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.
We chose the Tuscany-flavored Peppermill (2707 S. Virginia St.,  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 December and 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.
Peppermill has a dozen places to eat, including Bimini Steakhouse, classified as fine dining. It was fine — with me. Not so with my three 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 some unexpected dishes such as halibut and cedar plank salmon). The Sports Deli served a mean chicken noodle soup in a bread bowl — good on a cold day. (See "Lesson Learned" below.)
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.,  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. "May I help you?" a clerk asked. "Just having fun," I replied. To which she replied, "Good. That's what we want." I couldn't stop giggling over the squirrel head mask, the glittery skulls and the Siamese cat cookie cutter. 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 November is 55 and in December and January 46. But on Nov. 10, I awoke to snowfall. It didn't stick, but it was enough to remind me that this wasn't Vegas, as if the hotel tab hadn't reminded me already.
What's expensive isn't Reno; it's the airfare. If you choose to fly, it's about $175 each midweek in January. If you factor that out, our outlay was about $450, including one fine-dining meal but excluding poker losses.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times