I figured jet fuel was being blown up my ass when it was mentioned during an Alaska Airlines press junket that Reno, Nevada, is becoming the new Portland, Oregon. Yes, that Reno, of meth-mouthed Reno 911! Mini-Me to Las Vegas' Austin Powers fame.
But upon closer inspection, I can see the Portlandia-fication of "The Biggest Little City In the World." This is due to:
• Sky-high housing costs pushing people out of the Bay Area.
• Location as the provisions center for the Burning Man gathering, which is a couple of hours away every August.
• The opening of Campo restaurant in the fall of 2011.
So off to the Portland of the Great Basin we go!
Mark Estee's Campo, which was one of Esquire's Best New Restaurants in America for 2012, is credited with sparking the revitalization still under way in Reno's riverfront downtown. Handmade pasta, house-made salami, local farm-sourced produce and Napoletana-style pizza fired in a wood-burning oven are served. 50 N. Sierra St., Reno, 775-737-9555; camporeno.com.
Downtown's rehab has been parlayed in recent years to the rise of Reno's funky Midtown on the other side of the Truckee River. In between liquor stores, boarded-up units and homeless people, you'll find hip shops, galleries and a whole bunch of brew pubs. www.downtownmakeover.com.
The old-world-style ales and lagers at Brasserie Saint James won so many awards—including the Best Mid-Size Brewpub and Brewers in America at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival—that a second location opened in San Francisco's Mission District. Come for the suds, but stay for the house-made pretzels, poutine with duck and one of the best paninis I have ever vacuumed: the Cubano de Santiago. Wash it down with Daily Wages, a Saison/farmhouse ale. 901 S. Center St., Reno, 775-348-8888; brasseriesaintjames.com.
I stumbled off the meal with a walking tour, stopping at several Burning Man outfitters. Reno embraces the annual festival by adopting giant art pieces that would otherwise be burned at the end of the week, sprinkling them around town as public art. burningman.org.
While in PolyEsther's Costume Boutique, a bulldog wandered through, a former seamstress to casino showgirls had a sewing machine humming to finish a last-minute order, and owner Esther Dunaway helped a customer with a corset that would be on her person at a fancy party that night. The place has all the Burning Man work they can handle, but it's even busier other times of the year, Dunaway confides. 655 S. Virginia St., Reno, 775-420-5050; www.polycostumes.com.
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Wild River Grille owner Chuck Shapiro made me feel right at home at dinner. That's partly because he used to live in Orange, but mostly thanks to his locally sourced short ribs braised in a port-and-shallot demi glace. It's a modern menu and interior—inside Reno's historic Riverside Hotel. 17 S. Virginia St., Reno, 775-284-7455.
The perfect way to glide into night is by pedaling with up to 11 other suds-lovers on the Reno Brew Bike, whose route includes stops at bars and pubs that give you discounted beers. 775-771-0164; www.renobrewbike.com.
Like Portland (and Seattle and San Francisco), Reno has a different excuse to drink—I mean, bond as a community on weekends. Coming up: Reno Rodeo (June 16-24); Great Eldorado BBQ, Brews and Blues Festival (June 17-18); Hemmings Motor News Great Race (June 19); Artown (June 30-July 31); Hot August Nights (Aug. 2-7); Reno Greek Festival (Aug. 19-21); Canfest, a canned-beer festival (Aug. 26-27); Burning Man (Aug. 28-Sept. 5); Best In the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off (Aug. 31-Sept. 5); Great Reno Balloon Race (Sept. 9-11); National Championship Air Races (Sept. 14-18); Downtown Reno Wine Walk (third Saturday monthly); and the Reno Beer Crawl (fourth Saturday monthly).
And how to get there? Road-tripping is fun, but Alaska Airlines (www.alaskaair.com) has hour-and-change flights from John Wayne Airport to Reno daily—and free wine and beer are served.