The city fathers can't be trusted to tell you what to do with your free time. The city mothers can, but I haven't been all that good listening to her since she called my girlfriend a whore when I brought her home for Thanksgiving. My sister brought her girlfriend home for Christmas and didn't catch shit, but mom may have just missed the concept. She thought the reason they shared a single set of dangly earrings was just fashion, and suggesting that they import the trend onto the next American Girl doll line. But I digress. The Chamber of Commerce is real helpful with civic sponsored festivals and all that, telling you how safe street vibrations is or how interesting the walking tour of old houses converted into lawyers offices can be. Most Renovians don't need me to tell them they are irredeemably full of crap, so what are we to do? Well, here are a few things you can and should avoid and something close enough that's worth your time, money or morals. The Modern Art Museum
. Don't call it that though: It is the "Nevada Museum of ART", and county ordinance requires any resident hearing it referred to differently to punch the offender in the crotch. Renovians gush about this enormous black building that looks like a badly failed baking experiment or an office tower t retrofitters didn't get to before the quake of aught three.
The building is enormous and contains almost no art. Seriously, there are two very small walking galleries containing the 13# th most important collection of unknown 19# th century American painters west of the Rockies and an exhibit space hosting some minimalists traveling show or (more often) damn all nothing.
It is impressive to people who have never been to a real art museum in a real metropolitan city or attended an auction preview at Butterfield & Butterfield. The only truly impressive space in the whole building is the café, which serves a damned fine weekend brunch.
Instead, go to the National Car Museum, once known as the Harrah's Collection. I'm not a car person, but even I find this place impressive. They have more cars on display than the NMU has bits of canvas, their descriptions are more insightful and seriously, isn't Reno more of a car town? The Great Nugget rib cook off.
Man, this used to be a great event twenty years ago. As an American white male I would gladly eat every meal of my life in meat-sickle form, and a venue where you wander from one booth to the next with a frozen margarita in one hand and a bone in another gets nine points out of ten (ten if you can get someone to wheel you around to the booths).
It's an event killed by its own success and has been a waste of our time for ten years now. First, you don't wander any more, you stand around. It takes half an hour to negotiate any food line except kettle corn, and I didn't come to a rib cook off for fucking kettle corn. Lines go full Disneyland for the prime eating hours, you may need to pack a lunch. Second, it is very pricey for what you get, you're going to pay twice what you pay for a rack anywhere else, buying it two meat-sickles at a time. Finally, the quality of Que has dropped as mass production has kicked up and the joints around town have markedly bumped up their games. Dave's BBQ, Men Wielding Fire, Brothers, Carolina's, all are better than the average competitor. Instead, go to Virginia City for the Camel and Ostrich races. Virginia City is a lot more fun to wander around with a beer than Sparks, and watching some kid try to stay on top of a panicking ostrich for a hundred yards is much better bang for the buck than watching the two remaining members Whitesnake lead the new singer through the bands thirty year old hits. Virginia Street Casinos.
Renovians don't go to the casinos much to begin with, unless like me they have discovered that the buffets are an adequate substitute for the bankrupt Fresh Choice franchise. You end up there because friends are visiting from out of town, or you work there, or you need a not nasty toilet during the middle of the Italian Festival (rebranded from Columbus Day).
A shame really, many of the casinos offer good entertainment, a clean safe environment, a lot better food choices at three in the morning than elsewhere and prime people watching. And there's few better places to watch a big game than on sixty screens in a sports book.
It's just that the downtown casinos make us want to cry. Virginia Street hasn't been walkable for years. It's stuffed with T-shirt shops, vagrants, pawn shops, drunks, tattoo parlors, derelict old motels, mentally ill vagrant drunks, and lots of flat vacant space. Take your friends to the Grand Sierra or the Peppermill or the Atlantis. Being isolated by themselves they are somewhat lifeless and anticeptic, but at least they don't make you want to cry. All these fucking Tahoe franchises
. This town has its own traditional eateries, why does every venture in Truckee believe that Reno is a mecca for over priced casual foods? BurgerMe makes a fine burger, but it just makes burgers. Beach hut Deli makes a fine sandwich, but it just makes sandwiches. Squeeze In makes a fine hippy style omelet, but breakfast is the one meal Reno does right without any help. I have no idea what RedHut is doing here, it doesn't do anything well.
The only things these businesses have in common are that their prices are way, way too high for Reno, they're Tahoe prices, and there's just as good or better home grown storefronts selling better for cheaper. Burning Man
. This one is a bit of a cheat, because Renovians by and large never did burning man. Reno is already dry, hot and windy, the last thing we're going to do is go 'hmmm… I bet if we drive an hour out into the god forsaking desert we can find a waterless waste that has all this and more dust to boot!'
Most Renovians have more sense than this. No, Burning man was the bastard offspring of Bay Area ex hippies and RenFaire refugees in the late eighties and early nineties. Tired of being squeezed out of their own festivals, the Black Rock Desert was a conscious choice of a god forsaken patch nobody else would ever want, where they could go to be artsy freaks to their heart's content. Too bad watching artsy freaks and pretending you are one is so popular, and that they've been bumped again, but hey, there's plenty of waterless hell holes in Nevada, go find another one. Instead, you should do anything else that involves trees, running water and less dust. 4
# th of July Nugget fireworks
. Hey, even the nerdy, bullied kids need someone to look down on. Reno's uber dweeb is Sparks. As a transplant myself, I am puzzled and amazed that Sparks is and remains a separate municipality. The burg just doesn't seem to have an independent existence. It's like if South Meadows broke off and founded the new city of Double Diamond. The answer of course is that its old, the town started many years ago when Reno itself was little more than a toll bridge and fuck you if you think we're giving it up now.
Mostly, we just think of it as a seedy part of Reno now, regardless of what their city charter and police cars say. It seems like the only prosperous businesses in the whole town are the In and Out Burger, and the Nugget. The Nugget tries to breath life into Victorian Square, though the movie theater just closed down and they're building new condos over most of their event parking, but they try. One of the ways they try is by owning the fourth of July lately.
It hasn't always been so. Until the '08 recession, the better display was put on by Reno, out at Rancho San Rafael Park. Ever since then the city has cheaped out, mumbling something about how the Aces will shoot off something if the team is in town, and letting Star Spangled Sparks hold the field.
A shame, because there are very few places less suited to a fireworks display than Victorian Square. There's no grass to sit on. They don't turn off the street lights, so all the fireworks are muted and washed out. The post show traffic jam is epic. It's time for Reno to remember that they want to be a city again and grow a pair. The '08 recession is over, buy some god damned fireworks. Finally, Hot August Nights.
Instead, do Hot August Nights. This event is spread all over Reno and Sparks, and how much you enjoy it will be determined by what venues you choose and what cars you look at. Choose wisely.
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