Hankering for a Side of History: Reno Tahoe historic restaurants you won’t want to miss

By Natasha Bourlin

Let’s take a walk through Reno Tahoe’s historic restaurant options and discover craft foods and brews.

Reno Tahoe historic restaurants
Genoa Bar, Photo by Jeramie Lu Photography

Our region was settled during the mining boom in the mid-1800s. History permeates the stunning peaks and valleys strewn throughout the Reno-Tahoe area, rolling into the Carson Valley.

Today, many structures remain from the original foundation of communities, reminding us of the past, and allowing us to savor stories along with our meals and beverages.

Carson crafted

Nevada’s historic capital, Carson City, emerged after settlers established nearby towns in the picturesque Carson Valley. Many testaments to the area’s past still exist, serving customers great food and drinks within walls dating back over 150 years.

The Union in Carson City is an eatery, brewpub and coffee house in one, located on Carson City’s main street, still teeming with antiquity.

Beers such as The Governor Hefeweizen pay tribute to the area’s political position in the state and are best served with evolved comfort foods like their Smoked Pork Belly Mac ‘n’ Cheese.

Outside their doors, nearby markers guide historians along the Kit Carson Trail to walk off their meal. Along that trail are two other notable landmarks that serve enticing delicacies and local libations.

Reno Tahoe historic restaurants
Historic Reno-Tahoe

Long a hotspot for politicos to gather due to its proximity to government buildings, the Bank Saloon — dubbed Jack’s Bar in 1966 — recently reopened with its original moniker.

The original structure witnessed prohibition raids, robberies at gunpoint, and was among the first Nevada establishments in the early 20th century to receive its gambling license.

This is not the place to fuel up unless you run on grain alcohol. Bank Saloon is where to unwind with a cocktail, often made from locally produced spirits, catch up with friends over cocktails or a beer, and imagine the important state decisions made while mingling over the bar in days of yore.

Elegant dark woods and crimson fabrics embrace you upon entering the Fox Brewpub, located in a longstanding landmark, the St. Charles Hotel.

Above, in the pub’s structural home, prominent state figures, pioneers and miners once laid their heads in one of the first Carson City lodging properties, an elegant brick structure built in 1862.

The hotel is still open to overnight guests, though now they can journey downstairs for a freshly crafted brew and some delectable English-style delicacies.

Dozens of handcrafted beers dot the menu, alongside traditional dining options such as fish and chips, burgers, salads, wings and more.

Bently Heritage Estate Distillery

Sustainability was key from the ground, up, when Bently Heritage Estate Distillery was established in a 100-year-old Minden flour mill now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Owners rehabilitated the century-old building with a nod to its history, while updating it to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification standards.

Grains used in their spirits like harvest winter rye, wheat, barley and oats are sustainably grown on the estate surrounding the distillery, then processed in the mill that was originally built for grain handling long ago.

Tours of the distillery aren’t currently available in person, but samples of their spirits are found in watering holes throughout the region and digital visitors can explore the estate online.

In a 1902 building that once served as a meat market, then restaurant, hotel and pub, the Carson Valley’s lengthy history of Basque settlers is still celebrated.

In Gardnerville, the Overland Restaurant and Pub honors the Basque sheepherder culture with cuisine inspired by the regional pioneers.

Dining on dishes such as their sausage platter featuring Basque chorizo are sure to please, plus starters like Basque shrimp and beer-battered cheese curds are served within brick walls lined with copper and topped by antique tin ceilings.

Smoked meats are their specialty, while locally brewed beers accompany the dishes delectably. Letting your eyes wander around the restaurant can make you feel like you stepped back into the town’s early 20th-century heyday.

Genoa Bar / Photo by Jeramie Lu Photography

Nearby, in Genoa, Nevada’s first settlement established in 1851, the town’s namesake bar is a longstanding legend.

The list of celebrities who have stopped into the Genoa Bar over the decades reads like an encyclopedia (remember those?). Some even left undergarments to remember them by, like Raquel Welch.

Mark Twain was a regular before moving to Virginia City. Movies starring Clint Eastwood and John Wayne have been filmed here.

Country music icons like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings have also sidled up to the historic bar that has stood the test of time and still emanates the centuries it’s seen.

Take in the quaint town from its porch with a glass filled with local spirits or beers and share tales of the history the building has boasted.

Historic Reno
Reveling in Reno history

Established officially in 1868, Reno was founded when the transcontinental railroad reached the region. The Biggest Little City in the World became the nation’s divorce capital in the early 1900s, and also a bustling metropolis once gaming was legalized in 1931.

Structural reminders of the city’s history still remain, many serving fantastic food and beverages from inside walls we wish could talk. Like the historic Riverside Hotel.

Marilyn Monroe stayed here. Throngs of hopeful divorcees made it their home. Sinatra crooned from its stage. With one of the most fascinating histories in Reno, The Riverside Hotel once towered above the city skyline, beckoning guests from the banks of the Truckee River.

Today, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and home to dozens of artists in its new life as the Riverside Artist Lofts. Incredible food is also served from its ground floor at one of our favorite Reno Tahoe historic restaurants, the Wild River Grille.

“Our restaurant’s home and 15-year journey in the original Riverside Hotel has been extraordinary,” Chuck Shapiro, owner of Wild River Grille says.

“The lore of bygone times mixed with present and future possibilities is a narrative that many people want to hear. Even in today’s ultra-tech world, our cherished place in the Riverside Hotel gives us a real-life connection to the community, the past, the present and the future.”

Walking through the Grille’s doors, guests are taken on a pictorial tour of the Riverside’s past. Large black and white photos line the walls sharing previous iterations of the area and former hotel.

An expansive patio for seating lets diners bask in the brick building’s exterior beauty and other longstanding structures surrounding it.

Thoughtfully curated cocktail and wine lists accompany the mouthwatering cuisine served for lunch, dinner and happy hour. You won’t want to miss this dining opportunity!

Across Virginia Street is The Basement, a conglomeration of locally owned businesses and service providers that found a home in the depths of the architecturally stunning 1933 U.S. Post Office.

Nearby is another notably historical place for imbibing and dining.

The Depot Craft Brewery and Distillery

When the owners of The Depot Craft Brewery and Distillery selected the century-old former headquarters for the Nevada-California-Oregon Railway as the location to begin crafting beers and spirits, they paid homage to the structure’s past while giving it an industrial-style makeover.

Several stories and abundant gathering areas welcome eaters and imbibers to try their spirits and microbrews crafted on-site. Its facade harkens back to its roots as a train station, albeit the awning has changed.

Gastropub cuisine is made using ingredients from area producers and suppliers to ensure delicious and fresh dining fare. Try some with their award-winning whiskeys, or gin distilled from Nevada grains.

Once a bustling industrial and commercial area along the transcontinental railroad in the late 1800s to early 1900s, 4th Street in Reno has evolved into a hub for libation lovers.

Farther down what was once known as the Lincoln Highway, Ferino Distillery celebrates the Italian tradition of mixing spices with spirits with an array of cordials and liqueurs crafted in a historic building. Tours and tastings are available.

Far below the former Crystal Springs water and ice plant, Brasserie St. James taps into the artesian lake that contains natural spring water used in their ales and lagers.

This European-style eatery serves comforting pub fare and French-inspired dishes to go with their old-world brews amidst the walls which teem with history, and now life once again.

Take a belly-filling, tastebud-pleasing dining tour of Reno Tahoe historic restaurants in these structural homages that have welcomed visitors for over a century. Somehow, everything just tastes better with a side of history.

Did you know?

You can enjoy amazing food from our favorite restaurants in the Biggest Little City with the Biggest Little Bites pass!

The Biggest Little Bites Pass is a one-of-a-kind exploration, designed to help you tap into that tasteful vintage charm while experiencing the newness of the art-laden walls of Midtown, the splendor of the Riverwalk District, to the neon flashy lights of downtown.

This pass features exclusive deals that can be redeemed at the city’s hidden treasures just waiting to be discovered. Check out the details and order it here!

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Disclaimer: Getaway Reno/Tahoe supports social distancing and safe practices promoting the health of our community. Due to the COVID-19 health crisis, digital and print content is updated to the best of our knowledge. Please keep in mind, many photos featured in our publication and online platform were taken before the pandemic and may not reflect current conditions. As you navigate your Reno/Tahoe adventure, be sure to visit the corresponding event URL or business page to check cancellations, closings, or postponements. Stay safe, stay healthy. Thank you.