Cabin in the Sky future – up in the air
October 25, 2004
GOLD HILL – Brandi Lee remembers the Cabin in the Sky as a place where everyone was welcome.
“It was colorful,” said Lee, who is president of the Virginia City and Gold Hill Chamber of Commerce. “Some of the girls from the ranch would come up and we’d sit and visit and have a glass of wine. It had excellent meals.”
Her niece’s wedding reception was there. Locals packed the dining room and dance floor for birthday parties and the fireman’s dinner. Cabin in the Sky was known for its good steak. But that was back in the 70s and 80s.
Today the tan and green-trimmed restaurant in the Virginia Mountain Range is shuttered and abandoned, which became the fate of many properties once owned by Nevada’s notorious brothel owner Joe Conforte.
The cabin that Joe built is for sale for $880,000.
“I’m hoping that it will sell,” Lee said. “It’d be nice to have a business on the hill and not have that place empty any more. It has an ambiance up there and its got some possibility under the right ownership.”
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Two years ago, Mark Hoffman bought the Cabin in the Sky in Gold Hill for $88,000.
He said business was getting better, but it hasn’t been as good as he expected it to be. After all the permits expired in August, Hoffman closed it. The Bay area resident said he simply lost interest in the project, which is on about 1.6 acres off Main Street.
“I look at this as a hobby,” he said. “And I didn’t have enough time to spend on it.”
Conforte’s hand in the decor of the restaurant/bar is ostentatiously clear. Hoffman calls it the “brothel theme.” The wall paper is red velvet and gold foil. The maroon carpeting and furniture would’ve been stylish in the 1970s.
Conforte fled the country for Brazil after a second round of tax-evasion charges in 1990 and in December 2002, much of his property was auctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department to pay his back taxes.
Conforte’s Gold Hill restaurant, his two homes in Sparks and a Reno lot were among the auction items.
Hoffman said the 8,080-square-foot restaurant and bar has attracted attention because of its history, but it takes a lot more than that to get customers to come up the hill.
“If I would’ve stuck to it, it could’ve worked,” he said.
Virginia City and Gold Hill residents have different opinions about why the Cabin in the Sky hasn’t worked, and what should be done with it.
Joe Curtis, owner of Mark Twain Bookstore, has lived in Virginia City since he was 12. His family-run business is on C Street.
“He should’ve changed the name and taken all the red carpeting and wall paper out and classed the place up,” Curtis said. “He (Hoffman) did a lot of work on it, and it would’ve had potential had he not tried to go on the coat tails of all the ‘Cabin in the Sky’ (history). He needed to give it a new look, a new feel and make a high-quality restaurant.”
He once attended events at the cabin. Curtis said it’d be a nice place for locals again with the right marketing.
Bob Wilkinson has run two restaurants in Virginia City for about six years and he has learned that location is a big part of success. Sawdust Corner Restaurant and the Palace Restaurant and Saloon are both located on C Street, the prime location for tourists.
As Wilkinson said, Cabin in the Sky is “off the beaten path.”
It doesn’t have a store front on a busy street. It’s a little less convenient to drive up the hill and navigate around to the entrance. A residence looms above and could be mistaken for the restaurant.
But the location is also part of its allure. It overlooks the hills and is away from the usual tourist destinations.
Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.