1950s Archive

Comstock Lode

Originally Published May 1953

Nevada is my adopted state and I will defend it to the death. Nowhere in the Union is so low and comfortable a way of life available as in the One Sound State, the Hard Money State, the Sagebrush State. It is, among oilier things, the only state in the Union with no public debt, no income, inheritance, sales, or other nuisance or confiscatory state imposts. It is the only state where gambling, high, wide, and handsome, flourishes around the clock, and one of two-Louisiana, I think, is the other where the saloons never close. Storey County, where I reside in the seedy grandeur of a Victorian mansion, is so poor that no offense requiring a jury trial ever reaches the bar of justice. Malefactors, including a recent murderer, are booted across the county line and told not to return.

Best of all, there are hardly any people in Nevada, only about one inhabitant for every square mile, which is as dense a population as I, after twenty odd years on Madison Avenue, care to put up with. When from my dressing room window in the morning I look across the one hundred seventy-five miles separating Virginia City from the Reese River mountains. I can comfortably reflect that there are hardly twenty odd people in the intervening countryside.

As I say, Nevada is the best of possible worlds.

But Virginia City, to one who for two decades accustomed himself to Jack and Charlie's, Henri Soulé's, and the Plaza, has its drawbacks. They arc all gastronomic. Dining out is not one of its stellar attractions. Folk from all over the world come to gape at Piper's Opera, to sit at Mark Twain's desk in the Territorial Enterprise, and to view the mine shafts through which the wealth of the Hearsts, Mackays, Floods, and Fairs once ascended.

Hut nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has ever toiled up the Gieger Grade attracted by visions of grenouilles meunière or médaillon de ris de veau Montpensier. To be sure, Old Pancake Lane, inflamed to incandescence by an old copy of GOURMET which she found in the lobby of Florence Edwards' hotel, once essayed poularde a l'estragon, but since, in some inexplicable manner, a quantity of catnip found its way into the sauce, the venture was not altogether a success.

The art of dining, as decreed by Brillat-Savarin and Escoffier, should be characterized by tranquility and undertaken in devotional attitudes.

In Virginia City, within my experience anyway, it has been characterized almost altogether by tumult, uproar, and low comedy. In bonanza times, the legend has it that the fabled Washoe Club imported at vast expense a chef certified to have come from Delmonico's, and the International Hotel was the scene of unbelievable routs among the terrapin and double magnums, but that was long ago.

When we first moved to Nevada, the Comstock did indeed boast an inn that was locally believed to be conducted on a scale of almost foolish luxe. It was maintained by a one time Boston debutante who might well have been on bowing terms with, say. Bronson Alcott, and her husband, who was supposed to be a relative of unspecified proximity of the King of Sweden. Ginny could, and did, upon occasion cook very well indeed, and the prices were strictly Colony, but a great deal of the “Continental cuisine” at the Bonanza seemed to be based on the amount of vinous or spirituous liquor that could be insinuated into such usually prosaic arrangements as scrambled eggs or leg of mutton with caper sauce. An evening at table at the Bonanza Inn might as well have been spent at the bar of the Brass Rail down the street. The effect upon diners was indistinguishable, and the Attorney General of the state once suffered a severe concussion from falling down an entire flight of stairs after too much peach Melba. It was occasionally possible to discover a bit of turtle meat floating in the bath of boiling sherry which represented clear turtle soup, hut the least skirmish with the macédoine of fruits rendered a customer unfit to operate a motorcar.

More than one patron had to be helped out by his wife after a presumably innocuous dinner of calf's liver and bacon. Unsuspecting old ladies who had driven up the hill from Reno for the air and had decided to patronize the Bonanza for a light supper ended up in fist fights in the more tumultuous resorts of C Street, and the sheriff once locked up a disorderly sailor from San Francisco. The charge on the blotter was self explanatory: Continental dinner at the Bonanza.

lucius beebe,
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