The body craves extra warmth with winter’s approach, and December’s first snow flurries in Reno sent me in search of the comforting confines of a bar offering concoctions to thaw the innards and succor the soul.
I rarely imbibe — a personal quirk based not on health-mandated abstinence but because I’m a guy usually on the go. I habitually avoid that glass of wine or pint of craft beer when out to dinner. At clubs, I’m waving a 20-spot at the confused bartender and loudly repeating my request for a bottle of water and a lemon wedge. Thus, my alcohol tolerance is low. I’m easily inebriated — therefore I rarely drink. It’s a vicious cycle.
The only guarantees in life ...
Nevertheless, I’m human. So on a Wednesday evening with snowflakes whirling against my windshield and writing deadlines that could wait, I parked on Center Street in Midtown and shuffled into Death & Taxes, 26 Cheney St. This is one of Reno’s classiest bars: a comfortable, dimly lit lounge with cushy leather couches and old-fashioned chandeliers, cocktail-piano jazz on the sound system and a list of libations potent and elegant. Death & Taxes is inevitably jammed with patrons on weekends, so a mid-week visit, I reasoned, was warranted if nothing more than for practicality’s sake.
I perched at the black-granite bar and bartender Matt Knowlton handed me a drink menu printed on fancy gold paper. I tilted a little brass candle-holder to illuminate the list by the paraffin flame and began perusing the dramatic titles: French Detective. Dead & Lovely. Dark & Stormy. (See a full list online.)
Death & Taxes doesn’t pour hot drinks, but the intricate mixes of artisanal cocktails are warming just the same. On Knowlton’s recommendation, I ordered a Pear of Aces.
“It has fall and winter flavors and it warms you up on the inside,” he said. “Lot of booze, but you can’t taste it.”
He was right. The Pear of Aces arrived in a tumbler with two nicely squared cubes coated with cinnamon. That and the fresh pair, allspice and nutmeg spiced up and sweetened the drink and concealed the apple brandy and George Dickel rye whisky. The effect was heady. Soon, I was chatting with the guy next to me — a seismologist named Steve — about Earth-shaking issues, such as Amy Schumer’s recent dissing of Reno as “a dump.”
Surely, a drink or two at Death & Taxes could brighten her perspective.
I couldn’t resist sampling another offering, and settled on a second whisky mix: Foreign Relations. This arrived with cacao nibs floating atop amber. The taste of shoe leather to my infrequently slaked palate was due to the Ardbeg 10-year-old Scotch.
“It’s from the peat,” Knowlton said.
Foreign Relations also contains Akashi white oak Japanese whisky, banana-infused sfumato amaro (a rhubarb-based bitter), and cocoa-infused Cappelletti aperitivo (a wine-based aperitif). I decided to leave my car parked on Center Street and walk home.
Goin' to the Chapel
Along the way, I stopped at another locally esteemed watering hole in Midtown: Chapel Tavern, 1099 S. Virginia St. Chapel has a rustic plank-board exterior and a large patio packed on summer nights. It’s a spacious, well-lighted establishment with a pool table and hip indie-rock on the sound system. Chapel is renowned for its vast variety of upscale and obscure whiskies. Its marketing slogan: “Drink is our Religion.”
Like Death & Taxes, Chapel has an elegantly printed menu, but also serves hot specialty drinks for the chilly months. One of these is aged nog: bourbon, aged Demerara rum, VSOP cognac, egg yolk, house vanilla cream and nutmeg. Since my handwriting on my notepad post Death & Taxes had devolved into indecipherable scribbles, I’ll simply use Chapel’s menu description: “We’ve taken a classic eggnog recipe and cellared it, allowing the proteins to denature, resulting in a cohesive whole.”
I was facing a bracing 20-minute walk home in weather that elates skiers and snowboarders (including the woman sitting next to me) contemplating fresh powder on the Sierra slopes, but not a pedestrian in the valley who forgot to pack a beanie in his jacket. Joe Belanger, Chapel’s manager, recommended an El Chapo. Again, I’m quoting the menu for the description: “A combination of bulletproof coffee and hot buttered batter done in a Mexican style and named for the infamous Mexican gangster.”
The El Chapo came in a tall glass mug and contained Añejo tequila, Magpie Coffee Roasters Coffee, heavy cream, and a batter composed of organic salted butter and dark-brown sugar, cassia bark, clove, orange zest and three kinds of chiles.
It went down like a toasty, spicy, sweet dessert. I licked the froth from my lips. The coffee stimulated me, and my walk home was happy and uneventful.