Historic Crystal in new transition
A fixture on the corner of Taylor and C Streets in Virginia City since the 1860s, the Crystal Bar is getting a facelift, compliments of the Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority.
Purchased two years ago from the Marks family for $350,000, the building now boasts a new hardwood floor, heating and electrical systems. The improvements are being purchased primarily through grants and, according to Authority Executive Director Steve Muniz, another grant will pay for new historic-looking wallpaper and a tin ceiling.
“The building will eventually house both the Chamber of Commerce and the VCCTA,” he said. “Hopefully, there will even be room for my desk.”
Partially destroyed in the great fire of 1875, the Crystal was rebuilt — but the front facade is original, according to Joe Curtis, owner of Mark Twain Bookstore.
The two-story brick building has served as a furniture store and dry goods store. For many years, Dutch Meyers used the display window for a barber shop, but the building gained most of its notoriety after it became an ice cream parlor and bar in the late 1890s.
Originally located in the Old Washoe Club, the Crystal Bar moved to Taylor and C Streets following a slight altercation with the landlord, according to Margaret Marks, the last proprietor.
“The reason my father-in-law moved the Crystal is that the owner of the Washoe Club kept raising the rent,” she said in a 1998 interview. “When they moved the bar, of course, they took the beautiful crystal chandeliers along with all the other fixtures.”
According to Curtis, the Crystal escaped the ravages of Prohibition, continuing as an ice crean parlor and bar. William H. Marks left it to his son Bill Marks, who ran it with his wife, Margaret, beginning in 1955. Bill Marks died in 1994, and Margaret in 1998.
Frequented by both the famous and infamous during this period, the Crystal was a focal point in Virginia City, according to Curtis.
“It was a common stop for movie stars, whether they were playing the casinos or just visiting the area,” he said. “A lot of top military people came in following World War II, including heavy-duty generals like Gen. Mark Clark.”
Dee Rose said her parents were famous for mint juleps in summer and known for their specialty drinks. Everything was made from scratch, and during the Christmas holidays they made egg nog and Tom and Jerry’s. They also made a drink they called the Comstock Lode.
The mint julep recipe was never revealed.
“My father-in-law had a friend who had lived in New Orleans, and I believe it was right around the turn of the century when this gentleman came up here for a visit. Anyway, he and my father-in-law hit it off real good, and before he left Virginia City, he wanted to give Bill’s father this mint julep recipe that was the hit of New Orleans,” Margaret Marks said in the 1998 interview. “The only request he made at that time was that the recipe would be kept a secret and be served only at the Crystal Bar. We’ve honored his wish.”