Up to the sky
Satellite of Love
The bar scene in Reno was a completely different animal back in 2003. Every bar was smoky as all hell. With a couple of prominent exceptions, live music was rarely heard. Slot machines were on every bar top, and TVs were mounted in every high corner. The barstools seated immobile regulars. There wasn’t much dancing.
When Satellite Lounge opened in October of that year, there was suddenly a bar in Reno that played great music, had no TVs or gambling, and featured dance parties and a wild mix of live music on a regular basis. Some longtime locals might’ve quickly gotten scared and dismissed it as a “hipster spot,” but for other folks, it was exciting to finally have a watering hole that was as sleek, fun and exciting as anything in San Francisco or Chicago.
Satellite was located where The Loving Cup is now, and that bar is hosting Satellite of Love, a Satellite reunion night on Feb. 13.
“It was so different from what bars had been like in Reno before that,” said Noel Judal, who co-owned the bar with Jessica Kleiderman from the day it opened until they sold it in 2006. “All of the bars here had gaming, and there was no younger persons' bar in Reno. It was all old dive bars. Everyone told us that we were crazy, and we’d never make it.”
Satellite was also perhaps the first bar in the area to willfully go nonsmoking indoors.
“I wouldn’t want to say that they were the first bar that was into music and non-gaming, because I’m sure there were others,” said Andrew McCullough, a.k.a. DJ Andrew, who hosted Pop Sounds, a regular DJ night throughout Satellite’s existence. “I feel like Satellite was the first one to really focus on a mixture of interesting music, interesting style, and the social aspects of bars. It wasn’t tailoring to the tourist scene. It was catering to local young people who wanted something different. It seemed like right after that, everything in Reno changed, and cool bar after cool bar started popping up, and there were plenty of choices after that.”
Satellite paved the way for many of the best current bars in the valley. Ryan Gold and Justin Owen, co-owners of a handful of local hot spots, including Lincoln Lounge and Imperial Lounge, were bartenders there. Ryan Goldhammer, who now co-owns Monolith, Noble Pie and Pignic, was the booking agent for Satellite. The quality-oriented atmosphere of bars like Chapel Tavern and Saint James Infirmary would’ve been difficult to imagine in the valley before Satellite, which won “best bar” in our readers’ polls several times a decade ago.
McCullough said that part of what made the bar so special was that it was a place for people who were passionate about music, but didn’t define themselves by narrowly identifying with a single subculture.
“It brought together people who were a little more eclectic, or on the outskirts of normal culture, more into interesting subcultures, but not so into subcultures that they would just go to Goth nights or New Wave nights or just go to metal nights, but people who like all of those things together,” he said. “It was a place where you could mingle with not just one subculture but a bunch of them all together. … It was the only place in town where you could go and hear Sister of Mercy, the Beach Boys and Jurassic 5 all in the same night.”
The reunion event will feature specials on Mojitos, Satellite’s signature cocktail. Judal, Kleiderman and longtime tender Brook Marston will be behind the bar. There will be DJ sets by McCullough and Goldhammer, and live performances by a Runaways cover band called Queens of Noise and energetic headliners The Lovemakers, a Bay area band that played at Satellite regularly back in the day.
“They were the first, like, big band that we had there that everybody just went crazy for,” said Judal. “The Lovemakers shows, for me, just remind me of the best days of Satellite.”