Few locations in Reno have stood the test of time in the bar industry like the corner of California Avenue and Plumas Street. For almost two decades, people have known they can count on showing up on Saturday night to drink and dance the night away.
The Loving Cup is the most recent of the three bars that have inhabited 188 California Ave., and it will be celebrating its ninth year this year. Keeping a business—especially one whose rhythms vibrate at the frequency of youthful energy—open for nine years is no easy task. I sat down with one of The Loving Cup’s owners, Pete Barnato, to talk about what it takes to keep the dream of the early 2000s dance bar alive.
Music has always been at the heart of The Loving Cup; heck, the name of the joint comes from the classic Rolling Stones song. Bars focusing on music programming got hit doubly hard during and after the pandemic shutdowns, but as people slowly inched their way out of their homes and returned to bars, the venue started filling up.
“We are returning to the original vibe we intended,” Barnato said. “We lost a lot in that period, but we learned a lot, and one of the things we learned was that we had a unique identity in Reno.”
Bringing back the energy and fun of a venue like The Loving Cup can be challenging, but Barnato feels they have their groove back. One of the hallmarks of The Loving Cup is the highly curated list of acts that come to play live. Bands like Death Valley Girls, which would play 1,200-person venues, stop in Reno to play at the intimate bar, with ticket prices that sometimes go as low as $5.
“It’s special for us,” Barnato said. “It’s the vibe; many of the bands, we have supported from the beginning. Right after they leave, these bands are booking back into Reno as soon as possible.”
While music may be the lead singer at The Loving Cup, the drinks will always be the rhythm section. The back bar is an eclectic mixtape of highly curated spirits, esoteric canned beers and dive-bar classics.
“We want to run this like a high-end dive bar—consistent, simple and very well done,” Barnato said with pride. You can enjoy a glass of WhistlePig Black Prince with a can of Hamm’s while listening to Reno’s longest-running jazz night.
The future is bright for The Loving Cup, which is now open seven days a week. With the addition of late-night food options from the new Satisfaction Pizza, crowds have even more reasons to stop and boogie. New musical acts, familiar vinyl DJs and special events like vintage markets all keep the energy going.
“You are constantly tweaking and progressing—but you always have your sound,” Barnato said.