Hunter S. Thompson would have appreciated the Midtown District in Reno. You will, too.
By Charlie Johnston
Reno’s MidTown District is just that, the middle. It’s the place where the jackpot highs of a casino town meet the down-and-out lows of games of chance; where tattoo parlors and adult novelty stores encounter trendy restaurants and family-oriented neighborhoods; where funky boutiques congregate near the hometown hardware store; and where smoke-filled dives and Pabst Blue Ribbon assemble with hip bars and fancy mixologist-designed cocktails.
The contrasting qualities of MidTown might create an identity crisis anywhere else; but here, in the tight-knit heart of Reno, they come together to create a neighborhood that warmly embraces diversity and enthusiastically celebrates uniqueness. A little rough around the edges? Sure, but the area is surprisingly refined and endlessly charming when you really get to know it.
MidTown, like most of the country’s hippest neighborhoods, is not an early riser. Many of its businesses toy with the idea of opening in the late morning, but nothing really starts to happen until well into the afternoon. Perhaps the morning malaise can be attributed to Shea’s Tavern’s signature drink (Jameson whiskey, straight up) or any of the libations that flow freely most nights of the week at Chapel Tavern, MidTown Wine Bar, and others from the staggeringly long list of watering holes scattered around the neighborhood. In addition to liberally serving their patrons, MidTown’s bars, taverns, and saloons serve as gathering places—some even offer free WiFi.
The Hub Coffee Company is the exception to MidTown’s a.m. ambivalence. The appropriately named coffee shop’s clutch of small tables is rarely empty, and, like the bars in the evening, The Hub plays the role of neighborhood nerve center.
While the majority of MidTown’s shops, bars, and restaurants are on or very close to South Virginia Street, some of its best finds sit quietly a few blocks off the main drag. Local shops Never Ender, Classic Skate Shop, and Golden Seam share a converted 1930s home on quaint, tree-lined Thoma Street. The brainchild of Amber Solorzano, Never Ender was born in 2004 as a combination art gallery and fashion boutique. Today, Amber’s mom, Melanie Crane, manages the store and oversees its ever-changing selection of original clothing, jewelry, and art.
Literally through Never Ender, tucked into a former back bedroom of the Thoma House, Eric Lantto’s Classic Skate Shop is one of only two skate shops in Reno. “I’m in my 40s and still skateboard every day.” Lantto says. “I love skateboarding and wanted to offer an old-school skate shop.” Lantto’s small shop bucks the trend of larger skate shops that primarily offer clothing, shoes, and lifestyle accessories and focuses on the basics: decks, trucks, wheels, grip tape, and a small spattering of shirts and hats. Vintage shoes, clothing, and accessories are the mainstays of Golden Seam, which occupies another former bedroom of the house, behind the kitchen.
On the quirky, rather, very quirky side of MidTown, Junkee Clothing Exchange is probably the most interesting clothing store in Reno. Specializing in funky retro duds and one-of-a-kind items from local designers, Junkee is the place to shop for unique outfits, playa wear (clothes for Burning Man), and rayon shirts right out of “Saturday Night Fever.” In true MidTown fashion, Junkee shares its sprawling building with a vast antique store. Speaking of Burning Man, The Melting Pot is one of the neighborhood’s longest-lived and most recognized stores and offers a great selection of playa wear, dust goggles, unique jewelry, and myriad curios.
For statements too meaningful to be made by way of funky clothes, some of the most reputable body art studios in Reno are among MidTown’s most popular destinations. Black Hole Body Piercing can put a hole—or holes—in pretty much any body part its customers desire, and tattoo parlors such as Aces, Evolution, and Nightmare Studios employ some of the city’s best artists.
While fashionable shops and tattoo parlors are major attention grabbers, the sustenance of MidTown should not be overlooked. The lunch crowd at Süp—in homage to the neighborhood’s melting pot dynamic—is a mash-up of contrasting clientele: ladies who lunch juggle children as tattoo-shop employees organize their calendars, and suits pour over their smart phones while seniors from the nearby assisted-living facility thoughtfully consider the menu.
One taste of the restaurant’s artfully crafted soups and meticulously constructed sandwiches, and you’ll know why Süp appeals to so many. “It’s all in the tiny details,” says Kasey Christensen, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Christian. “We make everything besides the bread in house,” she adds. The eatery is committed to supporting local food and utilizes Reno purveyors such as 5th Street Bakehouse, House of Bread, Earth Alchemy Farms, and Hadji Farms. Crème, another creation of the Christensens’, offers sweet and savory baked goods, including crepes filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and various meats.
MidTown’s character is most evident in its collection of bars, but, understandably, not everyone has the wherewithal for a neighborhood pub crawl. Luckily, the district’s best beers and wines are available to-go thanks to Craft Wine & Beer and MidTown Wine Bar. Craft owner Ty Martin credits Nevada’s tolerant liquor laws for allowing him to operate a bottle shop that is also permitted to pour its offerings. “Reno needed a place that is knowledgeable and passionate about beer and wine,” he says. Hundreds of beers and wines from around the world populate Craft and its walk-in cooler, and Martin is effusive about the benefits of including a bar in the operation. “The bar is about camaraderie in the neighborhood,” he says.
Rachel Jara’s MidTown Wine Bar is lauded for its knowledgeable staff, generously poured wine flights named for MidTown streets, and dog-friendly atmosphere. Nightly specials—such as two-for-one drinks and bingo on Tuesdays, two-for-one drinks for women on Thursdays, and live music on Fridays and Saturdays—add to the tasteful bar’s popularity. Bangkok Cuisine, Mario’s Portofino, and Si Amigos happily deliver food to the wine bar, and Jara applauds nearby businesses for their tireless efforts to help one another.
Jara’s sentiment regarding the friendly nature of local business owners is shared by just about everyone you talk to in MidTown. And perhaps it’s that camaraderie that makes MidTown so special and brings its contrasting facets together so seamlessly. “It’s just such a cool neighborhood,” says Lantto from his Thoma Street skate shop.
“This is the best neighborhood in Reno,” Martin says from a table at Craft. “The realest and most diverse.”
For More Information
MidTown District Reno
960 S. Virginia St., Reno, NV 89501