One of the Mapes coffee shop’s most memorable menus was the “Chinese” that went on at midnight and attracted rounders and swing-shifters into the wee hours. Not until Bill Fong’s New China Club began featuring a “takee outee” menu did the Mapes have any serious competition. A favorite story, which could be fact or fiction, is that an oriental couple came into the Mapes coffee shop around 8:00 pm and ordered Chow Mein. The inexperienced busboy blurted out, “I’m sorry, we don’t serve ‘Chinese’ until midnight.” The couple looked askance at one another, rose and left.
The local kaffee klatch really came into its own with the opening of the Mapes coffee shop. Anywhere from six to a dozen local businessmen, attorneys and civil servants would flock to the large booth adjacent to the First Street entrance and for a noisy forty-five minutes in the midmorning discuss the latest news, rumors and to exchange ribald jokes. Regulars included D.A. Bill Raggio, Dick Munn, Charley Welsh, Jud Allen, Don Burke, Vern Baker, Paul Richards, Rex Bell and the Parraguirre brothers, many others and the writer (the vestiges of this group currently convene at the Gold and Silver on Fourth Street).
The Casino at the Mapes is a story in itself. When the hotel first opened there were a couple of table games at the west end of the Terrace Room bar. The play was quiet and discreet, as were the customers in those days. The eventual Mapes Casino, in the north-west corner of the building, was home to a huge drug store and assorted high-end shops. In the beginning, a much larger casino was located on the top floor.
The crown jewel of the hotel was, of course, the Sky Room. Not only did it feature the most spectacular view in the Truckee Meadows—day or night—it housed the area’s largest and most modern showroom. Again, floor to ceiling windows provided an almost 360-degree view. At that time the height was dizzying and the action non-stop. Civic groups fought with one another to have their luncheon meetings in the Sky Room. Smaller groups opted for the Indian Room, located in the southeast corner of the L-shaped building (also the birthplace of the Prospector’s Club).
At night it was a whole different ballgame. The plush showroom featured gourmet dining for the dinner show and an unending stream of cocktails from the enormous serpentine bar, just beyond the showroom entrance for the midnight show. The room was strictly art-deco and even featured backlit plaster-like clouds attached to the ceiling. Some early-day wag, probably Herb Caen, when asked for his order by a tuxedoed waiter responded, “I’d like one of those veal cutlets off the ceiling.” Unfortunately, the moniker stuck and eventually, the “cutlets” came down.
Being the first high-rise showroom the Sky Room competed strongly against the Riverside, which until that time had been the only game in town. If you didn’t catch Sammy Davis, Jr., Liberace, Edgar Bergen and Charley McCarthy, Nelson Eddy, Billy Eckstine, Victor Borge, Mickey Rooney, Lili St. Cyr, Milton Berle, Ray Bolger, Ken Murray, Debbie Reynolds, Dennis Morgan, Spike Jones, the Ames Brothers, Billy Daniels, Anna Marie Alberghetti, Dick Shawn, Mae West or the several hundred other performers who played the Mapes you are much the poorer.
Equal to the number of entertainers who made appearances and also visits the Mapes were the major league athletes from all fields. Olympic weightlifting champion, Paul Anderson got the greatest worldwide coverage when he appeared for five minutes live on the Ed Sullivan Show, direct from the Sky Room. No mean feat, considering the three-hour time lag that existed for live TV at that time. The NFL sent Y.A. Tittle, John Brodie, Don Meredith, Gordie Soltau, Roman Gabriel, Jack Snow, Daryl Lamonica and Tobin Rote (whose toupee was so admired by Charles Mapes that Rote promptly placed it on Mapes head and left it there for the remainder of the “stag” evening). Don Manoukian, Reno’s most famous and ferocious MC got his start (for better or worse) at one of the Mapes Golf Stag Parties. Basketballer Rick Barry was also a regular attendee as were baseball greats Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Jensen. Willie Mays would drop into the Coach Room on occasion as would Nelson Rockefeller, Fabian, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., George Gobel, Clark Gable, Arthur Miller, John Houston, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Burl Ives, Vic Damone, Raymond Burr, Red Sanders, Lowell Thomas, Andy Williams, Del Webb, Kirk Kerkorian, Senator JFK, John Wayne, the whole family of Cartwrights, Richard Boone, Walter Cronkite, the Prince of Sweden, Herb Caen and a host of others whose well-known names would probably fill an issue of this paper.
(To be continued…)