I was recently saddened to hear from a friend that The Nugget Hotel and Casino in Sparks, Nevada (near Reno), was purchased by a large corporation, Global Gaming And Hospitality, and they will be closing the 55-year-old tiki bar and restaurant Trader Dick’s, most likely in early March (but perhaps sooner). Trader Dick’s has been a favorite tiki bar and restaurant of mine since I first went in 2001, despite its mediocre tropical drinks. I wouldn’t even put it in my top ten of tiki bars in the U.S., but I just have a lot of fond memories of the place so it’s going to be hard to visit Reno/Sparks after it’s gone.
In 1955 Dick Graves opened the Nugget coffee shop with a few slot machines on U.S. Highway 50 (the Lincoln Highway) in Sparks (other Nuggets opened in Reno and Carson City) and hired John Ascuaga as general manager. In 1960 John Ascuaga bought the Nugget with a loan and owned it until the recent sale, expanding greatly in the 80s and 90s. Until the sale it was one of the last family owned hotel casinos in Nevada.
Trader Dick’s opened in 1958, as a Trader Vic’s copycat restaurant with decor by Eli Hedley, grandfather of Bamboo Ben, tiki bar designer extraordinaire. Vic Bergeron sued Dick Graves for copyright infringement but lost, so it remains Trader Dick’s to this day. In the 1980s expansion Trader Dick’s was moved underneath the new I-80 and remodeled into its present appearance, with a spectacular 6,000 gallon saltwater fish tank as the bar’s centerpiece (sadly it will probably be removed in the upcoming remodel).
I’m not going to go into much detail about the restaurant and bar in this post, because it is closing so soon. But if you can go, take the trip. Make a reservation for dinner, but show up earlier so you can have a cocktail while watching the fish swim around the tank (happy hour is before 6:00 daily). Enjoy a steak (they come from the Nugget steakhouse so they are very good) and for dessert perhaps some baked Alaska, flamed tableside, or maybe the Volcano, a cocktail that comes to your table “erupting”. I was able to pay my last respects last weekend with a group of friends and it was a very nice sendoff. Mahalo and aloha, Trader Dick’s. You will be missed.
1100 Nugget Ave, Sparks, NV 89431
Open Fri-Sat 5:00pm-10:00pm Sun-Mon 5:00pm-9:00pm, closed Tue-Th
(but call first as hours may be cut before the closure)
Noooooooooo!!! I agree, perhaps the drinks were not the best but I, too, have great memories of the couple of times we went there. Maybe an excuse to make a quick trip there in the next few weeks. Glad you had your chance to wish it goodbye. I shall cherish my Trader Dick’s mugs where they will have a place of honor on the shelf!
I loved that fish tank, I think for many years it was the largest in the continental US and I remember chatting with the maintenance guy once, who told me the names of all the fish and their personalities. Also, I think this is where you taught me how to play video poker! Sad.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Carrie! Losing the fish tank is definitely a huge loss. Even if the tank is spared I don’t think I would enjoy visiting it since the hotel plans to put a Gilly’s club in the Trader Dick’s space, complete with mechanical bull. I thought the Urban Cowboy fad died 30 years ago?!
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Trader Dick’s was an old University of Nevada Reno student hangout back in the 80’s when I was attending. We would go and drink, I believe it was called, Scorpions. It was in a giant bowl with edible flowers on the top and four straws so you would share. After finishing your drinks there, you could keep the glasses. I had about 20 Chi Chi tiki glasses. Not sure where they ended up.
I have a few Trader Dick’s souvenir mugs from previous visits. Thanks for the comment, Shelley.