Virginia City's Red Dog to close its doors in December

VIRGINIA CITY -- Citing overhead costs, Richard and Mary Harris, owners of the Red Dog Saloon and Manhattan Pizza Parlor on Virginia City's C Street, are closing their doors.

"We don't make enough money," Richard Harris said. "The $3,300 we pay in rent makes it too hard to stay open."

The Red Dog was a symbol of the flower-child counterculture of the 1960s, and its resurrection was a dream that started for the couple years ago.

"We were sitting in that corner 23 years ago when we decided we wanted to rebuild the Red Dog," Mary Harris said. "It was a gift shop and art gallery, with a pizza parlor in the corner. We bought the pizza parlor first, then took down the walls."

Her voice cracked with emotion as she talked of the landlords, who live in LaFayette, Calif. and apparently don't share the community's sentiment over the saloon.

"The Red Dog meant nothing to them," she said. "It meant everything to us."

Mary Harris said the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy hit them hard. Expenses went up across the board, but they raised the price of drinks by just 25 cents.

Rachel Rephon, employee of the Silver Stope down the street, said lack of business was not an issue at the Red Dog.

"The business was well run and well accepted," added Joe Curtis, owner of Mark Twain Bookstore in Virginia City. "They had quality (musical) groups performing there and they put out a good pizza, but the building owners think they can make more money with Japanese trinket shops."

"This is a huge loss, a piece of history yanked out from under the people trying to make it happen," said Red Dog employee Sue Talmage as she straightened some chairs at the Red Dog on Friday. "I'm saddened by the whole thing."

Talmage said the doors would close Dec. 5 and a party for Richard and Mary Harris is scheduled for Nov. 30.

Silver City resident and radio commentator Travis T. Hipp was an integral part of the group that resurrected the Red Dog the first time in the 1960s. He said no one will ever again be allowed to have as much fun.

"We were all taking acid in a small cabin at 3 a.m. when we decided there had to be a better place to hang out," he said. "One of the guys raised the money to buy the building. That's the trick in Virginia City, owning the building free and clear."

By July 1965, the Red Dog was refurbished and true to its name, painted fire-engine red. Dinners included gourmet fare like Greek lemon soup and crab Louis.

Singer Lynne Hughes was accompanied by the Charlatans andm in time, bands like the Quicksilver Messenger Service, Wildflower and the ph Factor Jug Band all became a part of the scene.

"We were more Virginia City than the locals," Hipp said. "We were in perfect character all the time. When our feet hit the floor, we were in a grade B Western movie. We were the saloon at the end of the street. We all carried Winchesters and six-shooters and no one objected: the last of the Wild West."

A February 1976 article in Rolling Stone described the scene.

"The San Francisco scene started at the Red Dog Saloon, as much as you can say it started at any one place. Most of the elements were there: rock 'n' roll, a sort of light show, the first psychedelic light poster, the theatrical lifestyle and acid. Lots of acid."


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