To the letter

Owner KJ Flippen pours a house specialty “Spiced Mule” at Z Bar.

Owner KJ Flippen pours a house specialty “Spiced Mule” at Z Bar.


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The last time I went to the bar formerly known as the Zephyr, midtown wasn’t a thing, craft beer was virtually unknown, and the bar itself was dirty, sticky, loud and smelly. In other words, your basic rock ’n’ roll dive bar. I knew it had since been renovated, renamed the Z Bar and classed up a bit—now with a reputation for cocktails and whiskey rather than cheap beer and filthy restrooms.

The kids were staying with friends, giving my wife and me a midweek date night. I decided to head down early to have a drink before meeting her for Thai food, and Z Bar was a good nearby option.

It didn’t occur to me that immediately after New Year’s Eve, bars might suffer a brief dip in patronage as people swore off alcohol or tried to “new me” themselves into sobriety temporarily. Walking into Z Bar, though, I found not a soul but one lone bartender squeezing lemons. This was certainly not the old Zephyr, although its old neon sign makes a very cool wall decoration. Another wall featured embedded beer bottles as art. I liked this place already.

When I visit bars solo for the purposes of this column, my introverted self tends to keep conversation to a minimum—taking notes on my phone, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying my beverage in solitude. I sometimes go at off hours because of my schedule (and so the chaos of a busy bar doesn’t detract from my experience). Still, I’ve never, ever been the one and only person in the bar for the entirety of my visit. I could have given signs that I wanted to be left alone, but for whatever reason, I was feeling gregarious and ended up having one of the most enjoyable times.

I sized up my drink options first. A chalkboard laid out some seasonal and weekly specials, a nice range of choices from unique craft cocktails to basic shot-and-beer combos. A screen above the bar rotated through slides listing my draft beer options. I could barely process one list before the screen changed, and the bartender added to my difficulty by reading off ones that were unavailable thanks to the glut of New Year’s drinkers. Nothing stood out as a must-drink—a decent selection of craft beer but nothing I was really excited by. I wasn’t sure I even wanted beer at all. I didn’t really want anything fancy and complicated either. I briefly pondered what simple, refreshing cocktails I might have. A greyhound perhaps? No, wait, what’s in a Moscow Mule again? My bartender rattled off the ingredients, and it sounded just right. I love ginger and lime.

The drink ended up a bit limier and less gingery than I would have liked, but I’m no connoisseur—I just like what I like. Still, it fit the bill for refreshing and tasty, and that’s what mattered. No copper mug needed.

Over the next half hour, I enjoyed my drink and a simply wonderful conversation with my bartender Niki. A cynic might suspect a friendly bartender looking for tips on a slow night, but I feel like I can tell when someone’s friendliness is genuine. We chatted about Reno, other cities, the desert, bartending and growing up. In the grand scheme of conversations, nothing that will change the world, just good, honest, friendly conversation between two people sharing the same space for a while.

For cocktails with friends, the fire pit on the back patio or in the cozy loft inside Z Bar would be a good choice next time.