Reno: Calmer than Sin City but definitely not dull

RENO, Nevada — Remember when Vegas was cheap? It can be again, except it's not Vegas, it's Reno. There are better reasons to come here than its reputation for quickie divorces might have you believe. For instance, big casinos just like in Vegas but not as pricey and definitely not as raucous.

The bed: I chose the Tuscany-flavored Peppermill (2707 S. Virginia St., 866-821-9996, and had a price flashback. Even though it was a holiday weekend, our small suite at this AAA four-diamond property was $130 for Friday night and $160 for Saturday. (Rates for a standard room in January start as low as $48 midweek, $64 weekends.) Our quarters had a giant four-poster bed and an in-room Jacuzzi under a mirrored ceiling.

The food: Peppermill has a dozen places to eat, including Bimini Steakhouse, classified as fine dining. It was fine with me, not so with my companions. My filet mignon was tender, but they found the prime rib too rare, the crab/lobster cake too bland and the potatoes au gratin too cheesy. We did better at the casual Biscotti's, whose menu is enormous and diverse (pizzas, burgers and unexpected dishes such as halibut and cedar plank salmon).

The find: Because I'm not much of a gambler (Peppermill's poker room accommodates novices like me and seasoned players like everyone else in my party), my great delight was Junkee (960 S. Virginia St., 775-322-5865,, about a mile from the Peppermill. It calls itself a "clothing exchange," but within its nearly 9,000 square feet you'll also find a section devoted to antiques and collectibles. Any place that advertises Burning Man attire is going to be funky, and it was. Coupled with a short, brisk walk in downtown Reno, where the autumn colors complemented the rushing Truckee River, the outing was just enough to knock off the casino rust.

The lesson learned: It gets cold in Reno; the average high in January it's 46. On Nov. 10,

I awoke to snowfall. It didn't stick, but it was enough to remind me this wasn't Vegas, as if the hotel tab hadn't reminded me already.

The tab: Excluding airfare, our outlay was about $450, including one fine-dining meal but excluding poker losses.

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