Weekenders: Reno After Dark

The artsy MidTown District offers an array of quirky shops, top-notch restaurants and trendy bars

By Maribeth Mellin | Photographs by Pamela Ashley Pasco

Casinos are Reno’s obvious draw, with nearby Lake Tahoe’s famed ski slopes coming in at a close second. These days there’s yet another great reason to spend a few nights exploring Nevada’s “Biggest Little City.” Brick storefronts and Craftsman-style houses are being transformed into shops, brasseries and breweries in the MidTown District, near downtown. A youthful exuberance permeates the neighborhood, which draws a happy-hour and nightlife crowd.

The scene is especially lively at the end of summer, when thousands of costumed revelers pass through Reno on their way to Burning Man, the world’s largest interactive art celebration, held in the desert about 150 miles outside the city. Though the festival takes place during the week leading up to Labor Day, the carnivalesque spirit fuels the MidTown District’s creative nature year-round.

4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Get the lay of the land before night falls. As an added benefit, you’ll be able to see more than 60 vibrant murals that cover many of the neighborhood’s storefronts and also do a little shopping. You’ll find a map of the street art and information on tours at Art Spot Reno. A color­ful depiction of an octopus and peacock feathers by Adam Pittman marks Melting Pot World Emporium, a counterculture landmark stocked with incense, scarves, festival posters and more. Artist Joe C. Rock is especially prolific, having painted pictures of barbecues on the side of Ace Hardware and an entire exterior wall of Junkee Clothing Exchange. The store overflows with oddities, from feather boas and hula skirts to manual typewriters and Princess phones.

Rock also created the giant grinning Cheshire cat outlined in neon above the windows of Happy Happy Joy Joy, where owner Heather Lee Jones displays Day of the Dead skulls and rubber Godzillas on mint green shelves. Across the street a mural of bottles by Matt McDowell, Erik Burke and Nanook serves as a billboard for Craft Wine & Beer. Thanks to Nevada’s liberal liquor laws, you can sip a local brew while checking out the selection, which includes liquor, sake and cider.

Murals aren’t MidTown’s only eye-catching displays. Chrome bar stools and other vintage furnishings line the windows of Virginia Street Antique Mall, while retro dresses evocative of midcentury style icon Betty Grable draw nostalgics into Dressed Like That! If you’re looking for more-modern souvenirs, duck into Never Ender to check out locally made jewelry, leather flasks and handcrafted soaps. For organic lotions, balms and soaps, stop by The Pantry Vault, where skin-care and body products are custom blended in small batches. It’s one of several shops and performance spaces housed in The Basement, an underground venue set in a former post office built near the Truckee River in 1933.

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Feeling peckish? A weeknight happy hour and farm-fresh deviled eggs are reasons enough to head to Old Granite Street Eatery, in a 1940s white brick building. Settle in at one of the long communal tables to catch the latest gossip over a craft beer. Or consider stepping into Wedge Cheese Shop for a predinner snack. Cheesemonger Jason Davis says it’s possible to “taste everything in the shop” as you browse about, but you can also ask him to assemble a cheese plate and wine pairing for you to sit down and enjoy.

If you’ve worked up an appetite, Mustard Seed Restaurant dishes up mouthwatering fried green tomatoes, gumbo, baby back ribs and what might just be the juiciest breaded pork chop west of the Mississippi. Up the street, Great Full Gardens sources food from local vendors and farmers to create delicious meals that cater to a variety of diets, from vegan and gluten-free to Paleo. Standard omnivore fare is also available.

In the historic Crystal Springs building, Brasserie Saint James has a global menu, including poutine, Basque mussels and Argentine-flank-steak salad. Don’t leave without sampling one of the ales or lagers brewed in-house with mountain spring water from the artesian well located nearly 300 feet below.

8 p.m. to Midnight

Whether you’re looking to sip a cocktail or linger over a glass of wine, there’s no shortage of venues to explore. And many have already earned a loyal clientele. A few years ago Alexis Revelle grew so fond of the MidTown Wine Bar that she purchased it from the owners. Paintings by local artists cover the orange and gold walls, Reno bands perform five nights a week, and neighboring Thai, Mexican and Italian restaurants deliver. You can create your own wine flight or opt for a specialty drink, such as the MidTown Mule (grapefruit vodka, ginger beer and fresh limes).

At first glance Chapel Tavern looks like a neighborhood hang-out where friends might gather on the outdoor deck for a few after-work drafts. Step inside, however, and you’ll quickly see that the ceiling-high shelves behind the bar are lined with bottles of all shapes and sizes, the necessary ingredients for a staff of knowledgeable mixologists. You can put your fate in their hands by ordering a Dealer’s Choice, or try the signature flaming Spanish coffee. Smoky flights are available for whiskey lovers, and anyone feeling adventurous can sample the tobacco-infused rum. There’s also a selection of fortified wines and exotic imported beers to choose from.

Crystal chandeliers, black tufted-leather love seats and oil lamps give Death & Taxes a glam Victorian vibe. A team of skilled bartenders takes cocktail artistry to new heights with elaborate concoctions, such as Silk Pajamas, Artemesia and Bandolier, featuring unusual ingredients that include tarragon and Kaffir-lime cordial. Consider ending the night with the gin-based Rosa Oscura for a full-on mixology performance that culminates in a puff of smoke and sparks. It’s a bold one-of-a-kind choice you won’t soon forget—just like the MidTown District itself.

Casino Hot Spots: Near Reno and Beyond

Where to go next for a little more action.

South Lake Tahoe
 is a popular pick among entertainment seekers, just 60 miles south of Reno. Here you can play rounds at Harrah’s, Harvey’s, Hard Rock or other mainstays.

Las Vegas long ago became Nevada’s casino capital. New on the scene: the Park, an open-air entertainment complex that includes the 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena, where Keith Urban will perform on October 21.

Atlantic City has an oceanfront setting that gives it extra allure as an East Coast nightlife destination. The recently opened Premier Nightclub is bringing hip DJs to the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

Brasserie Saint James

901 S. Center St.; 775-348-8888; brasseriestjames.com; dinner for two, $40*

Great Full Gardens

555 S. Virginia St.; 775-324-2013; greatfullgardens.com; dinner for two, $40

Mustard Seed Restaurant

760 S. Virginia St.; 775-323-7333; dinner for two, $30

Old Granite Street Eatery

243 S. Sierra St.; 775-622-3222; oldgranitestreeteatery.com; dinner for two, $30

Chapel Tavern

1099 S. Virginia St.; 775-324-2244; chapeltavern.com

Craft Wine & Beer

22 Martin St.; 775-622-4333; craftreno.net

Death & Taxes

26 Cheney St.; 775-324-2630; deathandtaxesreno.com

MidTown Wine Bar

1527 S. Virginia St.; 775-800-1960; midtownwinebarreno.com

The Basement

50 S. Virginia St.; 775-848-2248; thebasementreno.com

Dressed Like That!

711 S. Virginia St.; 775-742-2931; dressedlikethat.com

Happy Happy Joy Joy

23 Martin St.; 775-562-1113; happyhappyreno.com

Junkee Clothing Exchange

960 S. Virginia St.; 775-322-5865; junkeeclothingexchange.com

Melting Pot World Emporium

1049 S. Virginia St.; 775-322-9445; meltingpotworldemporium.com

Never Ender

25 St. Lawrence Ave.; 775-348-9440; neverenderreno.com

The Pantry Vault

50 S. Virginia St., Suite 15; 775-357-8019; pantryproductsnv.com

Virginia Street Antique Mall

1251 S. Virginia St.; 775-324-4141

Wedge Cheese Shop

16 St. Lawrence Ave.; 775-737-4078; wedgecheeseshop.com

RCI® affiliated resorts in Reno include:
Plaza Resort Club 0473

A respite from Reno’s nonstop action, with a heated indoor pool and sundeck. 121 West St.
Member Review: “Lots of nearby dining options.”

Legacy Vacation Club Reno 0426

This contemporary property has an indoor pool and a putting green. 140 Court St.
Member Review: “The staff was very helpful.”

RCI® Tip

Looking for great nightlife in other popular destinations? Visit RCI.com and use the Vacation-Type filters to search for experiences in places such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City!

For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

Search Now

Non-RCI affiliated resorts:
Silver Legacy Resort Casino

A 1,700-room casino hotel with a comedy club on-site. 407 N. Virginia St.; 800-687-8733; silverlegacyreno.com; doubles from $60 a night

Whitney Peak Hotel

Mingle with locals at the outdoor and indoor climbing walls. 255 N. Virginia St.; 775-398-5400; whitneypeakhotel.com; doubles from $129 a night

  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: July 2016