150 YEARS FOR NEVADA
THE OLDEST SALOON IN NEVADA
By Byron Craft
If you are hankering to go north and leave the gaming tables of Sin City for a little while, then by all means head to Genoa. Go where, you say? Genoa is one of those small Nevada towns that many Las Vegas residents have no clue to its location.
Historic Genoa was founded in 1851. It was the first settlement in what became the Nevada Territory. It is nestled at the base of the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Range, just 25 minutes east of Lake Tahoe, and one hour south of Reno. The population of Genoa is 939 according to the 2010 census. Genoa is Nevada’s oldest town.
October 2014 marked Nevada’s 150th birthday, and taking a stroll into Nevada’s oldest saloon at 2282 Main Street…the Genoa Bar is a great way to celebrate 150 historic years of the Silver State. It is dark and smoky, with various memorabilia on every wall and Patsy Cline playing on the jukebox sets the mood. The cobwebs strung along the ceiling only add to the allure.
The Genoa Bar, at first look, stands out as a dive bar, but as soon as you walk in, you know there is something different and a little special here. Maybe it’s that the place has been around for so long, and all the dirt and dust and history it has accrued through the years gives the joint the prestige reserved for historic monuments. Or maybe it is the cross section of bikers, tourists, real cowboys, and hippies from Tahoe that makes you take a step back and grin. Then again, it just could be the old arcade games used as tables, or Raquel Welch’s bra hanging on that deer’s antlers. Then you notice a local family, after a round of beers and shots of Fireball, discussing when the dinner roast at home will be ready. It is clear that this bar is home, and home means Nevada.
The top of the bar is original and the medallions on the ceiling above the lights are original, as is the one red oil lamp which is lit every New Year’s Eve. The electric lamps are also original to the bar and were oil, but converted to electricity at the turn of the century. The place is kept warm in winter by a woodstove, and since it is the only source of heat, the locals often bring in firewood when it gets low. And don’t get nervous, those are not blood stains on the ceiling (it’s tomato juice). While there have been some rough and tumbles in the old Genoa Bar, no one was ever killed. The Diamond Dust mirror on the back of the bar came from Glasgow, Scotland, in the late 1840’s. It was shipped around the Cape Horn to San Francisco, then brought to Genoa by covered wagon. Originally, there were two mirrors, but one was sold to a movie company in the 1930’s during the great depression. If you shine a flashlight on the mirror, you can see the diamond dust.
There is a fully stocked bar. They don’t serve food, but you can order and get food delivered from across the street. The house amber ale on tap is definitely recommended or you might want to try their 14 ingredients Bloody Mary. It is cash only, but the prices are very affordable.
Many famous people have visited the Genoa Bar over the years, among them, Mark Twain, when he first reported for the Territorial Enterprise which opened in Genoa (before moving to Virginia City). Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed “cool ones” while stepping on the brass rail. Carole Lombard and Clark Gable came here to play high stakes poker games with the local cattle barons. Among the other famous and infamous were Lauren Bacall, Richard Boone, Ronnie Howard, Red Skelton, Cliff Robertson, and all of our Nevada Governors have come through its doors.
When Raquel Welch visited, she was asked to leave her bra. She agreed, but insisted that all the other bras be taken down and so they were.
It wouldn’t be right for the Genoa Bar to exclude anyone, so they take lingerie donations that are kept in the old safe. Go ahead and peek, but remember, the custom is: if you open the door to the safe, a donation is required.
Musicians seem to gravitate to the Genoa Bar. The establishment welcomed Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Slim Pickens, John Denver, and the Captain and Tennille, to name just a few. A number of movies have been filmed there, including The Shootist with John Wayne, Charley Varrick with Walter Mathau and Joe Don Baker, Honky Tonk Man with Clint Eastwood, Misery with James Cann, Kathy Bates, Rob Reiner and Richard Farnsworth, and most recently, A Place Called Home starring Ann-Margaret. Around the mid-1980’s the Coors Beer Company came to the Genoa Bar to film a commercial. Unfortunately, the local gentlemen who were extras didn’t like Coors. They emptied their cans, filled them with Budweiser, and proceeded with the filming.
There have been a lot of “high old times” within the walls of the old Genoa Bar over the years and that tradition continues to this day. When the weather is warm, impromptu porch parties happen and there can be dancing in the streets. On cold winter evenings when the snow is falling, nothing beats the woodstove and good friends for a couple of hours.
In 1863, a gentleman by the name of Al Livingston built the establishment and named it the “Livingston Exchange.” It was operated as a gentleman’s saloon, allowing no rough stuff or excessive drinking. Subsequently the bar had three more owners, and when Bob and Betty Carver purchased it in 1963, it became known as the “Old Genoa Bar.” The family ran the saloon until 2000, when they retired and sold it to Willy and Cindy Webb. It is the oldest continually operating thirst parlor in the state of Nevada. And, of course, no horses are allowed. The owners watch out for everyone in this little corner of history and are delighted when people stop by to share some time with them.