As Nevada's second city, Reno was once a boomtown of gambling, vice and quickie divorces. The city struggled as tribal casinos proliferated in neighboring California in the last decade, sapping the demand for just-across-state-lines slot machines and blackjack tables. Never as cosmopolitan as its "Biggest Little City" motto suggests, Reno has long had a night life dominated by second-rate casinos, strip clubs and the diviest of dive bars. Those days, however, are disappearing.
Nowhere is that change more apparent than in the Midtown District, a modest neighborhood south of downtown where a half-dozen new lounges, gastro pubs, craft breweries and cocktail bars have recently opened. In a city notorious for wicked night life, this generation of businesses represents a continuation of a boozy after-dark tradition and a break from Reno's seedy past. This Midtown, as such, has existed for only a handful of years. Previously, the district was known as the Bungalow District for its many small Craftsman homes. But the area, like Reno itself, battled a sleazy reputation.
The making of this new Midtown was the work of the small-business owners behind Midtown District Reno (midtowndistrictreno.com) -- vintage boutique, hardware store and tattoo parlor owners. Another group, the Creative Coalition of Midtown (creativecoalitionreno.com), was started this year to host events and bolster the area's creative community. "It has taken off," said Amber Solorzano, a 31-year-old artist and coalition co-founder. "We saw a hole, with the Midtown growing so fast and it becoming a place where people want to be, where people want to live, where people want to come to hang out."
At the top of Midtown and one block east of the area's main artery, South Virginia Street, three-year-old Old Granite Street Eatery (243 South Sierra Street; 775-622-3222; oldgranitestreeteatery.com) is an advantageous starting point for an evening out. The weekday happy hour includes the restaurant's entire list of craft beers, a well-considered selection of wines by the glass and a menu of satisfying three-for-$10 small plates.
Brasserie Saint James (901 South Center Street; 775-348-8888; brasseriesaintjames.com) opened in a nearby historic building in 2012. Its massive, high-ceilinged interior has been converted into a microbrewery with a roof deck that's hard to resist on a clear desert night. On first glance, Craft Wine and Beer (22 Martin Street; 775-622-4333; craftreno.net) is, in essence, a glorified liquor store. With a 9 p.m. closing time, a bedroom-size walk-in beer refrigerator and wooden bins of wine from around the world, Craft is more bottle shop than bar. But this being Nevada, the usual rules don't apply, and this shop is actually both. It has a small selection of wine and beer that is served at a bar alongside the checkout counter, but the staff will also pop whatever you buy -- on tap or not -- and welcome you to drink there.
For something stronger, walk south to Chapel Tavern (1099 South Virginia Street; 775-324-2244; chapeltavern.com). There's a lively pool table and a D.J. station for late nights, but more than anything, Chapel is an enthusiast's cocktail bar. Ask the bartender to make you a drink, and he'll likely pull out a ladder to hit shelves stocked floor to ceiling with obscure bottles.
A bit more affected, Death and Taxes (26 Cheney Street; 775-324-2630) is the newest project by the owner of the popular Midtown Eats restaurant. In the speakeasy model, the bar is dark, with elaborate chandeliers and superb drinks -- and the stiff prices and aloof service to match. Reno Public House (33 St. Lawrence Avenue; 775-657-8449; renopublichouse.com), by contrast, is what a neighborhood pub should be: it welcomes young and old, hip and passé alike, and the bartender will offer tastings of anything on the long, reasonably priced tap list.
After a long night out, go for the dauntingly large platters of huevos rancheros or chiles rellenos at Peg's Glorified Ham n Eggs (420 South Sierra Street; 775-329-2600; eatatpegs.com) or the potent house-roasted coffee at Hub Coffee Roasters (32 Cheney Street; 775-323-3482; hubcoffeeroasters.com). Reno is now a city of sustenance as well as indulgence.travel
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 19, 2013 2:00 PM