In the fall of 1975, the Shea family started Delmar Station at S. Virginia and St. Lawrence, a block south of the Ponderosa Hotel at the site of a former darkened dive called the Peppermint Lounge. Delmar was a hit from day one, catering to a young crowd and specializing in overpriced fresh-fruit drinks. Paint was removed from the blacked-out windows, plants were hung. Mixologists wearing ties worked in front of a 10-foot carved wooden back bar. Cocktail servers in long dresses attended customers at antique oaken tables.
The back room featured solo musicians. Guitarist Ron Butler was one of the most popular. He had a great sense of humor and a tenor voice of such quality that upon hearing him, the legendary Ella Fitzgerald said “call me.”
Ron was also a world-class linebacker. In his first season with the Detroit Lions, he was hit from behind by a Green Bay Packer. The blow fractured his neck.
Team owner William Clay Ford visited him in the hospital and announced that surgery could return him to the playing field. All they had to do was move his trachea around to fix the bone breaks.
“I’m a singer,” Ron informed the auto heir.
“I used to entertain the other players in the locker room with my guitar,” he once told me.
Ron said he would allow nothing that might compromise his voice, which had a range competitive with Roy Orbison or the Guess Who’s Burton Cummings.
Ford became visibly upset, then angry, noting all the money he had invested in salary, training and medical care.
Ron stood his ground. The Detroit Lions boss cared about his return on investment, which provides a window into why the NFL apparently long ignored the effects of concussions and brain injuries on the disposable workers of their plantations. Butler never played again.
Secret Fern Bar Service
Late one night as I sat at a Delmar table with my wife and some friends, bartender Mike Galloway came rushing by and blurted, “Back me up” as he pulled Tom Shea outside.
A customer had informed Michael that somebody was out back breaking into cars. The late Mr. Galloway was absolutely fearless and both of these gentlemen were reputedly pretty good in a street fight. As they rounded the corner into the alley, they found some hammerhead busting car windows with a tire iron. He confronted the Delmar militia then suddenly turned white as a sheet and quietly dropped to his knees, hands behind his head. Behind Shea and Galloway stood a half-dozen U.S. Secret Service agents with their guns drawn.
The G-Men were having a few beers in the bar when they heard the police call on their earpieces.
“I just got backed up by the whole damned Secret Service,” a Reno police officer chuckled as he placed the perp under arrest.
The good guys were in town in advance of a visit by President Reagan. Michael probably bought a round afterward.
Fern Bar Justice, Part Deux
Reno Police Chief Jim Parker once had Delmar busted at midnight. Cops ordered all patrons outside and made everyone pass through a line and show identification to get back in. No under-agers were found. Never missing an opportunity to promote Delmar, I called TV news director Ed Pearce and UPI reporter Geoff Dornan who came from home to interview irritated customers.
Sometime later, I made a business visit to bar owner Jerry Shea. He showed me a purse left by a patron the night before and handed me two driver’s licenses, one showing the UNR student as 19, the other with her as 24.
“See what I’m up against,” Shea said. The fake license, reportedly available for twenty bucks, was perfect down to gold-lettered DMV lamination.
Then came a coincidence that could not make the script of a TV sitcom. A liquor salesman arrived and Jerry showed him the two licenses.
“This is my daughter,” the guy gulped.
Juneteenth and June 16
Today, the Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society celebrates Juneteenth, an annual commemoration of the freeing of American blacks from slavery. The music and food event takes place in Wingfield Park on the river in downtown Reno beginning at 11 a.m.
The Reno-Sparks NAACP will host a booth selling tickets to its 67th Annual Freedom Fund Awards Banquet, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at the Circus Circus Mandalay Ballroom.
Keynote speaker will be prominent Florida attorney Alishia McDonald. Her mother, Alise Vetica, lives here. The downtown Reno Tom Vetica Resource Center, which serves the homeless and impoverished, is named after McDonald’s late father.
Honorees this year include the aforementioned Pearce of KOLO TV-8, Reno Municipal Court Judge Kenneth Howard, People First Foundation Executive Director Courtney Bell and Bishop Luther Dupree, Jr., pastor of Rehoboth Holy Temple C.O.G.I.C.
The Freedom Fund Awards Banquet is the NAACP’s principal fundraiser. Tickets are $60 in advance, $65 at the door. They also can be purchased at RenoSparksNAACP.org.
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is editor of NevadaLabor.com and first vice-president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988. He can be contacted at email@example.com.