If you begin from Lake Tahoe’s southern edge and drive several thousand feet down a winding mountain road, every turn a hairpin, nausea up to your throat, you'll eventually find yourself spit out into the valley—the first of many basins that hammock between the Sierras and the Continental Divide. Continue towards Carson City, and you’ll pass through the town of Genoa (pronounced not like the Italian one, but instead with the emphasis languidly resting on the “o”).
Once there, the Genoa Bar isn’t hard to find. There's the fact that it's the only bar on the main road, for starters. But there's also a large sign out front announcing “Nevada’s oldest thirst parlor.” If you bother to read the flyer, you’ll learn that John Wayne filmed a movie here, and that Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant once rested their hands on the gnarled bar.
Inside it is a fantasy of West. Outside, too, where a man in a cowboy hat sits with a beer and a much younger girlfriend. The walls are mottled brown with old advertisements. The floors are warped, the gas lamp supposedly original, and one corner is occupied by a wood-burning stove. Taxidermied animals in mid-shed dust up the eaves. Raquel Welch’s leopard-print bra, also mid-shed, hangs forlornly from the antler of some small deer.
It's so much like a movie, but better when it becomes real. The man on the next stool, an out-of-towner, wants to talk about the wildest night of his life: when, after 14 sake bombs, he and his ex-girlfriend had matching handlebar mustaches tattooed on their index fingers. At some point, the cowboy stalks off. I drink ginger ale before actual ale to settle my stomach, and listen to the blue-haired bartender sing along to the radio. It smells hot and sweet, like rot deep in the planks, but is defiant of time in a way that suggests it will never not be here.