Having grown up in Reno, my mom was almost 25 before she’d ever heard of last call. She was at a bar in Salt Lake City when around 1 a.m. her friends told her it was time to go. “Why are we leaving?” she asked.
“Because they’re closing,” her friends responded.
“Well, okay, let’s go to another bar.”
“No, all the bars are closing,” they explained.
Nevada is the only state in the union that allows alcohol to be served 24 hours a day, and many bars across the Silver State do just that: Shea’s, a fairly spacious, dimly lit dive-like bar on South Virginia Street in Reno, for example, never closes, and you can walk into any casino in Reno or Vegas at any hour of the day and get a cocktail. Bars that do choose to close often do so as late as 5 or 6 a.m., well past when even renowned nightlife cities like Miami and Manhattan have turned off the lights.
Which, for my bartender brain, is astounding: What kind of twisted tableaus must one witness when the only natural close to a night is when the drinkers and partiers decide they’re ready for it to be over?
To find out, I talked to Ryan VanDuyn, 40, DJ, club owner and Reno nightlife veteran. VanDuyn, or RV, currently co-owns The BlueBird, a nightclub and music venue on East Fourth Street in a steadily gentrifying part of town. (According to VanDuyn, City Hall has dubbed this area the “Old Brewery District,” after the number of breweries that have cropped up over the last few years, but locals, VanDuyn says, are still more familiar with the area as “Where You Go for Hookers and Crack.”) He’s also a former co-owner of Würk, a now-closed downtown dance club.
BlueBird is open from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 5 a.m. to noon every other Sunday for “sunrise sets” — i.e., mellow music and breakfast libations at the break of dawn to ease the comedown from an all-night dance party (or, you know, whatever it is you were doing until 6 in the morning).
Safe to say, the man has some stories to tell about what happens when instead of saying, “Time to go, friends,” state law simply says, “As you were…”
—Haley Hamilton, Booze Correspondent
Our hours are based on the customer. The customer dictates when we’re open, and people in this town, because they know they can drink all night, tend to not go out so early. That means our clientele doesn’t usually show up until about 11 or 12. Where bars in other towns get going around 10:30 p.m., we don’t see that peak capacity until about midnight.
Würk was very different. That venue is in what I call the Barmuda Triangle, every city has one — you know, there’s tons of bars in just a few blocks. Down there, we were also open until five but people wouldn’t pack in until two or three in the morning. That’s when shit can get weird. At that point, in that part of town, people have already been out for a few hours, and get locked into the culture of let’s keep going, let’s get wasted, instead of finding somewhere to land and enjoying themselves.
Without a doubt one of the most comical — and also sad — moments we’ve had was during New Year’s Eve in mid-2000s at Würk. We mistakenly locked someone in after close. They’d passed out in a bathroom. The next day, they posted online, “Oh hey, I woke up at Würk, thought it was hilarious and grabbed a beer on my way out.”
Needless to say, we started checking the bathrooms when we closed up. Fast-foward then to NYE circa 2010. We’re doing our routine check of all the bathrooms, and one of the women’s bathrooms is locked — it only locks from the inside, so someone is in there. When we get the keys and go in, a girl is passed out around the toilet. We woke her up and were like, “Hey, it’s a bar, you can’t sleep here.” Her response was like, “Whatever, I’m at home. Leave me alone.”
She’s totally not there, but we keep telling her, “You really can’t be here. I’m sorry, but you gotta fuckin leave.” All of a sudden, she gets up and she’s like, “Fine!” and walks outside. Now, it’s probably about 9 a.m. and snowing; she’s in a miniskirt, tube top and one high heel. Still, she wouldn’t let us call her a cab; she just went hobbling down the street.
There was another night when there was a shooting at a club down the street at about two or three in the morning. The shooting prompted the police to close all the streets. So the cops are walking around in riot gear shutting all the bars down. When they come to mine, we’re jam packed and at capacity. They call me out front and say, “You gotta get everybody out of here. We’re closing everybody down.” I was like, “There’s no way that I’m gonna take a full nightclub and empty it into the street with you guys out here in riot gear with AKs in your hands. I’d be sending them into a war zone. I’ll just lock ’em in instead.”
And so, I go inside, stop the music and say, “If you want to leave, you have to leave now. If you don’t want to leave, we’re locking you in for a couple hours.” Everybody, of course, stayed. In all, we kept the doors locked for two and a half hours before they let us let anyone out.
One of the reasons we chose to be where we are now, with BlueBird, is that down here is different. It’s a little harder to get to, it’s a destination. People don’t hop around; they show up here for a reason. The distance separates us from the bar crawls, the club hopping, the people winding up at your place when they’re only looking to puke or fight.
Like, one night at Würk we threw out this guy because he was drunk and throwing up. But because it was only two or three in the morning, the go home now instinct didn’t kick in. He broke into one of our security guards’ cars — the same guy that had thrown him out — and covered the inside of it with vomit. I mean, oh my God, the guy annihilated the inside of that car. Then he passed out.
When we got out of work at six or seven or in the morning, the security guard found him, and was so mad. I mean, could you imagine? But by that point, the guy had had long enough to sleep it off, and when my guy woke him up, he threw him a rag and said, “You clean this until it’s like it’s brand fuckin’ new or I’m calling the cops.”
I don’t think anyone’s ever cleaned a car so well before.
As for me, if I go out for a drink after work — and I generally don’t anymore, going to a bar at 6 or 7 a.m. isn’t my thing these days — I go to Shea’s.
Shea’s is open 24 hours. They never close, and Shea’s is where the whole industry, for the most part, goes. Nearly every industry person wants to have a drink when they get off of work — you need that decompression time to sit down, have a shot or a beer and bitch about your night.
I’m not proud to say it, but I’ve blacked out at Shea’s and woke up like 36 hours later, still there, talking to some random stranger that I thought was the friend I came in with. Usually when you do that, you wake up at home, in bed, like, “How the fuck did I get here?” But I stumbled through the other side of a blackout still sitting at the bar. They’d had like four shift changes since I’d come in.
I think what’s most surprising, though — and I mean all of this shit is fairly memorable — are the people you’ll see still out at six or seven in the morning who hold it together.
In that way, Reno has a weirdly adult drinking culture. The city is just so seasoned. If you grew up here or have lived here for a while, the novelty of being able to drink all night has worn off. Alcohol becomes something you can take or leave because you can take it or leave it whenever you want.
I mean, even I only had one or two drinks last time I went to Shea’s.
I was real proud of that.