Exceptional Drink Experiences
From South Lake Tahoe to Sparks and beyond, explore the region’s imbibing scene this winter.
After far too many months of Zoom happy hours and shaking your own martinis, the time has come to ditch the sweatpants and venture out for imbibing adventures in the real world. Reno-Tahoe is replete with out-of-the-box beverages, from indulgent boozy milkshakes in The Biggest Little City to old-school gin martinis at Lake Tahoe, so don’t settle for anything average. To help you on this tour of tipples, edible Reno-Tahoe rounds up some of the best offerings throughout the region for sipping something special. Cheers!
At the time of this writing, the drinks and experiences described here were available. However, due to ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions, we recommend that you contact these businesses directly to determine whether they are open and serving these items.
More Than a Drink
At Zagol, an Ethiopian restaurant in Reno, grab a few friends and call ahead to experience a traditional coffee ceremony. As incense wafts through the air, green Ethiopian coffee beans are roasted in front of you while you munch on popcorn. The freshly roasted coffee is ground in a mortar and pestle, then brewed in a traditional jebena before being served to guests.
For a higher ABV experience, head to Craft Wine & Beer in Reno to pick up the rotating five-bottle “Staff Picks” package (created during the pandemic) and host a casual tasting. The bar-meets-high-end-liquor-market is known for its seasoned staff, so you’ll get to try bottles of wine that you wouldn’t normally choose. Added bonus: Each selection comes with a written blurb from the employee who chose it about what you should be tasting and what it pairs well with. Funky, unfiltered rosé with brie, anyone?
Though you may have a minor case of FaceTime fatigue, you don’t want to miss Garden to Glass Mixology’s public and private online mixology classes. Over video chat, participants learn how to craft two beverages — which also can be made nonalcoholic — while being quizzed on trivia. The drink recipes focus on seasonal, fresh ingredients with unique twists such as the Blood Orange White Russian or the Ginger and Turmeric Mule Mocktail.
Take your libations on the lake with a sunset cruise aboard the Safari Rose. The 80-foot yacht hosts its tours to Emerald Bay year round, and guests each enjoy a complimentary beverage and access to a full bar while they warm by the fire in the heated salon or brave the top deck with puffy jackets and blankets. As the sunset turns the water shades of pink and orange, the boat circles Fannette Island and meanders by the historic Vikingsholm castle. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss.
Down in the valley, tie one on at Nevada’s oldest thirst parlor, Genoa Bar, which has been serving up drinks to the likes of Ulysses S. Grant, Clint Eastwood, and Johnny Cash since opening in 1853. While taking in the wall-to-wall Old West memorabilia, embrace the experience fully and order the Stiff Pickle — a shot of Jameson with a fresh-dill-pickle-juice back.
Up in Virginia City, a boomtown that developed alongside the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode, the first major silver deposit discovery in the United States, take your pick of historic haunts. In this town where Samuel Clemens first used his nom de plume, Mark Twain, sip on a bloody mary seasoned with spicy ghost pepper at Bucket of Blood, the saloon constructed in 1876 (following the 1875 fire that destroyed thousands of structures in town). Nearby, enjoy a comforting Crown Point Hot Apple Cider (apple whiskey with spiced cider and lemon) at the Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon, the oldest hotel in Nevada, surrounded by stone dating back to 1861 and slanted ceilings covered in thousands of dollar bills.
In Reno’s East Fourth Street corridor, stop in at Louis’ Basque Corner, which Louis and Lorraine Erreguible opened in 1967 after emigrating from Basses-Pyrénées, France. Cozy up with a Picon punch, a traditional cocktail based on a bitter orange spirit called Amer Picon, created by Frenchman Gaëtan Picon in 1837. In the hands of the Basques, the apéritif evolved into a punch made with orangey Torani Amer, grenadine, and soda served over ice with a brandy float and lemon twist.
Health Is Wealth
Made in Stateline with water straight from Lake Tahoe and organic whole fruits and spices, FOLK Kombucha is a far cry from the vinegary big-name beverages you’ll find on grocery store shelves. The effervescent fermented tea is mixed with unique flavor combinations such as rhubarb black pepper and mixed berries with hops. Enjoy it on tap at restaurants such as Great Full Gardens in Reno or fill up a growler at Grass Roots Natural Foods in South Lake Tahoe.
Truckee locals know the spot to grab health-forward drinks is The Mill Juice Shop. Beyond cold-pressed juices, try the house-made nut mylks. The fan favorite Brown Sugar is made by blending cashews with coconut water, shredded coconut, cacao, vanilla, dates, hemp seeds, and sea salt.
In Reno, Great Basin Community Food Co-op is beloved for its commitment to supporting regional farmers — and its delicious selection of juices using organic and, when possible, local fruits and vegetables and zero GMOs. Order various juice-cleanse packages from its website with blends such as Grandaddy Purple (red cabbage, celery, apple, and lemon) or Body Electric (apple, orange, beet, and flaxseed oil).
Nearby, Great Full Gardens just added organic, cold-pressed juice to its menu, too, with playful flavors such as You Glow Girl, made with pineapple, apple, lemon, and ginger, and the opportunity for a cleanse consultation.
Take a guided tour of Engine 8 Urban Winery in Victorian Square in Downtown Sparks before enjoying a flight of red, white, fruit, and barrel-aged wines or a selection of decadent ports, including chocolate cherry and chocolate raspberry.
Since opening in 1998, Whispering Vine Wine Co. has grown to four locations in Reno and a rotating selection of more than 3,000 labels. Watch snow fall through the glass garage doors while sipping syrah at the Midtown location or post up at the bar with a Barbera on West Fourth Street.
If you’re searching for wine at higher elevations, sidle up to the bar at one of Uncorked’s three locations in Truckee, Tahoe City, and Squaw Valley for a taste of globally sourced, mindfully farmed vino. And if your wine stock has taken a hit since COVID, consider a personalized cellar consultation from owner and certified sommelier Chris Barkman.
After a day of skiing at Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe, pop in at nearby Himmel Haus for an extraordinary beer hall experience with rotating bottled and draft German bier available to drink in a gigantic liter stein or bierstiefel (boot-shaped glass) while eating schnitzel and pretzels bigger than your head. Prost!
Another South Shore staple is a short drive down U.S. 50 at South Lake Brewing Co. At the spacious, dog-friendly brewery, dive into a citrusy Marlette Sunrise Blood Orange Blonde or the popular Fog Nozzle Hazy IPA with notes of oatmeal, apricot, pineapple, and orange, and a hint of pine.
For lovers of sour beer — a risky, time-consuming endeavor for brewers — try the Sherbert Herbert Sour Ale, a deliciously tart mix of passion fruit, lime, and raspberry, from Shoe Tree Brewing Co. in Carson City. With its penchant for barrel aging, it’s no surprise that you’ll also find tart, fruit-forward beers such as Abiogenesis #13 (barrel-aged sour with pear) and Abiogenesis #14 (barrel-aged sour with elderberries and pomegranate) at IMBĪB in Reno and Sparks.
Interested in learning to brew yourself? Sip on a cold one while perusing homebrewing equipment, literature, and ingredients at Just Brew It in Carson City or The Reno Homebrewer in Reno. The firsthand knowledge of employees and fellow beer nuts is invaluable.
In the heart of Reno’s Brewery District, Black Rabbit Mead Co. is cranking out cider-style mead made with honey sourced from the Sierra Nevada. The light, carbonated honey wine comes in an assortment of flavors, from cucumber mint to blackberry rosemary, so a flight is recommended for first timers.
On the weekends, Chapel Tavern kicks its regular bloody mary up a notch with over-the-top trappings. Vodka infused with fresh horseradish, black pepper, and MSG mingles with tomato juice, green olive brine, stout beer, and a slew of spices. The garnishes change with the seasons but usually include a hearty stack of pickled veggies and sometimes even grilled cheese or pizza.
On Virginia Street, Rum Sugar Lime shakes up artful tropical cocktails in its equally festive Midtown digs. Tart, fruity, tangy, and a bit smoky, the Dia Sueño is an RSL favorite featuring sage-infused tequila, mezcal steeped in tamarind, grapefruit, and lemon. As the owners of the bar describe it, it’s “like a delicious vacation in the warm desert.”
There’s nothing quite as “old-school steakhouse” as flaming cocktails prepared tableside. Both the The Steak House at Western Village in Sparks and the Sage Room Steakhouse at Harveys Lake Tahoe in Stateline create their own versions of the coffee (or café) diablo. Up at the lake, a tuxedo-clad server mixes Grand Marnier, brandy, and Kahlua, lights a ladleful of the mixture on fire, and pours it down a long spiral of clove-studded orange and lemon peels, into the rest of the liquor. To finish, the now-extinguished concoction is mixed with a splash of coffee.
To cool it down, look no further than the Snowstorm from FUMO in Incline Village. For this decadent après-ski cocktail, tequila is mixed with real coconut cream, agave, and lime and garnished with white cranberries.
Piazza brings a taste of Italy and Spain to Carson City, from its small plates (including a delicious shrimp and chorizo dish drizzled with a white wine and garlic cream sauce) to its cocktail and wine menu. The Positano Lemon Lavender Drop uses vodka from Frey Ranch in Fallon, a house-made blackberry lavender syrup, and freshly squeezed lemon for a refreshing cocktail that may just conjure up memories of the Amalfi Coast.
But First, Coffee
For a liquid pick-me-up, head to Pangolin Café in Midtown Reno to enjoy a cup as the aroma of fresh batches of Turkish delight and English toffee fills the air. Inspired by coffee and tea drinks from around the world, get out of your comfort zone and order a Cubano Breve, a double espresso shot pulled with turbinado sugar and ground cinnamon topped with half-and-half steamed with agave and cinnamon.
Coffee meets craft beer at Telegraph Coffee & Tap in Fallon. The specialty coffeehouse roasts beans from micro-lots in South America, Africa, and Indonesia on a roaster built in Fallon, and its staff mixes up cappuccinos with milk and other dairy products from nearby Sand Hill Dairy. Try the Dirty Hippy — a favorite among the Burning Man crowd — which combines spiced chai and espresso with sweet and creamy frothed milk.
Inside a pint-sized cabin in South Lake Tahoe, Black Cabin Coffee roasts up small batches of beans from co-op farms that use sustainable harvesting practices. All-organic syrups mingle with quality coffee to create specialty beverages, including the delightful Pistachio + Rose Latte. The new “walk-through” window, added due to the pandemic, makes it a convenient and safe option for grabbing a cup on the go.
Dessert Through a Straw
At Beefy’s no-frills, 400-square-foot diner in Midtown, make sure to wash down that Awesome Awesome burger (a play on the beloved Awful Awful burger at the now-closed Little Nugget) with a milkshake. Specifically, you shouldn’t miss the Maple Bacon Milkshake — just the right mix of sweet and savory, topped with bacon bits, whipped cream, and a classic bright-red maraschino cherry.
Up the hill in Kings Beach, Char-Pit ups the ante on the classic banana milkshake by using fresh bananas, real ice cream, and malted milk powder for a toasty, buttery flavor that adds just the right amount of savory.
For a boozy alternative to a sweet treat, try the Caramel Shake at The Arch Society, Reno’s only dessert bar. Made with vanilla-infused Tahoe Blue Vodka, caramel sauce, salty caramel ice cream from Minden’s Hoch Family Creamery, and milk, the decadent beverage is topped with whipped cream and garnished with a burnt butter sugar cookie.
Grab a Cuppa
If you haven’t had Free Bird Café’s signature chai tea, you may need to reconsider your priorities. When owner Aaron Abrams opened his South Lake Tahoe café, he knew he had to include the traditional chai tea recipe he learned from an Indian woman he’d met while traveling. It was a hit. Today, you not only can get a fresh cup at Free Bird, but you also can buy the sweet and spicy concentrate (made with Tahoe tap water, raw sugar cane, Assam black tea, black cardamom, green cardamom, cinnamon, and clove) and enjoy it mixed with steamed or hot milk.
At Too Soul Tea Co. in Reno, try the herbaceous blend of peppermint, ginseng, cinnamon, echinacea, sarsaparilla, licorice, and organic South African rooibos known as the 7 Seas Herbal Tea. The mixture of cooling peppermint and warming cinnamon makes for a strikingly delicious pairing.
For a warming beverage that also works to balance your mind and body, opt for a tea from Davidson’s Organics’ line of organic Ayurvedic Infusions made in Sparks. Sip on a savory turmeric ginger herbal blend for anti-inflammatory benefits or choose a floral mixture with cinnamon and citrus notes to help promote sleep.
Take It All In
Not much complements a well-crafted cocktail better than an impressive view to appreciate while you sip away. Located on the top floor of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Friday’s Station offers sweeping views of the lake below with an old-school aesthetic that harkens back to days when Frank Sinatra graced Tahoe’s stages. Keep it classic and order an ice-cold gin martini with a trio of olives.
Up on the North Shore, Lone Eagle Grille’s beachfront location can’t be beat when sunset hits. From the impressive list of single-malt scotch that is old enough to order its own single malt scotch, go for a glass of the good stuff on the rocks — best enjoyed outside by one of the restaurant’s fire pits.
Follow the flow of the Truckee back down to Reno for a mocktail at a table overlooking the river at The Shore. Located inside the Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel, the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant does not overlook its teetotaling diners. The Shore’s thoughtful non-alcoholic menu includes several beverages using Seedlip’s distilled alcohol-free spirits crafted from botanicals. The Truckee Green River is a blend of Seedlip Garden (made from pea, hay, and hops) with fennel juice, lime, mint, and cucumber for a savory, unlikely beverage.
Perched at the Sky Terrace Sushi Bar atop Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, you can choose from the selection of sparkling, traditional, and flavored sakes while taking in the award-winning views of the snow-capped mountains and then contemplate the nearly 50 types of nigiri and sashimi on the menu.
Put On a Show
Behind the back-alley delivery door for the (convincingly real but fake) Shim’s Surplus Supplies Co. storefront in Reno resides a speakeasy in all its exposed-brick-and-velvet-curtained-booth glory. Shim’s bartenders shake up classics with a twist, such as a Manhattan spiked with chocolate bitters, for patrons to enjoy during live music performances on its stage (once permitted again).
Nearby at The Emerson, a delightfully mid-century modern cocktail lounge in Midtown Reno, sip on a Don Draper (Grand Agave tequila, Grand Marnier, grapefruit juice, and orange juice) during a round of naughty bingo hosted by a drag queen — all in the name of charity! The Emerson hosts Drag Bingo on the second Thursday of each month, and the $15 participation fee helps support various local charities.
“How’d he do it?” is the question you’ll ask yourself while watching the Magic Fusion show in The Loft’s red-curtain-clad theater in South Lake Tahoe — and when the bartender mixes up the lounge’s souped-up old fashioned, Smoke and Mirrors. A combination of Old Forester 100-proof bourbon, maple liqueur, simple syrup, and tobacco bitters is garnished with Luxardo cherries and candied bacon before being placed in a cocktail smoker filled with applewood chip smoke. Ta-da!
There’s no denying that the last year has been incredibly difficult for our beloved restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, and distilleries throughout Reno-Tahoe, so get out there and show them just how much you’ve missed them.
UP YOUR BAR GAME
Presentation is half the game when it comes to cocktails, so skip the overdone Mason jar and invest in special sets of glassware. From coupes and highballs to martini glasses and tumblers, you can find complete sets — whether new or vintage — at stores throughout Reno-Tahoe.
In South Lake Tahoe, discover beautifully etched glassware at The Cork & More.
In Reno, peruse Junkee Clothing Exchange and antiques shop in Midtown and Red Chair in South Reno for cool vintage glassware to display on open shelving or on a tray atop your sideboard.
For high-quality Scandinavian designs, stroll through NORDIK’s storefront in The Basement shopping center located beneath West Elm in the historic 1933 U.S. Post Office building in Downtown Reno.
Claire McArthur is a freelance writer who needs a drink herself after writing about them for the last week. Invite her to happy hour, at Clairecudahy@gmail.com.
Black Cabin Coffee Blackcabincoffee.com
Black Rabbit Mead Co. Blackrabbitmeads.com
Bucket of Blood Bucketofbloodsaloon.com
Chapel Tavern Chapeltavern.com
Craft Wine & Beer Craftreno.net
Davidson’s Organics Davidsonstea.com
Engine 8 Urban Winery Engine8urbanwinery.com
FOLK Kombucha Folkbrewing.com
Free Bird Café Freebirdtahoe.com
Friday’s Station Caesars.com/harrahs-tahoe/restaurants
Garden to Glass Mixology Gardentoglassmixology.com
Genoa Bar Genoabarandsaloon.com
Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon Goldhillhotel.net
Grass Roots Natural Foods Grassrootstahoe.com/
Great Basin Community Food Co-op Greatbasinfood.coop
Great Full Gardens Greatfullgardens.com
Himmel Haus Himmelhausslt.com
Just Brew It Justbrewit.beer
Lone Eagle Grille Loneeaglegrille.com
Louis’ Basque Corner Louisbasquecorner.com
Pangolin Café Pangolincafe.com
Rum Sugar Lime Rumsugarlime.com
Safari Rose Tahoecruises.com
Sage Room Steakhouse Caesars.com/harveys-tahoe/restaurants
Shim’s Surplus Supplies Co. Shimssurplus.com
Shoe Tree Brewing Co. Shoetreebrewing.com
Sky Terrace Sushi Bar Atlantiscasino.com/dining
South Lake Brewing Co. Southlakebeer.com
Telegraph Coffee & Tap Telegraphcoffee.com
The Arch Society Thearchsociety.com
The Emerson Theemersonreno.com
The Loft Thelofttahoe.com
The Mill Juice Shop Themilljuiceshop.com
The Reno Homebrewer Renohomebrewer.com
The Shore Shoreroom.com
Too Soul Tea Co. Toosoultea.com
The Steak House at Western Village Westernvillagesparks.com/dining
Whispering Vine Wine Co. Whisperingvinewine.com
Junkee Clothing Exchange Junkeeclothingexchange.com
Red Chair Find Red Chair on Facebook
The Cork & More Thecorkandmore.com