‘Best’ is a troubling superlative in Nevada. Superlatives are tough because everything here is temporal. A quick look at a recent Best of Las Vegas-style list, for example, has more than a few “Where are they now?” entries. They came, they saw, they closed. It’s part of the Nevada Speak. Boom and Bust. Transient Town. You’ve heard it all before.
History has shown us that Nevada towns may be born, become the most populous in the state and begin a steep decline within 4 years. ‘Outsider’ Nevadans have long had a tendency to slash and burn. Take the money and leave the mess for someone else to clean up. True Nevadans are left holding the trash bag.
The Best need to be proven. They need a degree of permanence. A champion needs time to defend their title. Nevada is a boxing state, after all.
One example of Boom and Bust in Nevada is the Town of Tonopah, located about halfway between Las Vegas and Reno. Founded circa 1900 on silver mining, the town is more-or-less dependent on a nearby Air Force base and being a stop on the road to somewhere else. Jack Dempsey, one of the greatest fighters, worked at the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah. The Mizpah is a classic Western Hotel that was recently restored (2011, along with a brewery) and re-opened adding new jobs and destinations for Tonopah. That is another story, however.
Across the street from The Mizpah is the Tonopah Liquor Company (TLC). Founded in 1906 (one year before the Mizpah Hotel), the TLC has been continuously serving thirsty clients downstairs and ran an occasional brothel operation on the second floor in the past. Tiffany and Marc Grigory bought the place about 18 months ago from the Reno-based previous owner and have turned it into an A+ operation. Downstairs.
When you visit the smaller towns in Nevada you get hit with Community. Not the community where you say hi to your neighbors, but the Community where you see the fellow on the TLC seat next to you one night and at the only grocery store in town the next day. Where you know everyone by name- where they live- what they do- how they act- and what they drink. You don’t move to Tonopah by chance. You are leaving somewhere else, someone else, or you were fortunate enough to get a good job locally. The Grigorys came from Somewhere Else. They moved up from Las Vegas, where they both were in the bar industry for eight plus years. Married with one child and another on the way, Marc saw the TLC in a Craigslist ad and was intrigued. A week of no sleep and nervous research. A visit. That tingling feeling. They looked at each other and, as Tiffany puts it, “We don’t make decisions that easily. This is what we wanted to invest in.”
So why is the TLC worthy of Best of Nevada? Because there are only a few genuine unique historical and Community-based bars out there. There is a connection with the past and a direction for the future. The walls have past TLC images dug up from the Central Nevada Museum- while the clientele, just like Nevada, is a giant mixture of personalities and nationalities. Spirit talkers, Tourists, UNR Students back from tagging bighorns in the desert, and even a token Bunny Ranch employee and sidekick. The most interesting group was the mix of Mexicans and Spaniards who are working at the Solar installation just outside of town. The Spaniards’ English is poor, so the Mexicans help them place their orders (a shot with Red Bull, Crown Royal, and Peach Schnapps, just one example). The music? On a typical evening, everything from Rap to Punk to Outlaw Country to Bossa Nova to Norteno to Southern Rock.
Here are more reasons why:
- Passion about Selection: Whiskey. Marc likes Whiskey. The selection changes and ranges from knowns and unknowns to Garrisons, Aberlour A’bunadh, and Jefferson Ocean.
- Passion about Nevada: Marc has a history with George Racz of Las Vegas Distillery and has a large selection of his products. Similarly, Nevada brews Joseph James and Able Baker (including the fantastic Chris Kael Impale’d Ale) are on tap.
- Passion about Selection: Liqueurs and Mixers. TLC has a well-stocked bar and the ability to make almost any cocktail right down to layers. Need some Fariguole Thyme French Liqueur? They have it. Pousse Cafe, anyone? Just ask. A bottle of BSB (Brown Sugar Bourbon, Heritage Distilling) turned into a develop-a-cocktail event. (See the sidebar for the BSB TLC).
- Price: Not your fancy downtown bar or casino. Top Shelf? $10-$12.
- Games for Grown-Ups. Giant Jenga, Connect Four & more. Plus the only public pool table in town. And no gaming (!).
- Food. TLC is probably the only place in town for pizza and wings if it gets late.
- Ghosts, of course. (see sidebar).
After a few evenings of watching the ballet that makes a great bar – the drinks magically appearing for the regulars, the constant flow of customers, the easily diffused arguments, I asked Tiffany what makes Tonopah so appealing? “Community,” she said, without missing a beat.
TLC is planning to open the upstairs as a B & B by Jim Butler Days in Tonopah (Weekends, 5/12-5/29). They are also planning a number of events, including Bartender Races and a Whiskey Tasting.
Stop by if you are staying in town or traveling through.
133 N. Main Street, Tonopah, Nevada
Hours: M-Th 2~12am
Vintage Photos Courtesy of the Central Nevada Museum.
The TLC Ghosts
George hangs out by the pool table and makes a bit of trouble, generally with the staff. The prankster of TLC, George regularly turns off electrical accessories. While we were there a cork popped out of a bottle of tequila on the bar. George again.
Hattie (or Henrietta) is the spirit of a girl who worked upstairs. She loves children and interacts the Grigory kids.
Our camera initially refused to take images inside of the bar. As soon as we left it functioned properly.