drinking in Reno.
Matt: Morning shift
Midnight: Sierra Tap House, 253 W. First St.
I volunteered for the graveyard shift. On nights out, I’m notorious among my friends for being the first to suggest going home in the wee hours of the morning. This article, I thought, was the perfect chance to overcome my perennial wet blanket streak and see the side of Reno nightlife I’ve often traded for a few more hours of sleep.
I met my brother, Sean, and friends Steven and Jessica at the bar not long after midnight. Sierra Tap House is a cozy establishment on the river. It makes up for how narrow the bar room is with a sizable game room that includes vintage arcade games and a shuffleboard table.
While the place is known for the impressive Sierra Nevada beer collection, I opted for a whiskey soda. My night was just getting started, and you know what they say: Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear; beer before liquor, never been sicker.
I spent the hour chatting with everyone around the bar. My compatriots were genuinely interested in my marathon crawl but made it clear to me none of them were sticking around for the full eight hours. I couldn’t blame them. We lost Sean on our way out, and he gave me a skeptical, “Good luck, dude,” as we left.
1 a.m.: Pignic Pub & Patio, 235 Flint St.
We walked a few hundred yards to Pignic—my favorite bar that makes no apologies about basically being just a house. The outdoor fire pit was crowded with people huddled for warmth in the sub-freezing temperatures, holding cigarettes between shivering fingers.
I opted for my favorite cocktail, the Campfire Sour, a sweet whiskey sour with a burnt rosemary sprig that gives the drink its smoky namesake. Steven chose a Maker’s Mark and soda and Jess picked a Golden Monkey Ale—one of dozens on the tap list.
We sat beneath a spinning disco ball in the Victorian-era parlor. The night’s music had wrapped up a little while before, and the musicians were in the process of dismantling the stage space. We witnessed some incredibly earnest dance moves being interrupted by the replacement of a couch in the middle of the floor, but otherwise looked for an opportunity to join the throng of people around the fire pit. We never got the chance, though, and Jess bid us goodbye as Steve and I set off down the street.
2 a.m.: RedRock Bar, 241 S. Sierra St.
A few blocks away, below a neon sign and through a narrow doorway is RedRock. The place is easily missed by people who don’t know it’s there, making it a bit of a hideaway. The modest wooden bar specializes in well drinks and a domestic tap selection—but we were interested in the downstairs room.
Down a narrow flight of stairs is a dimly lit basement that houses two pool tables and an old-timey jukebox. While its existence is by no means a secret, it still has a way of feeling like a prohibition speakeasy—which, of course, called for more whiskey and some gambling.
I beat Steve for $10 on one table while talking with some recent college grads playing on the other. One young man wearing an authentic Russian Cossack hat—a gift, he told us—sang a few bars of the Russian national anthem, and Steve decided to call it a night. He walked me to the next destination before departing himself.
3 a.m.: The Stick, 95 N. Sierra St.
A double-decker sports bar wedged between the Riverside movie theater and Pizanos Pizza, The Stick is unique in that it still serves wings, fries and other bar classics until its 4 a.m. close. I didn’t partake, however, and sat down to a Jack and Coke at the bar with about a dozen other patrons.
I watched some of the previous day’s ESPN highlights on the multiple large TVs on the wall behind the bar. After a while, though, my tired eyes felt oppressed by the wall of blue light, and I felt like the drinks and hour hand were getting to me.
I wasn’t alone in feeling edgy. Two guys at the bar next to me had been having a heated discussion about something I didn’t catch, when one of them forcibly pushed his plate away before standing up and shouting, “I’m done talking to you, Zach—this is bullshit!” As he stormed away, I felt it was time to find my second wind.
4 a.m.: Tonic Lounge, 231 W. 2nd St.
Walking through Tonic’s mirrored glass doors was a decidedly different scene. The place was packed. Through the cigarette smoke, strobe lights and anonymizing darkness, I could see people of every shape, color and age clamoring for Tang Bangs, AMF’s and Vodka Redbulls, or grinding relentlessly to the thumping dance music.
I hung out for a while, mostly just observing what Reno’s citizens were doing at this hour of the morning. Along with a few patrons openly napping in the bar’s long seating area, and some same-sex, multi-person makeout sessions, I also witnessed a lone man who looked to be in his 80s being admonished by a group of 20-something women for allegedly grabbing one of their butts.
I imbibed but a single Jager-bomb and hit the road for an icy walk down Second Street.
5 a.m.: Doc Holliday’s, 120 E. Second St.
I knew Doc Holliday’s by its reputation as a 24-hour bar, but I’d never visited it before. The musty, cheerfully lit barroom was a nice change of pace from the chaos of Tonic, but I noticed an equally diverse crowd around the pool table in the back of the room and playing video poker along the bar. I also noticed a real motorcycle suspended from the ceiling, completely covered in discarded bras—some of which had been autographed.
I ordered a Rolling Rock and sat down at the bar to watch the 1960s Batman TV show and chat with the bartender. Doc Holliday’s is known as an industry bar, she told me, and many of the patrons were local casino workers or graveyard shifters just getting off work.
It was here that I chose to use the bathroom, and as I pushed the door to leave, it collided with someone standing maybe six inches in front of it on the opposite side. I apologized to someone a lot bigger and drunker than me as I stepped past him, at which point he grabbed me by the lapel and slurred, “Hey … next time you come out … remember to slow down.”
I nodded, and he released me, but as I walked away, I saw the even bigger bouncer grab my new acquaintance and advise him against making trouble. “Always a bigger fish,” I thought.
6 a.m.: Joy Luck Noodle Bar, inside Harrah’s, 219 N. Center St.
Here I suffered my first breakdown in the timeline of the night. After a longtime friend unexpectedly turned up in Doc’s after her bartending shift and bought us a round of tequila shots, I had stayed too long and left the bar at about 6:30. As I left, the sky outside was a cool gray in the pre-dawn light, and the first signs of a pink glow were visible to the east.
Desperate to get back on track, I chose to explore what early morning offerings the casinos might have and stumbled into Harrah’s. Plopping myself into a chair at the Joy Luck Noodle Bar, bartender Shawn inquired about my night so far. I sipped my gin and tonic and told him about my efforts—the drinks and lack of sleep were definitely affecting my cogency at this point. When I asked him about his tolerance for working through the night, he replied simply, “I’m a night guy.”
7 a.m.: Shea’s Tavern, 715 S. Virginia St.
After talking with Shawn and another guest—a soldier on leave from Fallon airbase who told me unequivocally he was looking for “pussy”—I realized once again I was leaving late and decided to forgo looking for another casino bar. Instead, I set off in the quiet morning light through downtown on my final leg of the journey: walking to midtown to meet RN&R Associate Editor Jeri Chadwell at Shea’s Tavern.
The notorious punk rock venue and 24-hour bar was still packed with people from the night before when I arrived. I walked through the door as a guy my age with a busted lip was being forcibly escorted out. I ordered an Irish coffee replete with whipped cream and realized I was one bar short of my goal, since Jeri would spend her first hour at Shea’s as well.
Still, I wasn’t very familiar with Shea’s, so I was fascinated to see the dozens of people carrying on like it was 7 p.m., not a.m. I figured anyone still drinking at this hour was probably right here, and so I chalked it up to an authentic Reno night out. I sipped my coffee, now thoroughly tired of the taste of whiskey, until Jeri walked through the front door, regaling me with tales about how worried she was about me and how weird it was to listen to NPR’s morning show on her way to a bar. I passed off the notebook I had been using to record my notes—our symbolic baton between the three shifts—and gladly gave Jeri my seat at the bar before walking outside to wait for my Uber home.
Jeri: Day Shift
8 a.m.: Shea’s Tavern, 715 S. Virginia St.
I woke 20 minutes before my 6 a.m. alarm—worried about Matt Bieker. I’m a worrier by nature and thought to text him but reminded myself aloud as I measured ground coffee and started a pot, “You’re his boss, not his mom.” Showered and having walked the dog, I put in my headphones at 7:40 a.m. and listened to NPR’s Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! on the walk from my house to Shea’s Tavern.
Entering Shea’s stone cold sober at 8 a.m. was an experience unlike any I’ve had. “Everyone I know is here,” I said beneath my breath, scanning the crowd for Bieker. Indeed, more than a handful of my friends and acquaintances were there—glassy-eyed and most of them participating in an early morning ’80s dance party. I found Bieker, not dancing but seated on a bar stool near the door. He turned as I called his name—smiling and wobbling like a weeble but managing not to fall down. We chatted briefly before he passed our notebook totem to me and departed.
I ordered a rye whiskey—and was purchased a second by a friend—and spent most of the remainder of my time at Shea’s standing outside of the back door, chatting quietly with yet another friend about love and relationships, divorce and remarriage.
9 a.m.: Lucke’s Saloon, 1455 S. Wells Ave.
Leaving Shea’s near 9 a.m. having had two drinks, I felt strangely conspicuous to passersby who were making their ways to midtown breakfast spots. I headed south toward Lucke’s Saloon on South Wells, a place I went on occasion back in college. The walk was longer—and colder—than I had anticipated in the brisk February morning air.
At Lucke’s, a few bar stools were already occupied. The bartender and I were the only women there—and, I’m sure, the only people under 65. She introduced herself as Barb and carded me. I like it when that happens. The bar didn’t carry a rye whiskey.
“A Crown, I guess, sounds good,” I told Barb. “Neat, please, in a rocks glass.”
The music on the radio struck my funny bone. The first song to play was Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” I chuckled to myself when it ended and “Midnight at the Oasis” began. Would some rendition of the “Sheik of Araby” come next?
10 a.m.: Coach’s Grill & Sports Bar, 1573 S. Virginia St.
By 10 a.m., it was apparent that breakfast was in order lest I find myself mentally insolvent before noon. PJ & Co. on South Wells—a go-to for me—was packed, and I was buzzing. As a lone drunk, it seemed wrong to pack in next to families, so I walked instead to Coach’s, where I ordered a chicken-fried steak breakfast and a rye whiskey, neat in a rocks glass. The waitress, a woman named Charity, was quick with a joke and sweet. She asked, and I explained the day’s mission. The man who sat next to me had a New Zealand accent. I realized before I left that he’s the father of my friend Rhys, a purveyor of booze at an establishment I frequented quite often in the months before and after my divorce.
“Say hi for me,” I said as I quaffed my whiskey and headed for the door.
11 a.m.: 40 Mile Saloon, 1495 S. Virginia St.
It was still cold and gray outside when I departed Coach’s. My whiskey intake at this point had given me a nice, warm feeling—a so-called “alcohol jacket”—but the wind cut quickly through it. Searching my mind for a nearby bar, I settled on 40 Mile Saloon. It’s not my social scene per se, but the people there are friendly, and I stop in on occasion. I ordered a rye whiskey, neat in a rocks glass.
Noon: Craft Wine and Beer, 22 Martin St.
The sun was peeking through the clouds as I began walking north. My fiancé, Christian, texted he was at Craft Wine and Beer. This bar is definitely more his scene than mine. And don’t get me wrong. I like the atmosphere and the people. It’s just that beer makes me fat, and wine makes me crazy—seriously. Opting for the lesser of those two evils, I ordered a carbohydrate-laden beer, chatted briefly with Christian, said hi to talented Reno photographer Cesar Lopez and excused myself.
1 p.m.: A friend’s ostensibly mobile, oblong, yellow home; somewhere in midtown
I felt a bit maudlin leaving Craft—a symptom of booze intake. I decided to walk through the alley from Martin Street toward bars farther north. Along the way, I happened across another friend—well, actually, across the school bus he’s remodeling into a home. I decided to knock on the door.
“Want to smoke a joint?” I asked when he answered.
“Yeah,” he said.
I reasoned that if I also drank one of his beers, this stop would certainly count toward the bar crawl. I mean, everyone has a friend who lives in midtown, right? Afterward, we walked his two dogs through the alleys. On the way back, we heard a horn being honked repeatedly and came around a corner to find a dog in the front seat of a parked car, barking and bouncing madly on the horn—the kind of thing that happens in movies. It made my day.
2 p.m.: The Swiss Chalet, 501 Mill St.
From midtown, I knew I needed to make my way toward Wells Avenue, where I would meet RN&R contributor Luka Starmer to pass off the notebook totem. But I’d have to make one more stop before that if I wanted to meet my bar quota. I decided the Swiss Chalet would do. The bartender, a young man, carded me. I didn’t like it this time. I got the feeling some of the patrons were waiting to see if my I.D. was legit, and it felt weird. I ordered a rye whiskey, neat in a rocks glass. I realized I was fairly sober in comparison to the woman sitting next to me when I pulled out my hair brush and she moseyed over with a slurred exclamation that I should brush hers too. I did.
3 p.m.: Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor, 71 S. Wells Ave.
Skate Jam 6 was in full swing when I arrived at Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor. Jub’s is a regular haunt of mine. When I went in, the bartender, my friend Salvatore, poured me my usual—rye whiskey, neat in a rocks glass. I drunkenly stepped out onto the porch and seated myself to smoke a cigarette. Starmer was going to be a little late.
When he arrived, he ordered us each a beer—a domestic of some sort—and we sat down to chat about my experience and where he was headed. A drunk guy kept harassing us to pay the cover charge for Skate Jam, but I’d already tried to and was told that you didn’t have to pay—and couldn’t—unless you went into the adjoining showroom.
The guy got into Starmer’s face, saying, “I vouched for you guys!”
Confused, drunk and pissed off, I went to the ATM and pulled 40 bucks and then took it back to the door guy, “So what’s the deal? Do we actually need to pay? We’re journalists, and we’re not trying to get anything for free.”
“I told you, not unless you go to the other side,” he said, clearly exasperated.
“Well, then tell your dude over there that,” I said, pointing.
“That guy?” he asked.
Turns out, that guy wasn’t working or bouncing or anything for the bar. The door guy told him to cool his jets. I’d been pretty good all day, but—in retrospect—it’s clear that by then I wasn’t exactly reasonable. Starmer suggested that, in lieu of having words with the drunk jerk, I head home, walking along the way with him to his next destination. He finished his own and drank the other domestic beer I’d left full. Outside of 10Torr on Mill Street, longtime RN&R arts writer Kris Vagner appeared as if by magic, parking as we walked up. She and her husband had come for a drink, but they’d give me a ride home first. I wondered if I looked as pie-eyed as my friends at Shea’s had that morning.
Luka: Night Shift
4 p.m.: Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor, 71 S. Wells Ave.
It was some time between 4 and 5 p.m. by the time I finally arrived, and I’d definitely left Jeri hanging a little longer than I meant to. Jeri was swaying on a bench outside on the patio arguing with a guy over who would fare better in the zombie apocalypse. The bar was buzzing because Skate Jam 6 was going on in the back showroom. I finished my beer (and Jeri’s), and we poked our heads in to see the ruckus of skaters catching air on the quarter pipe and grinding the rails. I have a feeling skateboarding and punk music will survive the zombie apocalypse, too.
5 p.m.: 10Torr Distilling and Brewing, 490 Mill St.
10Torr is home of the 10-foot doors. You have to really want a drink if you’re going to try to pull those monolithic things open. The cocktail hour crowd was lively, and Nevada Wolf Pack basketball was on the television. I mentioned I was reviewing the spirits and bartender Cass Cervantes switched right into public relations mode as she poured me a Slap’n Basil—essentially a gin gimlet with basil.
“Everything here at 10Torr is in-house-made,” she said. “It’s vacuum distillation—cold distillation. No heat is used to make our liquor. The gin in your drink is juniper-based. The botanicals are beautiful because the heat doesn’t burn it off. It’s not so intimidating for a gin.”
It seemed too busy to ask for a tour back into the industrial-looking production room full of stainless tanks. I drained my drink and watched Caleb Martin drain one more free throw on the TV before moving on.
6 p.m.: Foxy Olive, 220 Mill St.
At the Foxy, I slid into a conversation with a group sitting at the bar talking about old friends who used to drink there. One guy told a story about a patron who volunteered to drink a pitcher of stale foam that collected from the taps over the course of a shift. I asked about the guy who used to give out the Donald Trump stickers that read “pee on me” that appeared in bathroom stalls all over town back in 2016. Best I can tell is sometimes that guy’s in town, and sometimes he isn’t. My beer was $2.
7 p.m.: Brasserie Saint James, 901 S. Center St.
A group of friends picked me up on their way to a celebratory dinner at the Brasserie. We took over the end of a high top table and ordered from the bar menu. I needed food, and I really love the wings there. They come with another side of wing sauce, and there’s something about double dipping that’s twice as satisfying.
I know beer snobs who won’t stop talking about the Red Headed Stranger on tap, but I always drink their Mexi-beer, Santiago, and preferably out of their yellow can with the Mexican sugar skull design. (They don’t serve it in the can at Brasserie.)
8 p.m.: The Gas Lamp, 101 E. Pueblo St.
I had never been to the Gas Lamp, but I knew my old friend Joe Ricker was bartending. He’s the kind of bartender who will lean a little closer while polishing a glass to finish a crude punch line. It was good to see him. It was after the dinner crowd, so we were the only ones at the bar. Joe said they have good happy hour deals. It wasn’t happy hour, so I asked what people normally drink there. He poured me a raspberry lemon drop, and we laughed.
9 p.m.: Brew Brothers, inside Eldorado, 345 N. Virginia St.
Earlier at 10Torr, my friends Kris and Jerry dropped the tip that Larkin Poe was playing at Brew Brothers that night. They’re a roots rock and soul band led by two sisters, Rebecca and Megan Lovell. They sing killer harmonies, and Megan can slay the lap steel. It’s foot stompin’ and head boppin’ with a Southern twang. I don’t remember what I ordered at this point, but I wrote in my reporter’s notebook that my beer was “refreshing.” I think my next one was an ice water.
10 p.m.: Eldorado security, 345 N. Virginia St.
Here’s where my night hit a proverbial pot hole: I was absolutely loving Larkin Poe, and I was psyched they were going to make their way into the story. I figured this would require an accompanying photo. I sidestepped the fan in front of me and leaned over the stage speaker to snap a photo of Megan Lovell’s slide on the strings of her guitar. I was promptly snagged by a security guard and brought out into the blinding lights of the Eldorado where I was informed that I was 86’d from the concert. I showed them my photo and tried to explain my assignment as a nightlife correspondent. They weren’t having it.
“I ain’t drunk—just buzzed!” I protested as security guard Salahddine escorted me down the escalator back to Virginia Street. I later heard back from Lovell about her experience in Reno: “It feels like the folks of Reno are big music lovers and open to supporting some roots American music—we can’t wait to come back,” she said. She said she didn’t mind me taking the photo, nor did she mind security doing their job. That was that. I headed towards midtown.
11 p.m.: The Loving Cup, 188 California Ave.
Feeling dejected, I headed toward the last bar of the night: The Loving Cup. Most of my nights out end at this bar, swirling in a blurry dance party until who knows when. This night, however, I sat glowering in the back booth below the glistening portrait of Elvis Presley. He shed a solemn tear for my misery.
An old sports coach of mine would repeatedly tell me that to play like a champion, one must have a short memory. Clearly his memory was pretty short, given the recurrence of this advice. But, for once, it worked. I saw a throng of people in ’80s costumes and obnoxious wigs boogying in past the bar towards my booth. It was a group of my pals fresh out of Roller Kingdom celebrating a going-away party for our friend. I flashed them the killer photo from Larkin Poe that got me kicked out earlier. They cheered, and that’s all I can remember. But like Mark Twain said, “if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”