Santa Fe Hotel Basque restaurant reopens for dinnertime after hiatus

By |2019-07-17T17:03:44-07:00Jul. 11, 2019 at 2:54 pm |2 Comments

The Santa Fe Hotel Basque restaurant reopened in downtown Reno after a two-year hiatus and recent renovation. The original format of the building remains the same, but the interior received much-needed upgrades to furniture, ADA compliance and the kitchen.

The Basque hotel and restaurant survived the construction of Harrah’s Casino a generation ago when the owners refused to sell, forcing the casino to build around them. Now, new owner Dennis Bank has fixed up the property and is serving Basque dinners and the venerable Picon punch once again.

The reopened Santa Fe Hotel kept all of the original historic elements and added new Basque memorabilia found in the basement of the restaurant and hotel. Photo by Mike Higdon
The renovated dining room includes new floors, air conditioning, restored bathrooms and updated furniture. But the checkered table clothes and family-style tables remain the same. Photo by Mike Higdon

Banks rebuilt the floors, kitchen, updated furniture, added an air conditioning system, painted the walls, found Basque memorabilia in the basement to decorate the walls with and added a new mural of a Basque city in Europe.

The Basque people come from a small country between France and Europe. They immigrated to the United States in the 19th century during the gold rush of California and silver rush in Nevada. Unfortunately, they were late to the game, and instead set up sheepherding ranches and opened boarding houses like the Santa Fe all over the western US.

Today, the Santa Fe Hotel is only one of two remaining Basque hotel and restaurants left in Reno. The other, Louis’ Basque Corner, is only a few blocks away also in downtown Reno. Similarly styled restaurant-boarding houses still exist in other parts of rural Nevada, California and Idaho.

For the uninitiated, Basque restaurants server large family-sized country-style meals. Customers can order entrees – usually steak, lamb or salmon-centric dishes – separately or in combination with a “family-style dinner.”

Those family-style dinners, which we recommend you only order for groups of five to 20, include entrees plus bowls of french fries, beans, salad, oxtail and soup for everyone to share.

The Bascos do not let people leave hungry.

Banks added an expanded wine, beer and cocktail collection to Santa Fe Hotel, but the bar will still offer classics like kalimotxos, which is basically sweet red wine with cola, and Picon Punches.

Santa Fe Hotel Basque restaurant reopened with an expanded wine, beer and cocktail collection. Photo by Rachel Ribeiro
The Santa Fe Hotel Basque restaurant reopened July 9 with upgraded furniture, decorations and infrastructure. But it will still serve the traditional Picon punch with Torani Amer, grenadine, soda water and brandy. Photo by Mike Higdon

The Picon punch is a Nevada favorite (it almost became the official drink of the state), made with a bitter-orange flavored liqueur, grenadine, soda water (sometimes) and brandy.

They’re both an acquired taste.

The Santa Fe opens at 4:30 p.m. for dinner on 235 Lake Street on Lake and Second streets, tucked into the back folds of Harrah’s Hotel and Casino.


  1. Greg Fine July 12, 2019 at 11:38 am

    Hey Mike, great story. So glad this landmark is re-opening. I’ve spent many, many nights here. I hadn’t heard that the Bascos came over searching for gold. I know they were brought over as essentially indentured servants to tend to the rancher’s sheep herds scattered throughout the wilds of Nevada, northern California and Idaho. The Basque hotels were located near the rail stations (Loui’s, the Star in Elko, the Martin in Winnemucca, etc) where the new immigrants found some semblance of home – and language – until they were retrieved by the rancher and taken to the flocks. At least that’s been my understanding. Looking forward to hoisting a Picon (threes’ too many, 10’s not enough) at the Santa Fe!

  2. Mike Higdon July 17, 2019 at 10:10 am

    Hey Greg, you may also be correct. In my readings, I found that it was silver/gold rush motivated. But it’s also possible that there was a darker side. I would need to do more research. Thanks for bringing this up.

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