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These watering holes are open until “whenever.”
Photo: Kippy S. Lanker (Genoa Bar); Chris Talbot (Old Middlegate, below)
Dollar bills pinned to the ceiling and a woodstove in the corner form the distinctive décor of the small-town Nevada saloon. The friendliness of the bartender matches the laid-back mood, and on warm days you’ll see gleaming motorcycles lined up in the parking lot, their owners talking bikes.
Nevada’s back roads are dotted with such retro watering holes, or “sagebrush saloons.” Most are open from 10 a.m. until “whenever” and often serve as local gathering places. Bikers find them good spots to take breaks on their riding adventures.
A two-wheelers’ favorite day trip from Lake Tahoe or the Reno-Sparks area is the ride to Genoa Bar, which owners Cindy and Willy Webb claim is Nevada’s oldest.
“The ride down Jacks Valley Road has some nice curves and banks pretty well,” says Xian Elsbree, a blonde biker from Sparks. “There is not a lot of traffic, and you can just sit back and look at the scenery and feel the road. When you get to Genoa, everyone is very friendly. They are accustomed to seeing bikers and don’t get uptight about a big group or individual riders coming in. Being a woman rider, I don’t feel like I ever have to worry about being there by myself.”
The Genoa Bar and Saloon—13 miles south of Carson City—is an informal repository of quirky artifacts, including Raquel Welch’s bra and signed photo, donated during a movie shoot nearby. With a little coaxing, the bartender will tell the story of how Welch donated the leopard-print underwear.
Riding 137 miles east of Carson City on U.S. 50 through Fallon, past Sand Mountain and the Naval Air Station’s fly zone, you’ll find the intersection with State Route 361 and the Old Middlegate Station.
Like many sagebrush saloons, Middlegate Station is a treasure trove of objects. The restrooms are decorated with quips and western wisdom, and the ceiling is covered with signed dollar bills. Framed vintage newspapers and trash art made from old keys and horseshoes hang on the walls.
Middlegate is a magnet for locals and is easily accessible from U.S. 50, which follows portions of the same route as the 1860s-era Overland Stage and the Pony Express. In fact, Middlegate served as a Pony Express changing station and is still a beacon for travelers. Food and conversation are provided by owner Fredda Stevenson.
A 63-mile drive south on S.R. 361 takes you to the intersection with U.S. 95. Turn south for 10 miles and you’ll find Mina, a two-saloon town. The Mina Bar is owned by Willie Wolfe, a human encyclopedia of local history. He coaches and hosts the “Dart Ladies,” Mina women who have honed their dart-throwing skills at his bar. Visitors are welcome to play but should not expect to win.
A little more south, and recently under renovation, is the Silver King Café, Bar and Motel. Competition with the other bar is guardedly friendly, with the Silver King given to more riotous events, such as dancing on the bar and serving “Mina Virgins,” a concoction that starts with cranberry juice.
Another two-bar town, Manhattan, 44 miles north of Tonopah off state routes 376 and 377, may well be the center of the universe. During two mining boomlets, it was. Now a well loved and lightly inhabited almost-ghost town, there are two sagebrush saloons worthy of destination.
The Miners Saloon, as far from neon as one can get, was constructed by putting two cabins together. The bar itself has names carved into it, informally documenting Manhattan’s history. The bar itself is illuminated by a light bulb dug out of the ground in 1981 and still glowing.
The Manhattan Bar has been 100 years in continuous business and features an outhouse made into a telephone booth.
Residents of many sagebrush saloon communities stop by at least once a week to exchange information. One such regular of Dayton’s Wild Horse Saloon and Gold Canyon Steakhouse was JohnD Winters, a fourth-generation Nevadan who died in March at the age of 97. JohnD’s wife, Kay, recalls the political campaigns waged there: A candidate would arrive, buy the house a round, deliver some oratory, and drive off to cheers by bar patrons.
Owner Bonnie Stryker says the establishment is the former End of the Trail, operated by the Giometti family for more than 60 years. Beyond the restored barroom is an elegant dining area with lace curtains and polished chandeliers. In the evening, the clinking of glass and silverware competes with a cacophony from the saloon patrons. But a quiet afternoon provides Sutra, the bar dog, the opportunity for a nap.
Or a pat from a newfound friend on two wheels.
Genoa Bar and Saloon
2282 Main St., Genoa
Old Middlegate Station
42500 Austin Hwy., Middlegate
Silver King Café, Bar, and Motel
Wild Horse Saloon and Gold Canyon Steak House
160 Main St., Dayton
MORE SAGEBRUSH SALOONS
International Hotel and Bar
59 Main St., Austin
The Owl Club
61 N. Main St., Eureka
445 Main St., Gerlach
537 Sierra Way, Hawthorne
Paradise Valley Saloon
95 S. Main St., Paradise Valley
WORTH A WATCH