Looking back is great but looking forward is better. In 2014, Reno experienced a lot of growth so let’s capture that momentum and make 2015 the year of Reno.
“A rising tide lifts all boats.”
I heard that idiom from many business owners throughout 2014 as they explained how they felt about the direction Reno is heading. Midtown led the charge toward a smarter drinking culture with high-level bar menus and liquor lists. Bars, casinos and restaurants in other parts of town took advantage of that escalation and followed suit.
Over Christmas I went to Iceland, a progressive European country of 320,000 people (so Reno-Sparks but on an arctic lava island) and then stopped over in Seattle’s downtown. It’s always nice to get a fresh perspective on home. Compared to these two locations, Reno’s drink scene really holds its own with superior cocktail creations, liquor choices and best of all price. But the bars can’t revive Reno and tourism alone, it’s a joint effort.
I’ve put together a list of 15 things I’d like to see in Reno over the next year (but realistically probably one to five years). These resolutions focus on businesses but also on the people who live here and how we can be part of the progress. Progress in a city comes from many conversations and actions that form one larger movement. We all take part in that conversation and own a stake in its direction.
1. Have a better sense of humor about ourselves
In Iceland, the media, signage and people maintain a healthy sense of self-depracating humor about their tiny, freezing country. Most locals also make fun of Reno in a healthy way but as we try to change our reputation, mentioning trailer parks, dirty downtown or Reno 911 still cause outbursts in person and online. It’s OK, Reno is a funny place, embrace the joke and make your own. If someone posts pictures of the lesser parts of town, don’t freak out, just laugh and go take pictures of the better parts.
2. Better sidewalks in Midtown
Almost every other district in Reno enjoys great walkable sidewalks. Portland, Seattle, Denver and San Francisco’s art and food culture comes from their famous walkable districts. Bustling people and street-side businesses encourage growth. Midtown has the worst sidewalks, some of which could be described as thick curbs. Businesses often resist the construction projects because it would hurt traffic flow, a legitimate concern. So, let’s push the Reno City Council to fix this mess and to aid the affected businesses in a strategic way. I’m sure Hillary Schieve can relate.
3. Parking garage in Midtown
In addition to walkable sidewalks, we could really use a small two-level parking garage. In downtown Glenwood Springs, Colo. and downtown Reykjavík, Iceland (or really just every other small downtown city), I’ve found unobtrusive parking garages where the first level is below ground level and the second level is slightly above it. As new businesses move into the area, parking and walkability have become a critical issue. Without it, there’s no motivation to shop in Midtown and it will not expand its reach beyond people who live in the neighborhood. A parking garage with a similar business model to the one on First and Sierra Streets would go a long way in improving traffic flow in this area.
4. Create more award-winning beer and spirits
Last year, Great Basin Brewing Co. and Brasserie St. James won several beer awards at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver (in addition to many others) and Las Vegas Distillery won several awards from Craft American Spirits while Seven Troughs Distilling won bronze at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. This is great for them and helps legitimize the breweries and distilleries to the public, giving great exposure to the region. I urge all spirits producers to check out the competition and send everything to these awards, if not just for the judge’s feedback, but to make sure judges and attendees know we exist.
5. More bottled and canned liquor
As Great Basin Brewing Co., Brasserie St. James and Tonopah Brewing Co. increase their can and bottle production, locals and tourists can take these good beers home to enjoy anytime, anywhere. Bottling and canning also continue to spread the good word of Nevada craft beer to more locations inside and outside the state.
6. Pass the winery bill amendment
Currently, wineries can only sell wine made on-premise in Nevada’s rural counties. Assemblyman Pat Hickey and the Nevada Wine Coalition want to cut the county-specific part of the law to allow wineries to produce and sell anywhere in Nevada. That could mean wineries and tasting rooms in Reno or Las Vegas, opening up our small Nevada wine industry into larger markets. This should be a no-brainer for the Nevada legislature and we implore senators and assemblyman to pass this one quickly.
7. Replace long-stay hotels with affordable housing
Reno has a critical homelessness problem. As developers come into Downtown Reno and plan to renovate buildings and raise the rent, displacing residents like in the El Cortez and as Fourth Street, Wells Ave. and Midtown gentrify, it will only get worse. Many of us are glad that the “riff-raff” will slowly be removed from view, but those are the people who don’t have a voice and can’t read these articles or comment on them. We need to stop ignoring the problem. Sure, it’s great for the city’s image, but where will these people realistically go? I’d like to see a dedicated effort from landlords and developers toward creating affordable housing like the apartment complex next to Pigeon Head Brewery. Everyone deserves a place to live and shouldn’t have a bunch of developers pushing them out onto the streets.
8. Major overhaul to Downtown Reno
And speaking of which, Downtown Reno has made great strides on the Truckee River with new businesses filling in old vacancies. The area is full of people shopping, eating and enjoying the area like I’ve never seen. Continue the momentum of the Riverwalk District up through the casino corridor and on through the University of Nevada, Reno. The new, innovative attitude created by Whitney Peak Hotel needs to infect all the other casinos around it. Reno hates being compared to Las Vegas, but Vegas realized the importance of inventive food, drink and entertainment over gaming many years ago and sometimes the downtown casinos feel stale and out of date.
9. Support local, not just buy local
Shopping local is one thing and supporting local is another. It’s easy to get negative and complain about service or experiences but it’s harder to give places a second and third chance to impress you. I’m not telling everyone to be nice to each other, but don’t judge a bar or restaurant by its first week or one visit. Everyone has a bad day. At the same time, honest constructive criticism and opinions and high expectations are part of the growing pains of Reno’s current trajectory. Trying to build something in a city isn’t about just being positive about change, it’s about actually achieving change. But being a good customer is also about showing respect to the people working hard to serve you food and drinks. If you’re food isn’t seasoned well, ask for more seasoning. If you don’t like the drink, say something, but don’t be a dick about it and don’t take such a ridiculous complaint to the Internet and start a battle.
10. Listen to your customers
The above being said, if you’re not listening to your customers on social media or in person, than why do you own a business that serves the public? It’s hard to hear criticism when you’ve put hard work and lots of money (sometimes millions of dollars) into a project. It’s especially easy to dismiss customers as not “getting it” or not knowing anything about the industry. But why does it matter if you’re serving a food critic or an idiot? They are customers giving you money to perform a service. When Reno Provisions opened in December, the layout didn’t make sense and the food offerings were slim. But a month later, after numerous complaints, there’s now great signage, the grocery section and cafeteria are filling out and the food is great for the price. The management even thanked people for their feedback on Facebook. That’s the right attitude to make a place work.
11. Soft openings before grand openings
But couldn’t we just avoid all the drama by quietly opening businesses for a month while the service gets hired and the beer matures? Pigeon Head Brewery successfully soft opened for almost two months while they dialed in their beers. There’s nothing worse than letting people bombard Yelp and Facebook with bad reviews because you ran out of hamburgers within the first three days, your keg lines are dirty and you didn’t spend enough time training the staff and blah, blah, blah. Reno loves new stuff and they will drown you with love and patronage so don’t let the first week kill a great idea.
12. Train your staff
A final note on this area is to train your staff. The Atlantis Casino’s Bistro Napa has one of the most well-trained staffs in the city. Servers, bartenders and cooks work in that restaurant for multiple years because they receive top-notch training, which creates an amazing food and drink experience for every customer. An apprentice must learn the ways of bartending for six months before making a drink for any customer. The beverage managers continue to train their staff on new techniques and spirits knowledge all the time. In any industry, knowledge and training make a huge difference on performance. So let’s get our people trained up during the soft opening so they can listen to customers and encourage people to support local (see how I wrapped that all up together there?).
13. Keep up the awesome events
Between all of the crawls, walks, shuffles, galas, balls and fests, Reno has an awesome selection of events to go to. Really just keep it up. Sometimes resolutions are about staying the course.
14. Keep the momentum going!
None of the above should be interpreted as whining or complaining. It would be pollyanna to think everything is perfect. There’s always room to improve, that’s what resolutions are for. This community has made enormous strides since I moved here 10 years ago and January 2015 is a good time to reflect, take a deep breath and get ready for the next round. The conversations are coalescing and the community is primed. 2015 is the year of Reno.
15. Drinkable Reno’s resolution
So what’s Drinkable Reno’s role in all of this? I can’t just lay out a bunch of resolutions for everyone and then shirk any responsibility this blog has to the community. I will continue educating locals and tourists about what’s happening in Reno. I will keep the conversation about Reno’s drink culture informed and positive in this space. I will connect people through storytelling when talking to sources and community members. I will continue to create and help with events and collaborations that improve the drinking scene. When there’s an opportunity to take an active role in improving our community, I will take it and be involved in any way I can with all the above resolutions.
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