Downtown is Reno’s hippest place to go
Not so long ago, people would have looked askance if you suggested that you were going to do anything besides gamble in downtown Reno.
But things are changing. While you can still find plenty of places with slot machines and blackjack tables, downtown is becoming a kind of cool, artsy, outdoorsy place where you can find a quiet coffeehouse, dine in a trendy jazz club, or kayak on the Truckee River.
It’s somehow appropriate that the rebirth of Reno is occurring on the banks of the Truckee, near where the city was born. In late 1859 or early 1860, Charles W. Fuller erected a wooden bridge over the river (near present-day Virginia Street) and built a log cabin trading post, which became known as Fuller’s Crossing.
A year later, Fuller sold his holdings to Myron C. Lake, who acquired additional land and gradually built up the settlement. In 1868, Lake sold about 160 acres to the Central Pacific Railroad, which laid out a town site and auctioned the land that became Reno.
You might not recognize downtown if you haven’t visited recently. At Dreamer’s coffeehouse on the river, you’ll find comfortable, overstuffed chairs – a perfect place to sit, read, and sip an espresso – while listening to someone play classical music on the piano.
A block away, you can find small shops offering everything from quality used books (Dharma Books, 11 N. Sierra St.) to unique, one-of-a-kind artwork, clothing and trinkets (La Bussola, 211 1st St.).
The changes to the downtown can be traced to a growing recognition that in order to continue to attract visitors, the city had to offer something besides gambling.
So now Reno’s promotional slogan is “America’s Adventure Place” – which targets outdoor enthusiast. One of the hottest new things in town is the Truckee River Whitewater Park, a half-mile water attraction with rapids, a slalom-racing course and nearly a dozen “drop pools” and boulders for kayaking maneuvers.
Several businesses have cropped up to rent kayaks and rafts for those interested in trying out the new park.
Additionally, the Raymond I. Smith Truckee River Walk, built in the early 1990s on the south side of the river, offers a nice place to stroll.
Trendy restaurants have also begun to crop up in the area, including the Beaujolais Bistro (130 West St.), with country French cuisine; EJ’s Jazz Café (17 S. Virginia), offering Cajun dishes and live jazz; and the Silver Peak Grill and Taproom on the River (135 Sierra St.), with handcrafted, locally made beers and moderately priced food.
The downtown is also developing into an arts and culture district. The centerpiece is the $16 million Nevada Museum of Art (160 W. Liberty), which opened in 2003.
The distinctive black building – designed to evoke Nevada’s Black Rock Desert – is four stories and has 55,000 square feet of exhibit space for traveling art shows and the museum’s permanent collections.
Recent shows have included works by impressionists Claude Monet and Edgar Degas, Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and Western artist Maynard Dixon.
In the arts and culture district is the Bruka Theatre (99 N. Virginia), offering popular and experimental theater; Magic Underground (northeast corner of Virginia and Mill), a magic show featuring illusionists Mark Kalin and Jinger; and the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts (100 S. Virginia), where you can catch a touring Broadway play, opera or visiting musical artists.
To make it easier to get around in the downtown, the city has started Sierra Spirit, a bright yellow bus that offers free rides throughout the area. The bus has 32 convenient stops and operates continuously between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Who would have thought that downtown Reno would ever become so cool?
n Richard Moreno is the author of “Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada” and “The Roadside History of Nevada.”