Fitzgerald’s Hotel-Casino in downtown Reno was never a very happening place. While it enjoyed a few moments of notoriety (parts of the 1992 movie “Sister Act” were filmed in its lounge), its dining was mediocre and its décor largely overwhelmed by shamrocks.
When it closed in 2008, it became a boarded-up eyesore in a downtown that already had too many of those.
But the property has a new heartbeat, becoming a key part of what is being called the “RENOssance,” an obvious promo idea but one that resonates nonetheless.
Fitzgerald’s has transformed into the Whitney Peak Hotel, which opened earlier this summer. Among its many amenities is a 164-foot climbing wall – the tallest in the world – installed on the hotel’s exterior and rising 16 stories. Its climbers can enjoy a stunning view of the city and its surrounding.
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Other attributes also make Whitney Peak unique.
“The hotel is nonsmoking and nongaming,” says general manager Robert Hendricks. “Reno has always been a college town, and it’s going in different directions. We are going to help recharge it.”
Part of that recharging is in the hands of chef Mark Estee (often a television guest – he just won “Guy’s Grocery Games,” hosted by Guy Fieri) who has been offered signature restaurants in Las Vegas and in major resorts elsewhere.
Este, however, has chosen to remain in Reno, where he operates two restaurants – Campo, by the river, and Chez Louis, which is in the Nevada Museum of Art. His restaurant at the Whitney Peak is called Heritage.
“Campo is Italian rustic, Chez Louis is fun French, and Heritage is what its name implies – American cooking, Northern Nevada cuisine – and, yes, there is such a thing,” he said. “(It’s) farm-to-fresh and rich with ingredients like pine nuts and trout. There are a lot of farmers and ranchers upstate in Nevada, not so many in Las Vegas.”
Whitney Peak also is home to Cargo, a 5,000-square-foot nightclub (singer-songwriter Jonny Lang recently played there); 157 rooms outfitted with items such as old maps of area ski resorts and easy chairs made from recycled seat belts (strange-looking but surprisingly comfortable); and Basecamp, a large indoor climbing center. (255 N. Virginia St.; (775) 398-5400; www.whitneypeakhotel.com)
Grand Sierra unveils Lex
Also new to Reno is the city’s excursion into the Vegas-style nightclub experience – a revenue stream that can be more lucrative than gaming – with the 25,000-square-foot Lex, built in the Grand Sierra for a reported $15 million. Its advertising slogan is “Where elegance becomes unruly,” and the venue includes a swimming pool covered with a see-through danceable surface, 31 VIP tables and an impressive rotation of DJs, with Peeti-V on the bill Saturday. (10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; prices vary according to night and talent, usually around $20-$40; www.grandsierraresort.com)