- 445 California Ave., Reno, NV, 89509
- Overall User Rating:
- (7 ratings)
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St. James Infirmary is not a music bar. Both I and owner Art Farley would like to make that clear.
But St. James Infirmary is a stylish and comfortable place to chill, drink and converse that has just opened at 445 California Ave., out of the downtown rat race but close enough to be convenient.
So, why would we need to make the music bar point so explicitly clear? It's a little funny that it isn't one, given the following:
The name comes from the much-covered folk song of British origins. Louis Armstrong’s 1928 version of “St. James Infirmary” is particularly well-known, and it’s the one that Farley heard when he was very young, along with countless other versions since (including one by the White Stripes).
“It kind of takes place in a bar, and I liked the idea of having a bar named ‘Infirmary,’” he said.
The jukebox sets the place apart. Farley wouldn’t dream of having an Internet-linked jukebox or one from a vendor who loads it whatever is charting – in those cases, “there’s no way to judge the soul of a bar,” he said. Every album is hand-picked and includes selections from every age. Just to name a few:
- Elvis Costello, “This Year’s Model”
- Amy Winehouse, “Back to Black”
- Pixies, “Bossanova”
- My Morning Jacket, “It Still Moves”
- Willie Nelson, “Shotgun Willie”
- The White Stripes, “The White Stripes”
- Tom Waits, “Rain Dogs”
- Ennio Morricone, “The Legendary Italian Westerns”
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Fever to Tell”
It’s all stuff that Farley would be delighted to hear.
“There’s nothing worse than being in a bar when someone plays the wrong song,” he said. “There’s a time and place for everything.”
The staff is musically inclined. Three of the fairly small bar crew are in local bands. There’s Georgia Mowers of PUSHBoX; Ty Williams of My Flag is on Fire; and Bryan Jones from Buster Blue, who also do a cover of “St. James Infirmary.”
In addition, manager Zak Girdis has worked as a sound engineer on albums such as At the Drive-In’s “Relationship of Command.”
So, while the door is open for “tastefully and randomly selected” live acts, Farley doesn’t want to get on the treadmill of booking a live act every night.
“We’d rather be a really good bar that happens to have live music sometimes,” he said.
And any bar, good or bad, must have drinks. St. James Infirmary offers a robust beer list as well as a menu of specialty cocktails. Alongside the venerable Pabst Blue Ribbon (the cheapest option at $2) are other affordable options like Guinness Stout ($4) and Coors Light ($3). More eclectic choices include the Rogue Chocolate Stout from Oregon at $4 and a Blanche De Chambly White Beer at $6.
Cocktails are divided into two lists, for “fellas” or “dames.” The St. James Infirmary cocktail (Saint James Rum, Herradura Blanco Tequila, Ammaretto, orange juice, Grenadine, fresh lime juice and a float of Myers Dark Rum.) is on the ladies’ side, but the segregation isn’t enforced.
So, if not a music bar, then what? Farley seemed happy enough with “pop culture bar.”
“This place is awash in pop culture, from turn-of-the-century New Orleans blues to the White Stripes … there are dive bars and sports bars, but we don’t fit any of those.”
Dominating one wall is a huge collage comprising a thousand photos and “120 hours in PhotoShop.” There are areas devoted to famous faces from Minnesota, New Orleans and the Northwest, rivaling the range in tastes and eras embodied by the jukebox.
And the few televisions share the same guiding principle. Farley graduated from an intensive film program at New York University, and much thought is put into what goes on the screen.
“I’ll put on a baseball game if it's on … but TVs are background, you’re here to socialize, and movies are far more visually stimulating,” he said. Flicks range from Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One” to the Johnny Depp film “Dead Man.”
In addition to the comfy bar seats facing the TVs, there are booths and tables around the perimeter with cushioned seating in a cream color that just says “relax.”
If you want something more rustic, though, there’s the roof. Currently Spartan with a long bench, ashtrays, and one of those umbrella-like space heaters, there’s something pleasurable about huddling in a bubble or warmth while overlooking Reno bathed in dusk. It surely will be a hit in the summer and now offers a more private and scenic space.