Filed Under Food

Thomas' Café (site)

A favorite of the divorce colony, the elegant eatery was called "The Delmonico's of Reno."

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, with the southern section (on the corner) becoming the original location of Parker's Western Wear in 1919. The north part of the building became a gambling club called the Silver Dollar Club in 1934, and the Clover Club in 1945. Parker's took over the Clover Club property in a 1957 expansion. The entire block was eventually replaced by Harrah's.

Images

"Divorcies favorite resort"
"Divorcies favorite resort" Thomas' Cafe appeared in magazines and newspapers and on postcards like this one, dated 1912, as a divorcee's favorite. Source: Dick Dreiling Date: 1912
A Gathering Place
A Gathering Place The popular restaurant was centrally located in the heart of Reno's commercial district. Source: Philip Galbraith
New location
New location Named for owner Will Thomas, the restaurant moved to a new location on Virginia Street in 1913, as noted in this November 12 advertisement in the Reno Evening Gazette. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: November 12, 1913

Location

202 North Center Street, Reno, NV

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Thomas' Café (site),” Reno Historical, accessed April 12, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/16.