Some fifty miles east of Elko, the gun rights debate just got a little hotter. Wells, Nevada, is no longer a stop on the Lincoln Highway, but gun-toting travelers on I-80 might want to make the stop and have a drink at the Sixth Street Bar. On a recent visit to northern Nevada, I found the two lone employees, Rachel and Samantha, packing a pair—of revolvers. Yes, the topless bartender and waitress were both armed with six-shooters. Samantha carried her boyfriend’s Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum, which she was quick to point out was the gun from Dirty Harry.
Rachel, who normally carries a Glock 26, was armed with a mean looking High Standard Sentinel she picked up at a recent gun show. “I don’t think people are paying too much attention to the guns to notice it’s only a .22,” she said. However, one visit makes it clear there’s no shortage of big guns in that little bar.
Being the only topless establishment within a hundred miles draws a mixed crowd of curious tourists, miners, and ranchers. In late 2015, the Elko County Commission approved an application for the bar to become a topless establishment, saving the historic establishment from bankruptcy. With 70 years of history lining the way, breasts and guns or not, a closure of the cozy dive bar would have been a tragedy. Carl Foreman, 49, has been visiting the bar every Saturday for the last 28 years and openly carrying his own snub-nose Colt revolver, althoughhe lamented that he “never got half the attention those ladies do.”
Rachel, 34, a Reno native and UNR School of Business graduate, took the job a year and a half ago when her boyfriend took a job at nearby mine. A score of bad Yelp reviews (under the old name 6th Street Bar) initially scared her away from the establishment, but owner John Pederson convinced the business major to take over managing the bar. She and Pederson remodeled the bar, carefully refinishing the wood paneling purportedly taken from old barns in the area. Still, the idea of a quaint, well-run watering hole off the beaten path didn’t draw the customers. Something had to be done to draw in more customers.
Asked what her boyfriend thought of her idea to serve drinks and occasionally dance on bar topless, Rachel said “He was very supportive, but figured that I owed him free drinks. We compromised on two free beers a night,” she laughed. Traffic began to pickup, if only for the novelty at first. Several girls came and went “mostly washouts from the brothels and clubs in Reno” before Samantha, 23, joined her.
Owner and retired rancher John Pederson said that he bought the bar, mostly as a retirement hobby, not expecting it to be anything more than an expensive private hideaway. He credits reality TV programs with getting him to take the business seriously. The nudity was “an unplanned diversion from my lack of a plan,” the 67 year-old divorcee said. As for the guns, the thought struck him after Samantha was held up in the parking lot.
“She calls me and says that some guy tried to rob her in the parking lot, but she pulled her pistol from her purse and scared the guy away.” Deputies later arrested a man matching the suspect’s description in Elko. “I thought, sure a topless girl looks helpless, but you don’t know these women. Still, they don’t deserve the trouble.” So he told his staff to start openly carrying their pistols, if they chose. So far, only the cook José doesn’t carry at work. “It gets in the way while cooking. I knocked over a pot once, and that isn’t going to work.”
I asked if this was a gimmick. “Of course it’s a gimmick,” Rachel said. “You don’t stop in Wells for the chicken wings.” José yelled from the kitchen that he begged to differ. “Sam and I drive the traffic, and we make things a little bit more unique with our pistols.” Did she thing that nudity and guns were incongruous? “Not at all. Look, the liberal world today is trying to make people hide their guns. ‘It’s okay to own them, it’s okay to carry them, but hide them in your pants or your purse, okay?’ No, they need to be out in the open to stimulate conversation. They shouldn’t be hidden.”
Samantha agreed. “My first time, I was really nervous. This wasn’t someplace out in the middle of nowhere, this was in public. I was worried about what people might say, what the police might do. It was scary. And you know what I found out? It was no big deal. Sure, I got a few funny looks and some guys made smart ass comments, but nothing bad happened. Got a few phone numbers too,” she laughed. “Guys like it and the creeps don’t.”
“Yeah, a lot less of the creepers come around now that we pack,” Rachel chimed in. “We’re more intimidating than even Red now,” she said, referring to the bearded, Irish bartender who works the two nights Rachel and Samantha are off. Both women said the reason they choose to carry is for personal protection and the comfort of not having to rely on 911, which doesn’t guarantee a swift response in rural Nevada.
Have they received any criticism? Pederson said that a few of the local wives left, but that was because they disapproved of the nudity. “People around here aren’t much afraid of guns. And if one of those angry mommies from Las Vegas wants to come up here and complain about the guns, screw ‘em. The Puritans already hate us for the booze and boobs, so I think we can handle any heat over our heaters.”
Pederson said that he plans to keep the guns in the business as long as the staff wants them. “I personally have a huge commitment to the Second Amendment. I think it’s kinda rubbed off on the ladies. Guns have a place in society. When we try and hide things that we all love, instead of embracing them, it just breeds a bad environment. It’s not naughty at all.”
As for scratching the itch I originally stopped for, wings and beer, the bar excels. Wednesday is all-you-can eat wings day and beer is half-price Sunday and Monday (coincidentally the days the ladies are off). Hours are 4PM to midnight and the Sixth Street Bar is on, you guessed it, 6th street. Profits from this coming Monday, 4/5, are being donated to the NRA.