Reno as hip travel wonderland?

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com March 14 2007 11:00 PM ET

Reno has always
been the Randy Quaid to Las Vegas's Dennis—less sexy
and sophisticated but silly and fun nonetheless.
Lately, Reno has been growing up and showing off a
profundity Vegas lacks, attracting queer residents and
tourists who like their $3 surf and turf with a side of
Warhol.

The town once
known for quickie divorces and cheap slots is now hosting
“Andy Warhol's Dream America,” a thorough
retrospective of the pop artist's legacy being held at
the striking four-story Nevada Museum of Art (160 W.
Liberty St., (775) 329-3333, www.nevadaart.org). The NMA's
wide-open spaces, designed by Will Bruder, invite lengthy
observations of Warhol's soup cans and Marilyn
worship. The multiroom exhibit lasts until May 27,
with films, parties, and lunches complementing the art. But
even if you find your way to Reno after Andy leaves
town, a visit to NMA—the only accredited art
museum in the state—is essential.

After all that
culture, it's time for a drink. The NMA, only four blocks
south of the city's downtown casino district, is in a
delightful arts hood a world away from neon and
showgirls. Cute bars, restaurants, and shops are
cropping up, and the delicious Chocolate Bar (475 S.
Arlington Ave., (775) 337-1122) is the neighborhood's
piece de résistance. Like something out of nearby
San Francisco, the tasteful café/bar serves up
cocktails spiked with exotic touches like German cocoa and
lavender essence. Staff and patrons are dressed
sharply, and the bar is bathed in soft lighting and
muted neutrals. Adding a nice touch are small
televisions running old cartoons and classic films on a
silent loop.

After a chat-tini
and brie plate at The Chocolate Bar, take a stroll down
California Avenue, which offers cooler wares than those
found in West Hollywood. At the Kalifornia Jean Bar
(290 California Ave., (775) 329-5326), you'll get a
glass of wine to keep your buzz going as you shop for
designer denim.

A cool outfit
will be necessary when you head for dinner at Dolce Enoteca
e Ristorante (located in the Grand Sierra Resort &
Casino, 2500 E. 2nd St., (775) 324-9444), the new Reno
outpost of Ashton Kutcher's Los Angeles Italian
eatery. Like its namesake, Dolce's ambience is trendy,
the food rich, and the wine selection varied. The tuna
tartare—ahi-grade tuna mixed in with a
soy-ginger-garlic marinade—will leave you melting
into the restaurant's black leather seats.

After your
luxurious meal, a tour of the Sierra could be a good way to
walk off calories. Formerly the Reno Hilton, the Sierra is
in the midst of a major upgrade where old suites are
being gutted and replaced with glam condos for the
upwardly mobile. A water park is planned for the
property, as is a new wine bar.

Gambling is at
your feet, but blowing your money may be more fun at the
nearby 5 Star Saloon (132 West St., (775) 329-2878), an
island of gay hipness amid the hetero flash of
downtown Reno. The drinks are cheap and the music
hot—think up-tempo Smiths songs and tipsy girls that
look like they escaped from The L Word set.

Even if you're
hungover the next day, you'll just have to muster the will
to get to Lake Tahoe and hit the slopes. The Sierra Nevadas
are a gorgeous sight to behold (more picturesque than
the peaks surrounding Vegas), and the closest resort,
Mt. Rose (22222 Mount Rose Highway, (800) SKI-ROSE,
www.mtrose.com), is only 30 minutes from downtown Reno.
Northstar-at-Tahoe (100 Northstar Drive, Truckee, Calif.,
(800) GO-NORTH, www.northstarattahoe.com) is a little
further than Rose, but bigger and with gondolas. If
you ski or board for just a day, you'll be able to skip
the gym for a week. It's an intense workout that will leave
you feeling at once powerful and sore.

Even if your
thighs remain loose as a goose, you should still book a
massage at the Siena Hotel Spa Casino (1 S. Lake St., (877)
743-6233). The luxe spa is a tranquil oasis that
complements the frenetic pace of a long weekend well
spent in the “new” Reno.