Teri Vance: Iconic Red Dog Saloon celebrates anniversary
Loren and Sue Pursel are celebrating 10 years this week of owning the iconic Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City.
While Wednesday marked the official anniversary, the celebration is continuing all week.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, Alias Smith will rock, and on Easter Sunday, the Brothers Footman will play 2-5 p.m.
“We want to thank our customers for their patronage over the last 10 years and look forward to seeing them in the next 10,” said Loren Pursel.
The original building was built in 1864 as the Comstock Lodge Upstairs and the Gold Leaf Bar downstairs. It burned down in 1875 and was rebuilt the next year.
It transformed into the Red Dog Saloon in 1965, opening June 21 with a performance from the Charlatans, the psychedelic band that remained a house band through the end of the month.
The Red Dog experience, that made little distinction between performers and audience, was instrumental in the music scene of the era.
Janis Joplin played there as part of Big Brother and the Holding Company.
As its influence faded over the next decade, the Red Dog remained a popular hotspot for locals.
In fact, it played a crucial role for the Pursels themselves. Loren, a Mason Valley native whose ancestors lived on the Comstock, moved to Virginia City about 30 years ago.
Sue, a longtime educator in Washoe County, moved to Storey County to work in administration.
Loren recalls a night in late 1998 when he was the only one drinking in the Silver Dollar Shaft.
“Sue and four of her girlfriends came in and they were woo-hooing on a ladies’ weekend,” he said. “They were all dancing and having a good time, they lit the place up.”
After a while, the women left for the Red Dog.
“The bartender says, ‘I know why I’m here, but why are you?’”
So Loren finished his drink and walked down to join them.
“I spent most of the night dancing with her crew,” he recalled.
The two were married in 2001.
After spending a career as a carpentry superintendent, Loren was ready for a change in 2009.
The Red Dog Saloon had been closed for seven years at that point, and he decided to take it on.
“I liked the history of the Red Dog,” he said. “It definitely had the potential to be a good business.”
Remaining true to the roots of the saloon, every Wednesday night is a jam — hosted by different bands.
On the weekends, you’ll find all kinds of music — country, blues, soul, gospel, reggae, rock-n-roll and everything in between.
“You never know what you’re going to get, which is fun,” he said.
More than a saloon, it’s also got some of the best food around.
In 2018, the Red Dog was voted the Best Restaurant in Virginia City.
Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.