The four corners
Bars on the outskirts of town
Mention Reno’s bar scene, and you’ll likely envision bars within the McCarran Loop, or the even smaller circumference of downtown. The Chapels, the Lincoln Lounges, the St. Jameses, the Silver Peaks—fine establishments all.
But what goes on outside the comfort zone? What about the places that are considered Reno-Sparks on the map, yet seem like different cities altogether?
We asked four fearless writers to explore the bars on the outskirts of town—the nether regions of Reno-Sparks. We asked them to make like a compass and each seek out one of four directions: east, west, north, south. And, in the name of sound and accurate reporting, we asked them to drink heartily.
I own a centrally located house, work in a centrally located office, and prefer to patronize centrally located local businesses. I’m on this centrally located high horse because I believe that vast migrations to the outskirts of towns lead to the rotting of cities from the inside out and cause us to become ever more car-dependent. That’s a simplistic perspective that doesn’t account for significant and justifiable factors causing urban sprawl. Nonetheless, I choose to remain smugly elitist on this point and wallow in my own self-righteous resentment at having to go long distances to buy goods and services.
When given the opportunity to explore bars in the outskirts, I chose Verdi because it has its own distinct identity as opposed to being a mere byproduct of Reno’s oozing, seeping growth. Also, I’m pretty sure it only has about two bars, eliminating any pesky decision-making.
First stop: The Sasquatch Tavern and Grill (775 U.S. Highway 40, 675-9207). Themed after everyone’s favorite elusive, bipedal ape-man, the Sasquatch’s décor does not disappoint. The place has a cozy ski lodge vibe and features a statue of its namesake above a large stone fireplace. Seating is half intimate booths and half sports bar, complete with video poker and flat screens.
I picked an advantageous spot near the most charming interior design element: three vintage movie posters for Sasquatch-based films, chief among them the 1970 fright-fest Bigfoot. If you’re wondering why you should be scared, the movie’s tagline ominously clarifies: “Breeds with anything …” A scant few miles out of town and I had entered the dangerous wilderness, risking the unwanted sexual advances of a giant hominid. Only a tasty veggie quesadilla and a locally brewed Icky Pale Ale gave me the courage to forge ahead. In all seriousness, along with decent food and friendly atmosphere, the Sasquatch’s primary appeal is that it truly does make you feel like you’re getting out of town.
The Sasquatch’s other notable feature is being stumbling distance from Verdi’s other watering hole, Bar-M-Bar (816 U.S. Highway 40, 345-0806). My internet reconnaissance turned up two reviews. One was a one-star review, eloquently citing “crazy place weird people @ night!!!!!” The other was a five-star review featuring similar reasoning.
I was greeted at the door by a large, bounding golden retriever looking to make friends. Though scarcely populated by human patrons, the bar had no shortage of canine occupants. They appeared to be the companions of the only other group of customers besides my friends and me. My Verdi liaison, Jeremy, had explained that Saturday night would be quiet at Bar-M-Bar, though it’s usually packed on weeknights. Also, it’s supposedly busy each morning, the destination of ambitious go-getters looking to get their drinking accomplished early.
Bar-M-Bar is like a friend’s basement, if your friend fancies second-hand furniture, ’80s-era casino carpet remnants, and chain-smoking without ventilation. Still, the prices are great, and the service is prompt and welcoming. The locals and their dogs are very friendly, too, though their generosity does not reach the pool table, where they will unmercifully rip you apart. (The locals, not their dogs.)
If you venture to the wilds of Verdi, check out these colorful spots, but be sure to designate a driver. Elitism be damned: You don’t want to be on foot when Sasquatch gets to feeling romantic.
I’ve always hated Spanish Springs. It’s the one part of the Reno-Sparks area I’ve got no love for. It just strikes me as the worst sort of suburban sprawl: Bedroom community neighborhoods, big box corporate stores and characterless strip malls. You have to drive to get anywhere, and then where you get isn’t usually worth getting to. Would a drinking expedition change my mind? (Spoiler alert: Not really.)
My wife, Sara, and I headed east past deepest Sparks on a recent Wednesday evening. My usual practice for bar-hopping stories is to bring along a big gang of my wittiest friends in the hopes that they’ll say funny things for me to quote in my article, but this time, it was just me and Sara. We wanted to spend an evening on our own, going some place exotic, where we wouldn’t bump into a bunch of people we know. I was really hoping to unearth some hidden gems of culture, and maybe find a few drinking spots that would trick me into believing we were really on vacation.
Our plan was to start far out to the northeast and then work back to our home near downtown Reno. Sara was the designated driver, but I had to work the next day, so I wasn’t drinking up my usual storm, either. We started at The Lake Bar & Grill (9716 Pyramid Lake Highway, Sparks, 424-5253), one of the very few real neighborhood bars in Spanish Springs. It’s an all-American joint: A big rectangular bar in the middle of the place, booth seating on one side, high-top tables on the other; sports memorabilia on the walls, including mounted game heads; large high-def TVs mostly tuned to sports; classic rock on the radio; a bunch of beers on tap; and a big ol’ food menu.
We had dinner here, starting off with the Spanish Springs Wings. They were bangin’. Each wing had nearly as much meat on it as you get off of a whole chicken at some lesser establishments. We sat there plowing into the wings, licking our fingers, and watching spring training baseball. I felt like an American patriot. Most of the rest of the folks in the moderately crowded bar seemed to know each other. There were a lot of hellos shouted across the place. Each man looked like he owned at least two fishing poles and one rifle.
After eating, we got in the car and started driving around Spanish Springs, eyes peeled for drinking spots. We drove around for 45 minutes or so without finding anywhere worth stopping. The only bars seemed to be sports bar chains. We ended up back in Sparks proper and went to Anchors Bar & Grill (325 Harbour Cove, Sparks, 356-6888).
OK, I know the Sparks Marina has been there for a few years and everybody sort of takes it for granted now, but it’s a surreal thing. There you are minding your business in Sparks, Nev., a quaint little desert town, and then bam! all of a sudden there’s a little lake with yachts and everything. Anchors is on the second floor of the Harbor Cove building, with a nice view. Looking out at the choppy waters of the marina in the middle of a rainstorm, I actually had a moment of “We’re not in Nevada anymore, Toto.”
The out-of-town feeling was compounded by the vibe of the bar, which Sara described as, “It’s like we’re in a hotel lobby, waiting for dinner reservations.” Anchors could be a fun bar for a busy summer afternoon, watching the sunset and enjoying the marina, but it didn’t really gel with the dark and stormy night. The place was also nearly empty, with just the bartender and one dude at the bar.
Then, closer to downtown Sparks, we hit up Copenhagen Bar (2140 Prater Way, Sparks, 358-5672). Now, this is a hidden gem. It’s got an old Nevada vibe. It reminded me of the taverns and saloons you find in smaller Nevada towns. Drinks are cheap, and the selection is limited. (I wanted a Sierra Nevada, and the closest thing they had was a Sam Adams pale ale.) There are antique bottles and cans behind the bar, empty wine casks hanging from the ceiling, saddles mounted on one wall above slot machines, a fireplace, and other little touches of old-school flavor. Of course, a big part of that flavor is a lot of cigarette smoke, so be forewarned if that bothers you. The one incongruous element was the Top 40 radio station. It was a little weird hearing Britney Spears and The Black Eyed Peas in a place like that.
When we visited, there was a crowd gathered around the bar’s sole pool table for a nine-ball tournament. The bartender was playing in the tournament herself, but she took time out to take our order and was very friendly and welcoming.
“It’s a nice, little family-owned bar,” she said, “a good place to lay low and have a good time.”
And that right there is the difference between Sparks and Spanish Springs.
I would probably never drive out to the North Valleys just to have a drink since I live in downtown Reno. But I love visiting locals bars in small towns, and Lemmon Valley and Stead provided the perfect opportunity to do just that.
I rallied some friends to come along. (Me: “Want to go have a drink in Stead?” Friend: “Instead of what?”) We left Reno at about 9:30 on a Tuesday night. I figured a non-weekend might give an authentic idea of what a normal night at the bars in the North Valleys was like.
Our first stop was going to be Lemmon Lounge (9105 Lemmon Drive, 677-1662), but I passed by it accidentally because the dirt parking area in front didn’t look like something to drive on. I ended up pulling into The Wayside (9015 Lemmon Drive, 972-1144), right next to Lemmon Lounge across a dirt lot. We decided to make The Wayside our first stop since we were already there.
When we walked in the bar, no music was playing, and every person in the place—about eight or so—turned and stared at us. You could tell they were wondering what we were doing there, but not in an unfriendly way. One of the patrons broke the silence by saying, “Oh, she was just trying to close,” referencing the bartender. “Looks like she’s going to have to stay open.” Then everyone laughed, and suddenly the music kicked in. We sat down at the bar, and the man who had spoken introduced himself as Chris. “I was just joking, she wasn’t trying to close,” he said, then offered to buy us all a beer and told us stories for a while.
The clientele was a friendly, somewhat older, working-class crowd. A lot of them came to play pool, which was free of charge, and Jägermeister seemed to be the drink of choice.
“You are in a very interesting place,” offered another patron. “All kinds of people come in here—derelicts, drug addicts, state troopers, politicians, veterans.”
My friend spotted a picture of a big, orange cat sitting at the bar and asked about it.
“That’s Cougar,” explained the bartender. She told us he would sit at the bar and people would buy him Crown Royal on the rocks. Apparently he was a grouchy guy and would push patrons aside to get a seat at the bar. Sadly, he was run over by a car and is now buried out back.
“He was a helluva cat,” chimed in Chris.
I wasn’t ready to leave, but it was time to head to our next destination. We walked across the dirt lot to the Lemmon Lounge. The place was somewhat lively when we entered, and the crowd there was a bit younger than at The Wayside. There was an electronic dartboard in the corner and two pool tables.
This bar was brightly lit and didn’t have quite the character of our first stop. However, the bartender was friendly and offered us free Jell-O shots. When we ordered our drinks, she gave us a stamp card. Every drink you buy gets a stamp, and after five drinks, you get one free. They also are extending their bar menu, and the kitchen is open until they close. If you’re like me, around 11:30 at night after a drink or two, deep-fried food is really appealing, so I ordered onion rings and poppers.
Our next and final stop was The Hangar Bar (10603 Stead Blvd., 677-7088). Chris, from The Wayside, had recommended The Hangar and told us if Mary was working to tell her that he sent us. Mary was working. She has bartended at The Hangar for 16 years and knows most of the locals.
The Hangar is spacious, with two pool tables and plenty of video poker. We were immediately approached by one of the patrons who spotted us as non-locals and wanted to know what we were doing there.
He introduced himself as Dillon. “It’s just the Hangar. It’s simple. It’s a simple bar.”
There were quite a few people hanging out, but it was mellow and nice for just having conversation. Around 12:30, a rowdier crowd started gathering. It was mostly people who had already been drinking and were heading to the Hangar because it’s open 24 hours. The atmosphere became livelier but, because people had been drinking, we were starting to be bombarded by curious locals. Since we had a drive ahead of us, we took that as our cue to leave.
I haven’t been out to a bar for nearly two years. I’ve barely had a drink in that time. And, no, I’m not a poorly recovering alcoholic. I’m a new mom. Pregnant 10 months, nursed 10 months. But last weekend, with baby safely sleeping at the babysitter’s, it was time for a drink.
I was a little nervous about drinking, given that my tolerance is about as low as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. I recall not enjoying spins or hangovers. So food along with the first beer sounded like a smart plan.
I prefer independent, locally owned places. Frankly, that’s hard, but not impossible, to find in South Reno. The neighborhood— the South Meadows and Damonte Ranch area—is relatively new, with most houses built in the 1990s and 2000s, so the existing bars built to accommodate them tend to be chains. Try to find one that also serves food, and the search is that much harder. So my designated driver/husband and I settled on Lamppost Pizza (1141 Steamboat Parkway, 853-7887). There are several of them in California, but this is the only one in Nevada. As we entered, a mom was serving up bundt cake to kids at a birthday party in the main room. The bar is in a separate room, where you can have a drink, eat some pizza, and watch the game on flatscreen TVs.
“What can I get you to drink?” the bartender asked. First beer of the night. We could have a long way to go. Maybe start light. But I don’t like light beer.
“You’re making too much of this,” my husband said of my alcohol anxiety. He’s right. I chose what sounded tasty, an Icky Pale Ale. We ordered a barbecue chicken pizza to go with it, and I hoped it’d be enough to soak up whatever would be coming after it. After just half a pint of Ichy, I was already feeling a buzz.
At 8 p.m., we crossed the parking lot to Vino 100 (1131 Steamboat Parkway, 851-8466), where we were meeting a group of friends. The name refers to the wine bar/shop’s commitment to offer 100 types of wine for $25 or less. Turns out they’re more shop than bar and close at 8 p.m., so we were the jerks who come in just after closing time and expect to get served. Other customers were still lounging over their glasses when we entered, so the server was kind enough to oblige. A friend ordered a bottle of Gazela, a white wine from Portugal, which we shared. There were also flights of six wines for $15 I considered, but stuck with the Gazela. Bottles lined the walls, as did local artwork. IKEA-style furniture accommodated us as I grilled Jeremy—the lone member of our group who lived in South suburban Reno—about where the natives drink.
“The Flowing Tide,” he answered. “Because you can get really drunk and then order some food.” (So that answered one of my questions about where to eat and drink in South Reno.) Another girl at our table mentioned the wine bar L’uva Bella at the Summit mall, where there’s also a Chocolate Bar 2, and BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, a national chain.
I already had my sights set on an insignificant-looking little brick box of a building next to Tamarack Junction: The Hawk’s Nest (1275 S. Virginia St., 853-2197). I was expecting it to be unlike anywhere else we’d go tonight—and a far stretch from a family-friendly pizza parlor or suburban wine bar. It looks lived in, slightly intimidating, and definitely local. Our group headed over, walked through the snow across its dirt parking lot and tried the door. It jangled with the familiar sound of a lock and didn’t budge. A woman, the bartender, was drinking alone. She looked up, straightened her fingers and moved her hand across her neck in a “no dice” motion. Denied!
So where to go in South Reno that’s not a chain, mall or casino? Smarter phones than mine whipped out in the parking lot. Screens lit up. Buttons were pressed. Hmmm, this is harder than it looks.
“What’s the State Bar of Nevada?”
“That’s where you go to become a lawyer.”
“Oh. Too bad. Cool bar name.”
We finally decided on the Sierra Gold (680 S. Meadows Parkway, 850-1112). There’s another one in Vegas, but at least it bills itself as “a Nevada-style tavern.” Jeremy approved.
Sierra Gold is large and warm. It’s decorated in golden hues and handsome wooden features. A big wraparound bar is the central focus, with side spots of tables. Large framed photos of old Nevada hang on the walls. There’s a full menu, though their “warm pretzel bites” appetizer was most popular at my table—soft doughy nuggets we dipped in melted cheese or honey mustard sauce. And, oh yeah, the drinks. I was no longer the slightest bit tipsy—should’ve chosen a stronger wine at Vino100—so it was time for something with a little bite. My husband voted for shots, but I went with a Gold Mojito, served with fresh mint and an added twist of fresh orange. Not bad at all. I’d have had another but we had a babysitter to meet, and there was still one bar to go.
“The Tange.” Jeremy said that’s what the locals call it. Our friend Afton giggled everytime he said it. Technically, it’s the Black Tangerine (9825 S. Virginia St., 853-5003), and it’s no chain. It’s pushed back from the road, but a blinking white light guided us in for our final stop. It calls itself a rock bar, and that’s a fair description. Here’s a more detailed one: Smokey. Zebra prints stretched around canvas hang from the wall. There was no one under 30 in the room. A local band, Strangeworld, played Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” as we entered, having paid our $5 cover to the friendly woman who ushered us in from the cold. I got another Icky and found a bit of breathing space by the shuffleboard and pool table. By the door, a woman ran her hands over a guy’s ass. By the bar, a man hit on a woman. She seemed to like him, and yet it mostly made me feel glad not to have to be dating anymore. She started dancing as the band conjured up a ’90s-era grunge song with a driving beat and stiff power chords.
This place could be anywhere, is anywhere. It’s nothing special, really, except for what a rare find it is in South Reno. There was something refreshing about its zebra skin, its bartender with thigh-high black boots, its palpable lust. I think that something was Reno.