The Rise of Reno's Atlantis

Vic Williams | Fairways & Greens

This locally owned hotel appeals to golfers and all travelers

Story by Vic Williams, Fairways & Greens

Walk the casino floor at Reno’s Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear a comment along these lines:

“They had me at the pastrami.” “That sommelier really knows his stuff.” “I could live in that Laconium Relaxation Lounge.” “Coolest race and sports book in creation.” “Been up to the convention center? Epic.” “Don’t miss the High Class Happy Hour. Even more epic.”

And a slew of others. Catching such comments between rolls of the dice, turns of cards or pulls of the latest video slot machine isn’t required, but, hey, they add to the mood. Atlantis has you covered there, too, of course.

As Reno’s impressive lineup of family-owned hotel-casinos go, the Atlantis — which began life 30 years ago as the Golden Road, then became the Clarion and finally grew into the 900-room anchor it is today — has pretty much hit all the right Reno-friendly roots. It hasn’t gone all Vegas on its loyal visiting and local clientele. It’s a big and worldly place now, sure, but that certain small-town vibe that makes Reno-Tahoe such an attractive getaway alternative — especially for high-season golfers who get the benefit of one of the West’s most amazingly diverse geographical regions — is still very much alive.

That’s how CEO John Farahi, who came to Reno decades ago from his native Iran and carefully, thoughtfully built his little hotel into a publicly owned company (Monarch Gaming), wants it. And still lives it.

“He’s on property just about every day, walking the floor, making sure things are up to his standards,” says Atlantis’ Ashley Brune. So are his most trusted longtime managers, some of whom have been on staff for more than 20 years. They work long hours. They set a high bar. They care, and it shows down to the tiniest detail — with a lot of “wow” amenities in between.

Start with Spa Atlantis, which is so well put together and transporting of body and spirit in every way that it’s hard to believe, after 30 minutes or so inside, there’s a busy casino a couple floors down and a couple of major streets a wall or two away. For $45 weekdays and $60 weekends, guests have full run of the place including the fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, Aqua Spa Lounge, Laconium Relaxation Lounge (worth an hour or two on its own), Brine Inhalation Therapy Room (with a unique salt “waterfall” emanating color-coded “moods”), sauna and steam rooms and Nature Experiential Shower. Individual and couples massages, body wraps, aromatherapy, pedicures, facials, Rasul Chamber ceremonies and bathing rituals fill out the pampering menu.

Soothed and refreshed and back in the real world — where a career low round certainly awaits the next day at LakeRidge (just a couple miles from Atlantis’ front door), Wolf Run, Wildcreek or Red Hawk, or one of the 40 or so other courses within an hour’s drive — it’s time to decide where to eat.

Atlantis’ two flagship eateries, the Steak House and Bistro Napa, go toe-to-toe for gourmet elegance; the former is known for keeping alive the dying art of tableside preparation (shrimp scampi and Steak Diane are big hits), while the latter takes an organic Wine Country-inspired tack — fresh Pacific Northwest salmon and oysters, Kurobuta pork chops, Colorado lamb chops and an out-of-this-world cioppino. But Bistro Napa really lives up to its name on the wine side, with a 3,000-bottle cellar expertly managed by master sommelier Christian Okuinghttons. As stumped on what vintage to order as you are on how to pronounce his last name? Leave it to Christian to procure the perfect pairing, especially during the High End Happy Hour that takes over Bistro Napa’s lounge every day from 4 to 6 p.m.

Rounding out the hotel’s dining choices are Toucan Charlie’s Buffet & Grille (“always a favorite among our golf customers,” Brune says); the pizza-and-pasta-rich Café Alfresco; 24-hour Purple Parrot coffee shop; the popular Oyster Bar and Sushi Bar situated on the Skyway spanning South Virginia Street; quick-bit Gourmet Grind coffee shop and Chicago Dogs snack bar; and, finally, Manhattan Deli, which is as close to NYC authentic as Reno chow will ever get.

Yes, the pastrami is that good, steamed just so and piled high on fresh bread. Yes, those are classic potato knishes and latkes on the next table over. Yeah, the brisket is the real deal. So are the onion rings, blintzes and matzoh ball soup.

Atlantis’ food and beverage brass did their homework, traveled east and came back with the right recipes, and Reno visitors are cashing in big time. Doesn’t hurt that the city’s most comfortable and hi-def-decked race and sports book is right next door, loaded with hungry players.

“We hear it all the time from customers — ‘That’s real deli food,’” Brune says. “People are amazed at the authenticity.”

There’s a certain New York authentic feel running through Atlantis’ recently renovated hotel rooms, as well, led by the larger, more amenity-laden suites and rooms on the Concierge Floor. The “luxury” and “deluxe” rooms aren’t far behind, with their Sealy mattresses, flat screens and convenient A/V hookups. The accommodations don’t go over the top in design or color schemes — another reason Atlantis is such a popular meeting and convention destination, through the fact that its own 550,000-square-foot facility connects directly to the Reno-Tahoe Convention Center via another footbridge.

Oh yeah, there’s considerable casino action, too, including a large poker room and all the requisite live and electronic games. But it’s not cavernous or overwhelming like some megawatt Vegas hotels.

Again, this is Reno at its understated and friendly best, and Atlantis doesn’t put on airs. It just works, for whatever type of guest walks through the doors, golfers included. There are plenty of stay-and-play package options for quick weekend jaunts or all-in extended, multi-course excursions.

How to flesh out the après-golf hours is up you, but rest assured Atlantis has the whole hospitality thing down.
It’s all in the family.

Where to Play Golf in Reno-Tahoe

The Reno-Tahoe-Carson City golf corridor is so packed with memorable courses — nearly 50 in all — that it would take a dozen trips to experience every memory-in-the-making. Even then, travelers who know the area may gravitate to a half-dozen stalwarts, and that’s cool, but it’s time to stretch the map and discover this trio of tracks:

RED HAWK — Mostly members-only since opening a dozen years ago, the Resort at Red Hawk’s second course is now open to the public through a unique alternating-play program. So not only can you enjoy the original Lakes Course designed by Robert Trent Jones II — considered one of Reno-Sparks’ top layouts since it debuted in 1997 — but now Hale Irwin’s strikingly different Hills, which is routed through desert hills and, to many people who’ve played it, offers more scoring opportunities. Just a 20-minute drive from the Atlantis and downtown Reno.

PLUMAS PINES — California’s Plumas County is only an hour’s drive from both Reno and North Lake Tahoe, and once you’re there, you’ll discover a collection of excellent mountain courses. One of the originals is Plumas Pines, a mature, scenic and sometimes quirky journey along the Feather River and surrounding forests and meadows. According to longtime Head Professional Brandon Bowling — one of the nicest guys in the business — the course is in perhaps its best shape ever. “In my 21 years here at Plumas Pines, I have not experienced a spring this nice.” Follow up your round with lunch or dinner at Longboards, where Chef Sean Conry has fed folks in style for a decade, and it adds up to grade A day.

INCLINE — Old Man Trent Jones originally laid this course out through a housing development on Lake Tahoe’s north shore in the 1960s, and it was solid then. But when Kyle Phillips of Kingsbarns fame gave it a mid-2000s facelift with repositioned bunkers and better sightlines both on the course and of Tahoe itself, Incline got its must-play groove back. And if you’ve got the time and energy, give the exquisite executive-length Mountain Course just up the road a go, too.