Our first visit to Reno was…interesting. It started off with a promising flight on Horizon Air, which happens to serve free beer and wine. Tragedy struck when Critter spilled an entire cup of red wine (a nasty, gasoline-tasting Syrah) onto both of us, drenching my shorts and his pants. It was kind of funny, though, because we both reeked like a couple of winos by the end of the flight. Of course we didn’t have time to change our pants before the hotel shuttle came, so that meant we also reeked like winos while riding the shuttle to the airport, during check-in, etc. Nice way to start a weekend of boozing and gambling!
Next, we discovered that everything the visitor reviews (on those travel sites) said was true: Reno hotels love to confirm you for one thing and then switch you to another for the same price, hoping you won’t notice. Many, many reviews said this, so the day before our trip Critter called our hotel (the Eldorado) to verify that yes, we did indeed have a Luxury room reserved on the 17th floor. However, when we reached the counter, the girl gave us a Deluxe room instead. It also should have been cheaper, but she quoted the same price as the Luxury. Aha! Hesitantly we accepted, because we were so tired and wine-stinky that we didn’t want to make a fuss just yet — we thought we’d check out the room first. It was just odd, you see, because earlier he overheard the desk attendant next to us tell another couple that there were “no more Deluxe rooms left”, so she gave them a Luxury room. Um, what did we just get, then? (Answer: screwed over.) The room was all right, but eventually our stubbornness kicked in and we went back down and asked for the room they had originally confirmed for us, just on principle. And we got it. The view from our new room was quite nice, being on the 23rd floor vs. the 10th floor of the other room. We could see the mountains in the daytime, so we were OK with that. Reno does have a lot of beautiful mountains around it.
Anyway, once settled in our room we noticed a small black platform sitting on the corner of the main cabinet. It had a dozen bottles of drinks and other snacks lined up on it, and a sign on the front said “ITEMS REMOVED ARE INSTANTLY CHARGED TO YOUR GUEST FOLIO.” You mean they’ll know if we move one of these bottles from the platform? Sure enough, we saw the platform was plugged into the wall, so it definitely had sensors on it. Wow, that’s kind of…draconian, don’t you think? What if you bumped the platform on accident and knocked something over…how hard would it be to get that removed from your bill? We were careful not to have to find out. The mini bar was the same way: rigged to charge items to your room bill if anything was touched. Jesus.
We spent Friday wandering around, seeing what that little area of Reno was like. Basically it was depressing! The area was virtually empty, a ghost town. One entire block was made up of a high-rise of condos, which looked brand-new and completely emty. Across the street from that: empty, decaying buildings, some of them former hotels and/or casinos. Who would buy an expensive condo there? A very nice 12-screen theater complex was located nearby, though, so we took the opportunity to catch “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” (which was excellent) that afternoon. But otherwise, we just wandered around, played slots, ate, drank. Even the casinos were mostly lifeless.
Granted, we only saw the “casino district” of Reno and a few blocks of the area around it, but what we saw had a empty, desolate feeling—like the place was ready and waiting for throngs of people who just never showed up. One bright spot was the 5 Star Saloon, which is Reno’s oldest gay bar. It’s very laid-back and friendly, with nice bartenders and good music. The crowd was mixed and the drinks were strong, so we had a great time there.
Another thing we noticed is that casinos there are overrun with security people. You can barely turn around without bumping into a guard or other official-looking type with a badge and a radio. Even the elevators to the rooms are guarded closely by badged minions who won’t let you into an elevator without seeing your room key. This isn’t unusual actually, as we’ve seen them do this in Vegas, but was unusual was how aggressive they were at micromanaging every step of the whole pushing button/entering elevator/closing door process. We weren’t even allowed to press Up button ourselves! Also, when roaming the area around the casinos (even several blocks away) we saw signs everywhere telling us we were on security cameras. And sure enough, a quick glance around shows that the entire area is blanketed by CCTV. Does Reno have a huge crime problem or something? On one hand we felt pretty safe wherever we went, but on the other hand it made us feel a little paranoid about even crossing the street.
Friday night we decided to try out a fancy-shmancy Italian restaurant (La Strada) that all the reviewers were gassing about, supposedly an award-winning place to eat. Well, we weren’t impressed! First off, the hostess led us to the very back of the building, past many empty tables in the quieter front part of the restaurant. She seated us right next to two tables of horrifically loud and obnoxious old folks who were tipsy on wine and shouting/cackling at each other. Lovely, how romantic!
I noticed on the way in that the few people seated up front were dressed nicely, while we were dressed down (t-shirts and shorts). Could that have been it? A bit later they tried to do the same thing to another straight couple, and the woman was having none of it and made the hostess seat them up front. Next time I’ll do the same.
Our entrees took ages to arrive, despite the place being mostly empty. My salmon was unexceptional, served atop vegetables which were swimming in nearly half an inch of oil. Sorry, but I don’t think this is “traditional northern Italian cooking.” $25 for that! Critter had the lamb chops, which were good but also drenched in oil, as were all the veggies on his plate. Can’t remember the cost of that but I’m sure it was close to $30. Why all the oil?? We’ve been to many highly-rated Italian restaurants and none of them were as oil-happy as this. The food wasn’t terrible, just…unimpressive. Maybe we should have tried the pasta instead.
On Saturday we noticed that there were a lot more people milling about, so maybe Reno really comes to life on the weekends. We decided to take the free bus up to the University of Nevada to visit the planetarium and watch a short film about Saturn in the dome-shaped theater there. It was interesting, but not mind-blowing. After that we just farted around until 8pm when we went to see Cyndi Lauper do her blues concert, which was pretty damn good. This was the whole point of our trip, actually, and it made all the other stuff worth it!
After the show we fixed some cheapo drinks in our room (trying to save some money at this point) and headed back to the 5 Star Saloon. We drank and danced for a couple of hours, it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately Critter shook his booty a little too hard and ripped the front of his shorts!
Sunday morning we left our bags at the front desk and basically just walked around and gambled for five hours until our airport shuttle showed up at 5pm. Critter won $500 and I won $125, both playing the Wheel of Fortune penny slots, so that basically paid for our room and covered what we had already spent on gambling, so it pretty much evened out. Nice! If there’s one thing you can do a lot of in Reno, it’s gambling.
We did have one last fiasco before leaving. We saw an internet kiosk that said “Surf the web! Print your boarding pass! Blah-blah-blah!” So we decided to give the boarding pass thing a try, since it was $1 for 3 minutes or something like that. The first sign of trouble was when we tried to print our passes and a Windows “add printer” box popped up, asking us to install a printer. Uh-oh. So after about 10 minutes on the phone with their customer service, we found out that the damn kiosk didn’t even have a printer in it! They said we can only print boarding passes in the Business Center, even though the kiosk has big loud signs saying to print them there. Jesus. How many other people have put their money into this thing and been misled? So we found the Business Center and ended up pumping dollar after dollar into the goddamn thing because it claimed we hadn’t put in enough money to print all the pages, and of course the passes are accompanied by full-page ads which added to the page count… It was a nightmare. By the end I was yelling four-letter names at the PC but we finally got our passes printed and got the hell out of there. It was a fitting end to a somewhat frustrating trip.
So, the verdict on Reno? I don’t think we’ll ever go back. I know I can’t judge it fairly based on one weekend in the casino district, but that’s all I have to go on, and frankly that’s where most visitors end up going, right? The area was just empty, in more ways than one. Look at Fremont Street in Las Vegas — it’s rich with history and character and cheesiness. Reno had none of that, it was more like “Look! You can gamble here! Look, restaurants! Look! Spend your money! Hey, over here!” It just didn’t seem to have its own spirit or whatever. Along with the police-state atmosphere, the shady room-swapping, and the ripoff kiosks, we left feeling glad to leave without looking back. If we ever do go back to Reno, it will be to move on to Lake Tahoe and see what’s over there…
After all that, I do have to say that everyone there was friendly and helpful. We didn’t run into one snotty waiter or attendant, not one asshole bartender or security person. Even the gal who drove the shuttle to the hotel that first night was friendly and chatty, giving us lots of useful info about what to do and where to eat, etc. She was great, and it’s not something you’d ever experience here in Seattle! We did notice, though, that both she and the bartender talked about wanting to move away from Reno, to Portland or somewhere else in the Pacific Northwest. I wonder how many other people would like to get out of that place.