Reno in the first decade of the twentieth century was a rapidly modernizing little city with an increasingly cosmopolitan flair. The arrival of well-heeled visitors, many in town from the East Coast to secure a six-month Nevada divorce, prompted the opening of a flurry of new apartment buildings, boutiques, and restaurants to cater to their sophisticated urban tastes.
In this heady climate, savvy local restauranteurs found a ready market for emphasizing elegance, privacy, and quality, perhaps none more successfully than Will Thomas. Arriving in Reno in 1905, Thomas worked at a series of restaurants and dining rooms, including the Palace Grill, Golden Hotel, and Overland Hotel. After running an oyster house on Second Street, an intimate room with luxurious mission oak paneling, he opened his second restaurant, Thomas' Café, on the corner of Second and Center Streets in November 1908. A series of expansions into neighboring properties eventually gave him the ability to seat 250 people at a time. Sensitive to many patrons' desire for discretion, the establishment featured private dining rooms on the second floor.
The restaurant quickly gained a national reputation. As reported in the Los Angeles Times in 1910, Thomas' Café was to Reno what Levy's was to Los Angeles, referring to Al Levy's Grill, a popular haunt for Los Angeles actors, politicians, and other luminaries. The New York Times called the Thomas "the local Bohemian restaurant" where "New York's fast set" passed the time "in giving gay parties or in drinking cocktails," while Collier's generously labeled it the "Delmonico's of Reno." In July of 1910, the Thomas hosted a luncheon party for writer Jack London, in town for the heavyweight championship prizefight between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries.
Decorated with palms and featuring fine entertainment, the dining room was as popular among local residents as it was for visitors, for reasons made clear by Will Thomas' motto: "Make Your Wants Known--Your Way is My Way. Don't Get Mad. Let Me Try to Please You." Thomas incorporated the company and opened a second Thomas' Café in 1912 in Sacramento, where he eventually moved. Reno's Thomas Café relocated to Virginia Street in 1913 and continued to enjoy popularity for years. Its old location at Second and Center Streets became a branch of the Oregon Woolen Mills Clothing Stores, and then a series of restaurants and bars including the Fior d'Italia and the Silver Bar and Rathskeller. The building became a gambling club called the Silver Dollar Club in 1934, and the Clover Club in 1945. The entire block was eventually replaced by Harrah's.