Reno welcomes adventurous gays
by Ed Walsh
I was soaked to the skin paddling down the Truckee River in a rubber raft with six other people. It felt a lot like a wild and very wet ride at Disneyland – until we hit a rock. We all lurched suddenly and I thought for sure we would overturn, but quick maneuvers by my fellow boaters helped keep us above water.
After nearly winding up in the drink, I looked straight ahead searching for signs of civilization. Then I saw it – the Harrah's Hotel tower in downtown Reno.
My rough water near-disaster was part of a charity raft race during the annual Reno River Festival. It is an image that Reno tourism promoters want you to think of instead of the stereotype of Reno as a place where chain-smoking retirees go to squander their Social Security checks.
And when it comes to the gay scene in Reno, the homophobic macho stereotype doesn't match reality either, at least not now.
"Four years ago you wouldn't be able to hold your partner's hand in public without someone giving you a lot of crap about it," said Jenny Oxier, a lesbian who co-owns the hair salon, A Salon 7, a place that has become Reno's unofficial gay drop-in center. "But now it seems like people are beginning to not care or the shock value is gone."
And with more than a half-dozen gay bars and nightclubs, there's more than enough to keep anyone entertained at night following a day out enjoying one of the Reno area's many adventures. Unlike its big city western neighbor, San Francisco, and its younger southern upstart sister, Las Vegas, the bar scene in Reno is much more male and female mixed and there is much more of a sense of connectedness than you will find in a big city.
Reno has a population of about 200,000, with about 400,000 people if you include the surrounding Truckee Meadows metropolitan area. The small town feel of "The Biggest Little City in the World" as the famous Reno arch proclaims, is reflected in the cohesiveness of the city's gay community.
"Everyone in the gay community in Reno is connected," affirmed Molly Demers, a gay Reno resident and Las Vegas transplant.
Reno was first put on the map by the gold and silver mining industry in the mid-1800s. With the legal brothels, gambling, and quickie divorces, Reno quickly earned the nickname "Sin City," long before Las Vegas took that title away a century later.
Reno's tourist board has adopted the slogan "America's Adventure Place" to highlight what sets the city apart from its younger but much bigger southern sister, Las Vegas. And the tourism boosters actively promote blending of the names Reno-Tahoe to draw attention to the region's biggest attraction, Lake Tahoe, just a 45-minute drive away.
Sure, Reno is a place to gamble, but the city's strongest suit is that it is able to offer all things to all people who prefer the outdoors. In the winter, skiing can be found on Mount Rose, just a half-hour drive from downtown. The Reno area also boasts about 30 golf courses and the Black Rock Desert is about two hours from downtown. By the way, the desert is home to one of the Reno area's biggest draws, Burning Man. The weeklong festival is held during the last week of August. Lots of burners spend a day or two in Reno on the way to or from Burning Man.
You don't have to go far and you don't even have to leave downtown to experience an outdoor adventure. In 2004, the city opened a $1.5 million whitewater park at Wingfield Park, an island in the middle of the Truckee River in the heart of downtown. Named the Truckee River Whitewater Park, it is one of the crown jewels of the city's new Truckee River Arts District.
Fifteen years ago, an ugly concrete wall surrounded the area around the river and was a place avoided by locals and tourists alike. The opposite is true now. The area around the river has been transformed into a beautiful promenade complete with fountains and sculptures. More and more people are moving back to downtown and undoubtedly higher gas prices will only help fuel that renaissance.
A big part of the arts district's revitalization is the art scene that is being nurtured by the city. Sculptures and murals dot the district. They even found a way to make a sculpture out of a bike rack by making the rack look like a giant fish. You lock your bike on the fish s bones. The arts have a whole month in Reno. That month is now – July – and "Artown" celebrates with a series of events to highlight what the district has to offer.
No visit to the art district would be complete without a visit to La Bussola. It is a combination art gallery and quirky gift shop where you can find everything from its best seller, a cake cutter in the shape of a high heel shoe, to retro furniture. It's owned by Merideth Tanzer, a transplanted San Franciscan. Tanzer is a lesbian and her gay sensibilities start as soon as you walk in with the rainbow flag proudly displayed at the door. The shop also has one of the best views of the river, just overlooking Whitewater Park.
But art in Reno is not limited to the arts district. The Nevada Museum of Art is just south of downtown at 160 West Liberty Street. It moved into a beautiful new building in 2003. The museum was founded in 1931 and is the oldest cultural institution in Nevada. Despite its age, its collection of modern and contemporary art would rival any big city museum. Its permanent collection spans from the 19th century to the present day. The rooftop will give you a great view of the mountains surrounding Reno and the museum often showcases large pieces of sculpture there.
Reno's 12th annual gay pride festival will take place Saturday, August 16, in the center of the Riverwalk District in Wingfield Park. The Pride Parade gets under way at 11 a.m. in front of the Sands Regency at Fourth and Arlington streets and ends up at Wingfield Park. The following Saturday, August 23, the third annual Reno AIDS Walk steps off from another great Reno river park, Idlewild.
By the way, for the latest on all things gay in Reno, be sure to pick up a copy of the area's excellent monthly gay magazine, RenoOut , or log onto www.renooutmag.com. And if you are in town on a Sunday night, beginning August 17, you can check out the magazine's radio show on KJFK, AM 1230, from 7 to 8 p.m.
Reno's river centerpiece, like the city itself, is a bit unusual. Unlike most rivers, the Truckee is landlocked. It never gets to the ocean or bay but it flows from one lake to another. While everyone has heard of the starting point for the river, Lake Tahoe, few have heard of or know much about Pyramid Lake, where all that water from the Truckee River ends up.
Pyramid Lake is about a half-hour drive from Reno. The lake covers more area than Lake Tahoe but Lake Tahoe holds more water because it is much deeper. Although they share the same river, the lakes couldn
The Five Star Saloon in the downtown arts district at 132 West Street is open 24 hours and is a longtime Reno gay favorite. The bar never charges a cover and features pool and entertainment. It is gay and lesbian mixed. During the third Saturday afternoon each month, the Five Star is one of the participating merchants in the Wine Walk. For a $20 fee you can stroll around the Truckee sampling wines at one of more than 20 participating businesses.
The Patio bar at 600 West Fifth Street features pool, darts, karaoke, and it is aptly named since it has a deck and backyard. It is Reno's most sports-oriented gay bar. The Patio is also gay and lesbian mixed.
Reflections at 3001 West 4th Street is west of downtown. The club is popular with women and features entertainment, dancing, and pool. It has a beautiful outdoor patio for those warm summer nights.
The Ten99 Club, appropriately located at 1099 South Virginia Street, is best known for its drag shows. The club is home to the " Official Imperial Palace to the Silver Dollar Court of Reno."
Tronix at 303 Kietzke Lane is east of downtown a few blocks from Highway 395. It is a popular video dance club.
Neutron is on the same block as Tronix at 340 Kietzke Lane. It includes dancing with a DJ on weekends, pool, and a patio.
Carl's is a Levi/leather/cowboy men's bar at 3310 South Virginia between the Atlantis and Peppermill casinos. It includes a patio, large dance floor, and barbecues in the summer.
Reno has one bathhouse, Steve's, at 1030 West Second Street. It is in an area southwest of downtown.
There's much more to eating out in Reno than cheap casino buffets. If you are into fine dining, there are plenty of options.
The upscale French restaurant, Beaujolais Bistro, is next door to the Five Star Saloon at 130 West Street. A four-course prix fixe dinner special costs $59. I dined there recently and found the food excellent but the service was very slow.
The Wild River Grille at 17 South Virginia Street on the RiverWalk is a great example of the Truckee River's renaissance. The modern restaurant and bar features a patio overlooking the river. The restaurant is famous for its crab cakes, coconut shrimp, and its salmon and veggie wraps. A dinner entree will run you about $20.
If you want to eat in style, you would be hard-pressed to do better than the MonteVigna Wine Room in the Atlantis Resort Casino at 3800 South Virginia Street. The Italian restaurant is a wine lover's delight with a 4,000-bottle wine cellar. Entrees run $20-$30.
The Sezmu Restaurant at 670 Mount Rose Street is one of the newest fine dining restaurants in Reno. It is southwest of Reno's downtown. Reservations are a good idea. The restaurant only has space for 30 diners, plus seven at the bar. The restaurant specializes in new American fare and it supports ranchers and farmers who practice ecologically sound and organic agriculture. An entree averages around $25.
Reno boasts a wealth of gay-friendly hotels. The San Francisco-based gay marketing firm, Community Marketing, gives its gay-friendly "TAG" approval to six hotels, the Grand Sierra Resort, Circus Circus, Harrah's, the Peppermill, the Sands Regency, and the Silver Legacy.
I stayed at the newly remodeled Grand Sierra Resort during my most recent trip. With nearly 2,000 rooms, it is Reno's biggest hotel and is a good example of the trend among most of the city's casino hotels toward the upscale. Rates at the Grand Sierra start around $50 on the weekdays. Rates at the more upscale wing, the Summit, start around $80. You will pay on average of 30 percent to 50 percent more if you stay over on the weekend or at a time when a lot of conventions are in town. The biggest drawback to the Grand Sierra is that it's a couple of miles from downtown but it's a virtual city unto itself, complete with nightclubs (non-gay), restaurants, a theater with what they claim is the biggest stage in the world, and a bowling alley. When this hotel opened in 1978 as the MGM, it was the biggest hotel in the world.
The Sands Regency in downtown Reno is a great budget option. Weekday rooms start around $35. It's right at the starting point of the city's Pride Parade in downtown Reno.
Like the Grand Sierra, the Peppermill is also a virtual city unto itself. You can get a room there for as little as $59 but expect to pay twice that for a room at its updated and upscale Tuscany Tower. Of course, you could pay a lot more if you stay during a busy time when a lot of conventions are in town. Like the Grand Sierra, the Peppermill is a couple of miles from downtown. If you are a Donna Summer fan, the disco diva will be performing at the Peppermill on Friday, August 15, the night before Reno's Pride Parade and festival.
Harrah's Reno is conveniently located in the heart of downtown, so there will always be something to do just steps away. You can stay there for as little as $60 a night or $90 a night in its newly remodeled West Tower.
Circus Circus is also in the middle of downtown. You can stay there for as little as $59. If you have kids, Circus Circus is the place to be. Circus shows are free in its "Midway of Fun." The midway is packed with carnival and arcade games to keep the kids occupied in between shows.
The Silver Legacy is also downtown and is one of the most beautiful buildings in Reno. The hotel and casino is the building that you see with a big dome in skyline shots of downtown. The hotel has been running summer specials on its Web site for weekday rooms for as little as $59, a great bargain considering the quality and location of this hotel.
Ed Walsh's multimedia blog on gay Reno, with links to more information, can be found on www.gayReno.blogspot.com.