That Old Vegas Charm—in Reno!

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons

Sometimes living in Las Vegas causes us to forget about other cities in Nevada that use the same business model that we do. They have casinos, survive off of tourism and use value and loss leaders to market. Reno is one of those cities.

I recently went to Reno for the first time in a while. The place doesn’t change much, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. I stayed at Harrah’s for $30 a night, ate some good grub and even got up to Tahoe—for my money, one of the most beautiful natural sights in the world.

Reno’s tourist core is kind of like a big downtown Las Vegas, with several casinos located all in one area and within walking distance of one another. There are some fancier places—Peppermill and Atlantis—a few miles up the road, but for the most part, going to Reno means hanging out in the downtown area at Harrah’s, Cal Neva, Eldorado, Silver Legacy and Siena, among others, and there are some awesome deals to be had.

Coffee shops and snack bars abound, so you can always eat on the cheap, but the best is probably Club Cal Neva. Its Top Deck restaurant serves a fantastic steak & eggs for $4.99 that’s better than anything comparably priced in Vegas (with the possible exception of Arizona Charlie’s $3.99 steak-and-eggs special). Or eat at Steak & Pasta House, where four people might be able to go through a $100 bill.

Reno also has a couple of must-do restaurants that aren’t just about price. The first is John’s Oyster Bar at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in the neighboring city of Sparks. John’s has been operating since 1959, and it’s amazing—especially the like-no-other oyster pan roast for $13.50. And you have to try Louis’ Basque Corner (301 E. Fourth Street). Basque meals are served family-style, with several sides, usually with beef or lamb as the main course. Good, plentiful and fun—dinners are $24.95 to $26.95. Las Vegas doesn’t have a single Basque restaurant, so I get my fix in Reno.

Another area where Reno shines is video poker. Yes, you can find some really good schedules in Las Vegas, but you have to go off the Strip. In Reno it seems like everywhere you go there’s something good to play. For example, the bars at the Eldorado deal games with returns of nearly 100 percent for quarters, and most of the dollar games have progressive royal flushes that can easily top a 100 percent payback. Not only do the good schedules afford a better gamble, but the bartenders pour healthy servings of Siena Sangiovese and craft beers for players, as opposed to the bar red and Bud Light served in Vegas.

It’s a slower pace and a different culture—one that you rarely find in Las Vegas these days. I like it.

Anthony Curtis is the publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and, a newsletter and website dedicated to finding the best deals in town.

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