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High Rollin' in Reno
by Diane Anderson-Minshall
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I’m in the sixth row on the floor, center court, mere feet from the 80’s hair band I still adore the most: Def Leppard. Around me are literally thousands of fans, and it appears that more than I would ever have imagined are queer. They’re all over: dykes with hipster tees, goth girls making out, lesbian mullet heads with their lovers, a senior gay couple or two, a handful of transwomen, and even a few Ryan Seacrest-like gay men who look like their tour bus should have stopped at the disco, not the Reno Events Center. I’ve been rocking out for two hours, banging my head to the aging rockers on the stage—first Journey then Def Leppard—and marveling at the dykes who are holding their cell phones in the air. Someone brings me wine and bottled water and invites me to the VIP room, but I hate to budge from my primo position. I’m close enough to the stage that the lead singer’s sweat flips off on me when he shimmies. This makes the bald gay guy next to me go crazy. If this is a classic rock show, I can just imagine how gay this place is when Cher is performing.

This is Reno and I’m in the midst of having my champagne wishes and caviar dreams fulfilled by the famed El Dorado Hotel. For one weekend, I’m a high roller and I’ll tell you straight up, baby, there ain’t no going back from a life like this.

For normal folks—the hoi polloi I’m usually a part of—getting to Reno is a flight into Reno/Tahoe International Airport (with cattle class on Southwest being among the most popular), but for me it’s Signature Air from a private airport in San Francisco. My own pilot comes and carries my bags onto the tiny private jet. This airport has no check in, no lines, no security to throw out my hand lotion; just some cushy seats and a Tassimo-style beverage maker.

The largest number of regular visitors to Reno comes from the San Francisco Bay Area, which has an astounding impact on the city, much like Los Angeles impacts Vegas. It means there’s a lot less glitz and glitter, less Hollywood-style showmanship, and a diverse but almost homey atmosphere. My private flight gets me to Reno in less than 30 minutes. The descent into Reno is a wildly bumpy one—the high desert air pushes up from the valley and creates a residual turbulence that pilots like mine, a 30-year vet, have come to expect. I am greeted at the airport by a stretch limo stocked to the teeth with champagne, soda, bottled water, and every type of alcohol I could want.

My suite in the Skyline Tower of the El Dorado Hotel—the top spa suite in any Reno hotel—is, in a word, sweet. Our multi-room, 600- square-foot suite, reserved for high rollers and other VIPs, is not for rent to the general public and has housed notables like John Travolta and Bo Derek, as well as a few politicians. My friend and I get the rock star treatment ourselves. The bar is decked out with a full assortment of our favorite drinks, as well as enough food to feed ten people (like dark chocolate-covered strawberries and vegan brownies). The bedrooms each have giant gift baskets from local boutique, La Bussola (all the swag and bath products from nearby Salon 7 are nestled in vintage records that have been melted and shaped into funky decorative bowls). In fact, swag—that ephemera that celebs seem to get wherever they go—is seemingly everywhere in our suite.

In addition to being larger than my apartment, our suite has a front room with a large wet bar, a full dining area, a living room with three televisions, two private bedroom/bathroom suites, each of which is decked out with a huge in-room whirlpool tub that overlooks the Reno skyline, a walk in steam room/shower combo, and makeup vanity with European marble, among other luxuries. Even things you normally have to do for yourself at other hotels, like closing the curtains, are done electronically for you here. With three bathrooms, five TVs, a VCR/DVD, two Jacuzzis, internet access, and 24-hour room service, I never wanted to leave my room—at least not the hotel and casino.



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Fortunately, with the El Dorado, you never have to. With ten restaurants, an 81,000-square-foot casino with over 1,800 slots and 90 table games, three keno lounges, a 12,400-square-foot convention center, and a 580-seat theater featuring Broadway-style entertainment, the El Dorado feels like a city within itself. It’s also attached via skyways to two neighbor properties—Circus Circus and Silver Legacy—and dozens of restaurants and shops, so visitors literally never have to leave the building. Even better, if you’re traveling with kiddies you can drop them off at Circus Circus and go have a few cocktails and some guilt-free adult time.

I was not so encumbered, so throughout the weekend I wandered in and out of restaurants, bars, and boutiques, and onto slot floors and gaming rooms in an endless maze that could have taken my full attention had I let it. (Often when I was playing slots I lost all sense of time. Was it night? Was it day? Inside the casino it’s like mid-afternoon all night long.) Alas, I was forced to leave the hotel not long after I got there to see the real Reno and get a bit of my high roller treatment across town.

Within moments of my arrival at the El Dorado Hotel, I was whisked back down to another stretch limo stocked with booze for a ride to the hot, queer-owned Salon 7 for a makeover worthy of daytime TV. Our limo pulls up alongside an unassuming but beautifully mural-covered building and leaves us in the hands of some of the funkiest girls east of San Francisco. Most of the girls are tattooed or pierced with technicolor hair, including founder and co-owner Jenny Oxier, a mini celebrity among the town’s MySpace generation, known best as Jenny O. Oxier opened Salon 7 three years ago because, she admits, “I couldn’t find a salon I was comfortable in because I am gay. I was told at a salon I worked in not to tell anyone I was gay, so I didn’t have a choice.”

What started as a 600-square-foot operation with five stylists is now an exceptionally popular, 2,300-square-foot, Reno day spa and salon with 18 employees. Tonya Marini, a scion of the city’s famous Marini family (her grandparents own the El Dorado Hotel), joined Jenny O later in the venture.

Today, Marini is sporting a camouflage mini skirt and punky jet black hair in a faux hawk. She’s possibly the sexiest woman in all of Nevada. Later, when I’m having dinner at Roxy’s, one of the El Dorado’s famed nightclub restaurants, a mini debate breaks out over whether Marini is “family” (the official word: she’s dipped her feet in the water but never dove in the pool). Self-described “super gay” Jenny O is as cute as a button, all freckles and sass, and she’s wearing an apron that resembles a little black cocktail dress. She sprinkles her speech with phrases like “that’s fucking hot” and “awesome.” By the end of the afternoon, I am sporting a “fucking hot” Joan Jett-like pink, copper, and black ’do, and my feet and calves are still tingling from the minty cool massage/pedicure combo. Even my butch friend feels right at home (after all, the clear polish manicures are a hit with the boys, as is the salon’s token straight guy, Tom).

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