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Virginia City’s quirky “testicle festival” makes its return


Rocky Mountain Oysters are back in Virginia City on March 13

Before we get too far along, it’s important to note that this event doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is, after all, a food festival that focuses on eating testes.

For 30 years, locals and visitors have been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with an odd jubilee in historic Virginia City. The annual Oyster Fry nods to the region’s Irish and Basque roots, bringing in chefs to cook up bull testicles in creative fashions.

“They’re not the oysters from the ocean, that’s for sure,” said Deny Dotson, tourism director for Virginia City Tourism Commission. But if you keep an open mind, you just may find you like the flavorful concoctions, which have in the past included rocky mountain oysters as a pizza topping, a deep fried delicacy, bacon-wrapped or served in chili.

In 2020, the event was canceled the day before it was supposed to take off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes the return of the Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry in 2021 all the more special.

A sample of “the goods” at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry in Virginia City. Image provided by Virginia City Tourism

“We’re completely revamping the event,” Dotson said.

Instead of a street party, tickets will include a town tour with stops at many of Virginia City’s privately-owned establishments and 10 rocky mountain oyster booths. Ticketholders will receive a voucher to try a delicacy from each booth as well as a wristband that grants drink and dessert specials from 15 other local businesses. Beef fry samples will be available at various restaurants, saloons and merchants throughout the day (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) on Saturday, March 13.

To adhere to COVID-19 protocols, each business will operate at 35-50% capacity (dependent on business type) and mask wearing will be encouraged while inside or congregating outside. Ticketholders will also be divided into groups and sent in opposite directions to avoid large crowds in confined spaces.

“We’re confident that the changes we’ve made this year are going to make for a safe and fun return of one of our most popular celebrations,” Dotson said in a press release.

A St. Patrick’s Day Cruise will still take place, inviting anyone that wants to join to decorate their vehicles and make their way down C Street.

To attend, purchase tickets online at visitvirginiacitynv.com. All tickets must be sold in advance and no ticket sales will be permitted on the day of the oyster fry. With a limited number of tickets available this year, it is expected to sell out.

For years, the Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry has been a kicking off point for a heavy event season in Virginia City after a quiet winter. This year will undoubtedly be different, but the return of the festival is a step in that direction. “It’s a way to start the process of us here in northern Nevada reopening,” Dotson said.

Nora Tarte
Nora Tarte
Nora Heston Tarte is a long-time Reno resident living on the southside of town. In addition to food, her hobbies include wine, hiking, yoga and travel. She is also the managing editor of a regional, lifestyle publication and freelances for other publications most frequently in the travel space. Nora received her bachelor's in Journalism from California State University, Sacramento before graduating from University of Nebraska, Lincoln with a master’s in Professional Journalism. You can follow her travel adventures, and local exploits, on her Instagram account @wanderlust_n_wine.