Sure things

Death and Taxes owner Ivan Fontana prepares some specialty garnishes.

Death and Taxes owner Ivan Fontana prepares some specialty garnishes.


As busy working parents, going out on the town isn’t exactly a weekly thing for my wife and me, so when friends asked if we’d like to join them for drinks and dinner, we leapt at the chance and found a babysitter. I suggested going somewhere I could write about, and we all agreed on midtown cocktail bar Death and Taxes. My only previous visit left but one impression—a dark place with fancy drinks.

With “Death” in the name, the ambience rings true. The walls, floors and furniture are all black. The chandeliers are dim. And even with daylight from windows, there’s a dark, gothic atmosphere, which prompted one friend to remark, “I feel like we should be listening to Bauhaus.” I kept looking for Morticia Addams to slink out and serve us. As for “Taxes,” the interior designer opted out of any “CPA chic” elements. Fortunately, despite a small crowd enjoying drinks, we found a comfy bench.

The interior of this historical former duplex has an odd, symmetric layout, with arranged seating areas on either side and an awkward open space in the middle. The bathroom doors confusingly labeled “Office” round out the Winchester Mystery House effect.

Perusing the cocktail list reminded me of how unsavvy I am when it comes to contemporary mixology. Creatively named cocktails with artisanal house ingredients like bay leaf-infused Scotch, dehydrated orange slices and cardamom bitters are the focus here. To an uncultured savage like me, it seems the rule is that every drink must include at least one ingredient I have to Google. Cio ciaro? Luxardo butter? Banana infused zucca amaro? Maybe I’m not hip enough, or I need to get out more. But with double-digit prices on every cocktail, I couldn’t afford to try everything out of curiosity, so on-the-spot research was in order.

The many exotic concoctions left me crippled by indecision, so I asked the bartender for a recommendation. When I told him I like Scotch, he opted to create something off-menu. I eagerly awaited the results, enjoying the secret handshake feeling of something others aren’t privy to. In hindsight, I should have told him I don’t care for Islay Scotch. The peaty, medicinal scent of the “Scottish Shipwreck” was offensive to all who smelled it initially. After a few sips, though, I got past the acrid smokiness and warmed to the intoxicating blend of flavors, which I learned included barrel-aged balsamic vinegar and cassis.

I was tempted by the short, well-curated draft beer list for our second round. With only four taps, selecting just the right beers must be anguishing, but if the current selections are any indication, they have mastered it. There’s something for everyone in just those four—a hoppy IPA, a local imperial stout, a strong Belgian blonde and a simple pilsner. Still, I was seduced by the cocktails again, opting for a juniper and citrus gin and tonic. It sounded fancy and delicious, but to my lowbrow palate, it tasted like gin and tonic. The sprig of fresh mint and orange peel were a nice addition, though.

A sharp bartender and swanky cocktails provided for a great start to our evening. Feeling a little more hip, we left the Bela Lugosi vibe of Death and Taxes behind and set out into the cold Reno night.