The construction project on California Avenue drew a lot of inquiries from locals. Once the popular late night bar St. James Infirmary (which closed early in the pandemic), it appeared the rooftop above Rubicon Deli was getting a major facelift.
Months later, in July, owners unveiled the new project: a bar and lounge offering high end cocktails and (eventually) small bites, playing off the juxtaposition of Spanish flavors and Reno charm.
At Matador Bar & Lounge the rooftop would appear to be the crown jewel of the establishment, but the inside doesn’t pale in comparison. Here, private booths give off a speakeasy vibe, decorated in dark colors and vibrant bursts of red—the privacy curtains slightly resemble a bullfighter’s muleta—that play off the Spanish theme. Booths are available by reservation and at no extra charge, but bar seating and tables are available first-come, first-serve.
When you step in, there is a choice to make: sip a high-end cocktail perfected by a staff of capable bartenders in the dimly lit bar or venture upstairs for a different experience completely.
Here, live music sometimes graces the rooftop venue where a full bar allows for ample service and no need to schlep downstairs. Plenty of shade and a smattering of plants make the space comfortable most days of the year (although the rooftop bar will close due to inclement weather, including too much smoke).
While the ambiance offers all you need to visit Matador Lounge, the cocktails are fighting for center stage. You can order up just about anything you like, but there’s really no need to stray from the signatures menu, which leans heavy on tequila and mezcal creations.
For something strong, try a Mezcal Old Fashioned, a smoky rendition of the classic made with Sombra Mezcal, demerara syrup and orange bitters. Another twist on a staple is the Matador Manhattan, a house made Ron Miel Liqueur combined with Bulleit Rye and sweet vermouth.
Even the house margarita gets a shake-up with a vibrant dash of passionfruit mixed with reposado tequila and a chili salt rim. From a fruity White Cloud (watermelon and raspberry) to a spicier Papa Hemingway (lime, cucumber and serrano chili syrup), the list offers quite a bit of variety served in fancy glassware and at a reasonable price—$12 each.
In addition to creating a fun place to gather with friends or for an intimate date night, Matador Lounge is leaning into its late-night role with special events that include everything from pajama parties and themed movie nights to dance lessons.
Word is that tapas are part of the plan for Matador Lounge, but the cocktail bar hasn’t gotten there yet. While waiting for the food menu to be unveiled, guests are welcome to bring in bites from other eateries—and this part of town isn’t exactly short on options.
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.