What’s The Point?

One of the best, and strangest, music venues in town is a karaoke bar

The Point regular Greg rides “Mustang Sally.”

The Point regular Greg rides “Mustang Sally.”

Photo/Eric Marks

There are more live music options in Reno than ever before. From electronic dance music clubs that bump and grind deep into the night to coffee shop open mics where singer-songwriters wear their hearts on their sleeves, from cavernous concert halls to dingy punk rock basements, there are venues for every mood, every genre and every taste.

But one of the best, and strangest, music venues in town isn’t a place where you’ll see big-name touring bands or the hottest DJs, or the coolest underground groups or the most innovative world music ensembles. It’s a karaoke bar.

Karaoke bars get a bad rap. The word “karaoke” might conjure up images of drunken birthday girls trying to rekindle their youth by channeling their inner Britney or an equally drunken yuppie dude about to make a sloppy wedding proposal during the instrumental break of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” And sure, those embarrassing moments are part of karaoke. But they’re also part of what can make karaoke fun, and they’re an honest expression of stupid, terrible human emotions. And isn’t part of the point of any art, especially music, to express some human emotion?

In Reno, many of the karaoke bars are former casino showroom venues converted to a cheaper form of entertainment that doesn’t require paying professional musicians union wages—but instead allows for drunken people to simply entertain themselves.

But The Point is something else. It’s a surreal, cinematic bar that seems out of time—like it’s from an idealized past that never really existed. There are framed pictures of midcentury icons like Patsy Cline, the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, and signed pictures of musicians, like Johnny Cash and Tower of Power. The bar itself is long and sleek. The stage is small and low to the ground, just a slight elevation large enough for only two or three singers at most. But the lighting is bright and sophisticated, often projecting the words “The Point” and “Reno, Nevada” up on the gold curtain background. And the sound system is crisp and clear.

The Point hosts karaoke nights Thursday through Sunday. Thursday and Sunday nights are slower, abbreviated events—often just rehearsal nights. But Friday and Saturday nights can be huge, with the bar packed to the gills with revelers of all ages and backgrounds. Scruffy 20-something hipsters rubbing elbows with affluent retirees, and everybody taking turns on the stage. The karaoke events usually start around 8:30 and can go til 2 or 3 or later. The crowd is a genuine melting pot of ages, races and ethnic backgrounds—and the musical genres represented are just as diverse: country, Rat Pack-era standards, classic ’70s R&B, ’80s pop and New Wave, hip-hop, classic rock and even opera.

The range of talent is also eclectic: from meek drunk dudes mumbling the lyrics of their favorite metal tunes and angry women belting out Alanis Morissette songs in the general direction of their ex-boyfriends to polished vocalists nailing three-point harmony on Motown hits. Some of the singers are astounding—a why-aren’t-they-famous? moment seems to occur every third or fourth song—often coming from vocalists who seem otherwise unassuming.

One of those impressive vocalists is Paul Jones, a lifelong musician who plays drums in country bands and has performed as a Los Angeles session musician and vocalist. He wears bulky vintage glasses and dresses impeccably in tailored suits. As a vocalist, he specializes in country and old standards. He’s also the owner of The Point.

Originally from Santa Cruz, California, he’s been working in the nightlife industry since he turned 21 in 1986.

“I worked in a lot of bars where the owners were old-school, which I absolutely love,” he said recently. “These guys were 70 years old in 1986. And to be able to work with these guys who had been in the business for so long—I’m really old-school myself, so dealing with a lot of these old-school guys—it just felt like home to me.”

Patrons of The Point are inspired to sing.

Photo/Eric Marks

Meeting Jones and his wife, Gina, it becomes clear why The Point seems like such a singular bar. It’s a ma-and-pop operation that reflects their personalities. They’re always there. Gina works behind the bar.

According to Jones, there are two things that distinguish The Point from other karaoke establishments: the first is the top-of-line $30,000 soundsystem developed and set up by a professional musician with golden ears. (Ask Jones to sing a note, F#, maybe, and he’ll hit it.) But the second, and perhaps more important, thing is what Jones calls “the vibe” of the place.

“One of the things that I’ve worked really, really hard into bringing in here is the old-school, retro, upscale feel,” he said. “People just feel comfortable. There’s no problems here. All that’s down to a minimum. We have a two-drink minimum when we have entertainment. We let people know that they can’t just sit here and park and sing.”

And that feeling is partially inspired by the casino showrooms of yesteryear. “I remember in the mid ’80s turning 21 and going to a show in Vegas when it was still kind of old-school,” said Jones. “That was when it was still on the cusp of old-school people showing up, dressing up to see a show.”

The old-school throwback atmosphere is part of The Point. And though the atmosphere is deliberately anachronistic, it’s not pure kitsch. It’s heartfelt and sincere.

“It’s the best bar in Reno because it’s so authentic,” said Pete Barnato, the lead singer of Moondog Matinee, one of Reno’s hippest bands. “It’s authentically pulpy. It has a cool 1970s or 1980s Reno lounge feel to it that only David Lynch could recreate in one of his films.”

Sing city

“We’ve been coming to Reno ever since we first met,” said Gina. “We’ve known each other 17 years.”

The couple used to come up to Reno from Santa Cruz a few times a year and stay at establishments like Fitzgerald’s. They got married at Reno’s now closed Silver Bells Wedding Chapel in 2005.

Jones had been operating a mobile karaoke unit at several bars in Santa Cruz, but he wanted to start a standalone establishment. The couple loved Reno and knew they wanted to get away from California where the liquor laws are more prohibitive. The Point opened in March 2009, at an out-of-the-way location on West Fourth Street that had previously been a gay bar called Reflections and is now part of the Urban Roots farm. The business moved to its current location on Virginia Street in what was formerly El Borracho Restaurant in March 2014.

The name of the bar came from a discarded sign that Jones found and put above the small bar in his apartment—like some kind of dream board.

“This is kind of like our karaoke home,” said Gina. “We’ve really poured our hearts into it.”

“A lot of the good singers migrate here because the sound is so good,” said Paul Jones, owner of The Point.

Photo/Eric Marks

“It’s like what Dean Martin once said—’How’d everyone get in my living room?’” said Jones. “It’s true. That’s how we feel here.”

The karaoke host and MC at The Point is a man who goes by the mononym Haas. He’s an old friend of the Joneses and a professional musician who has worked as an impersonator—as Prince, Smokey Robinson, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations. He and Jones often go to elderly care homes and perform old songs. He’s able to manage a wall-to-wall packed house or energize a small crowd on an off night.

“I love music and I do care about how each person sounds,” said Haas. “Each person who’s up there is like me—that’s me. It’s a do-unto-others type deal. I don’t hear a bad singer. All I see is the energy for what they feel for that song. This is how I look at it: each person that’s up there—they’re the star. And I want them to put out their best, so they feel good, I feel good, the whole room feels good, and that’s the whole vibe, that’s the whole energy.”

A key part of his ethos is treating all singers respectfully and equally—be they experienced professionals or sloppy amateurs. “The feeling that a person feels about a song, like you and I both, the feeling can be the same,” he said. “You may be able to deliver it better than me as far as on key, but my love for that song—I can deliver that same feeling.”

The biggest strength of the bar is its eclectic crowd—its diversity of ages, races and backgrounds. “And they all party together—without even a conflict,” said Haas. “Music can put us all together. I met all of the best people I’ve ever met in my life because of music. It breaks all the lines—race, age, religion—it can break all the lines.”

“The crowd is very supportive,” said Jones. “Because of not only the intimate setting, but the environment and the theme of what we have, the crowd is really into the people who are singing here. Sometimes you go to a show and you don’t really get that response. … A lot of the good singers migrate here because the sound is so good.”

One of those singers is Lee Davis, 58, a former Los Angeles Police Department cop, originally from Compton. He wowed the audience earlier this fall with his performance of “All Night Long” at the Reno Instagrammys award ceremony at the Pioneer Center.

Davis moved to Reno in 2010 to help raise his grandkids, and he only started going to The Point earlier this year.

“I like it because it has a family atmosphere and there are some good singers that come in,” he said. “Most of the people who come in are very friendly. Paul and Gina are very easy people to like. And then Haas—I can’t say enough about him. … I gravitate toward positive people and I’ve seen a lot of positive people in there.”

And although he has a great voice and boatloads of stage charisma, Davis has never been a professional singer. He has formed a band, Flash of Gold, with Jones and other regulars from The Point. “It’s just an R&B, country, classic rock, classic pop band,” said Jones.

“The staff there make it real personable at The Point, and that’s why I go,” he said. “I can go there and I feel like, hey, I’m going to give the people a show tonight. I’m going to do something. That’s what we go there to do—make people smile and say, hey, I want to come back.”

Another impressive singer who performs regularly at The Point is Cesar Alvanez, a web developer by day who’s lived in Reno since 1990. He’s able to perform well on his own or in tandem with other vocalists. He, Haas and a rocker known as “AC/DC Joe” do a version of the Temptations’ “Papa was a Rolling Stone” that could win contests.

Alvanez has performed at many of the karaoke places around town, but he agrees that The Point has qualities that distinguish it. A lot of it, he said, is attributed to the “high concentration of singers” who hang out there and the fact that owner himself is a “music man.”

“This place has the best sound, and the atmosphere and the crowd—it’s just where it’s at” he said. “I’ve been to other places and people don’t care or they’re not paying attention. Here, you’re up there for your three to five minutes, and people are into it. It’s just a great atmosphere. That’s a singer joint. It’s a singers’ joint—that’s what it is.”