The main drag in Virginia City, Nevada (known as C Street) normally evokes the feeling of an Old West town. The street is filled with old saloons, many of them dating back to the 19th century when the town was in the throes of a silver rush from the discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859. But on the day that Neek, Sar and I visited, the main feeling that C Street evoked was hunger!
The reason for that feeling is that we happened to arrive in Virginia City when they were having their 34th annual chili cook-off!
It was an event called Chili on the Comstock and in addition to having numerous booths where competitors were exhibiting their aromatic chili, there was also a 5k run taking place there. So we really enjoyed being out on C Street without having to worry about traffic!
We moseyed on it to the Red Dog Saloon. This building was originally the Comstock House by Henry Comstock in 1863. But it gained a new fame in the 1960s starting with the summer of 1965 when it opened as the Red Dog Saloon.
It was run by a group of workers and students from San Francisco who hired a music group from San Francisco called The Charlatans to be the house band. The Charlatans fit perfectly in Virginia City because they were ‘proto-hippies’ who dressed as Western archetypes; cowboys, outlaws, riverboat gamblers. Their success there helped launch the psychedelic music scene in the 60s when they returned to San Francisco.
Walking through the Red Dog, the first thing I noticed was how the walls are filled with posters of so many great rock groups. Big Brother and the Holding Company played there in 1966, before Janis Joplin joined them. There were also posters of Joplin, Grateful Dead, Richie Havens and many others. Many of the posters were designed by artist Alton Kelley, who was part of the group that restored the Red Dog in the summer of 1965. His work along with Stanley Mouse at Mouse Studios promoted many of the concerts in Haight-Ashbury during that era.
After leaving the Red Dog, we sauntered over to another saloon up the street, the Silver Queen. They boast of having the tallest bar in Virginia City, built in 1876 after the great fire. It’s a place many people claim is haunted, so we were curious to check out the vibe there. Neek pointed out to me what I think is the main attraction there: the Silver Queen herself! It’s a ceiling-touch painting of a lady in an evening gown and the gown is decorated with 3,261 silver dollars minted in Carson City in what is now the Nevada State Museum. She has a belt made of 28 twenty-dollar gold pieces and her bracelets and choker are made of dimes.
Heading back outside, we saw more visual reminders of Virginia City’s Old West history. There were a number of people dressed in 19th century clothes. Many of them were posing for pictures! There was a sign for the Mark Twain Museum. Samuel Clemens first used the pen name Mark Twain while writing for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise newspaper in 1862.
There was one more saloon we wanted to check out in Virginia City. That was the Delta Saloon. This place is famous for having a couple items of historical notoriety. One is the Miners Globe, which was presented to the Miners Union of Virginia City by James G. Fair in 1880. Because of the rarity of its construction with a rosewood framework and built-in mariners compass in its base, it is valued at over $100,000. But the really notorious item on display is the “Suicide Table.” Originally a table where the Old West card game Faro was played, it got its name because from the 1860s to the 1890s, three owners of this table reportedly committed suicide because of heavy losses to gambling customers. We saw the table was covered with protective plexiglass – probably to protect onlookers like us from the curse!
So many historical buildings, so little time! Our stay in Virginia City was certainly fun. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see all of the saloons in town. But there was one more we couldn’t pass up. We’ll share a more in-depth look in our next episode.