Your money’s no good here, pal

black-rock-saloon6Logan, who pretty much runs the Department of Public Works, which is the fancy name for the group of die-hards and worker bees who are building the city in the desert that will host the Burning Man event, was telling the crew gathered at the breakfast meeting the other day to behave when they are in the Black Rock Saloon, because the Black Rock Saloon is one of his favorite places on earth, and he doesn’t want anyone or anything screwing it up.

The Black Rock Saloon is  in the middle of what passes for town in Gerlach. If you were just casually passing through,  you’d definitely want to pop inside  for a look around. There isn’t all that much in Gerlach, after all: A park named after and built around an old water tower; Brunos, a restaurant and bar that is the local equivalent of a multinational corporation, because it seems to have a hand in everything, plus two more drinking establishments: The Miner’s Club, and Joe’s Gerlach Club. That’s a lot of drinking for a small town, huh.

The Black Rock Saloon is different, though. You can’t just walk into it. A sign on the door lets you know that it’s not open to the public. It’s for the Burning Man community and their invited guests. In other words, you have to be connected to get inside. People have to know who you are.

black-rock-saloonIt’s easy to see why Logan, and others, love the place so much: It’s a refuge. Yes, it’s mainly a bar, but it’s also a place for like-minded Black Rock souls to gather. It can be very very loud and rowdy and raucous.  But it can also be very quiet, with someone playing a mandolin in the background and just a couple of quiet conversations going on.

There are several rooms to the place.  The main one has a pool table and a long wooden bar  that’s full of names carved onto the top of it. The first night I walked into the place last year, one of the guys drinking at the bar put an exclamation mark on the point he was  he was making by slamming his knife into the top of the bar. The guy just let the knife stick there for half a minute or so in the  hazy red light as if to say, “OK, pal, NOW do you see what I’m talking about?” I hadn’t heard a word he was saying, but nevertheless I found myself agreeing with him entirely.

There’s a big room off to the side of the bar, which is mainly a work space for Burning Man staff. But there’s also a line of computers against the wall, and lonely-hearted people or those needing to keep up with details in the default world can get connected. The Burners have brought free wifi to Gerlach, and the signal booms loud and strong in the Saloon.

black-rock-saloon-5There’s another room off the rear  that has a large  eating area, with long picnic tables that can be brought in to accommodate a big hungry crowd. Off of THAT room there’s an even more rarified space, a kind of sanctum sanctorum, the holy of holies. There’s a big-screen TV (not hi-def, though, one of those old projector types), a kitchen … and some really good liquor. I was directed there the other night when I was in powerful need of some Scotch.

You pretty much can get what you need in one of the rooms at the Black Rock Saloon, and your money is no good. The booze and beer and margaritas and vodka concoctions … they’re all free. It’s one of the perks you get if you’re one of the 150 or so people who give up their lives  for a month to come build the city: You drink for free, at least for the first several nights while operations are still centered in Gerlach, and the crew hasn’t moved out to the playa yet.

In a lot of ways, the Black Rock Saloon is the Burner equivalent of a VFW hall. The vets gather to tell war stories and generally act out. The hard-asses and hard-living types that are drawn to Burning Man in the weeks before the event aren’t all that different from the yarn-spinning graybeards your  local community center. They are proud of what they do, have respect for those who came before, and they’re not afraid of raising a fair amount of shit if the occasion warrants.



About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

6 Comments on “Your money’s no good here, pal

  • busta-nut says:

    Thank you for your seemingly daily updates about our beloved BRC! while preparing to get back home to BRC it really helps to hear what is going on out there on the playa. The excitement and anticipation I feel seems to be becoming almost overwhelming….and your dose of life on the playa is a quick fix to my excitement! I seem to be checking the website every couple of hours looking for any news of BRC!

    Your stories help to calm my nerves and helps me feel like I am almost there. I want to thank you and all the seed-campers who are out there busting themselves to prepare for another wonderful year at BURNING MAN!

    Velvet Soulmine Vodka Bar
    4:40 & A

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  • Zypher says:

    I cant believe its almost here. It seems as if each year takes longer to get to this point. The hard work and dedication of the people who make BRC possible, goes greatly appreciated. I thank everyone who makes home, home.
    Keep up all the great work. Looking forward to seeing you all on the playa!!
    Viva La Burning Man

    Love & Light

    7:30 & Chaos

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  • Gable says:

    I am a Distiller, but more importantly, a Burner. How do I donate some of our fine spirits to be poured for the workers of BRC? When drinking at Black Rock Saloon, Burners should be drinking booze made by burners….no?

    Someone drop me a note with contact info and ill be sure there is some Tuthilltown on the bar at the saloon, if not this year, next.

    Cheers all, cant wait to see you on the playa.

    Tuthilltown Distiller

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  • thyrza says:

    Thanks for all the great work to make the city!
    Everyone sure has fun on the playa!
    Cold Tecate’s for ya at 8 & Chaos this year.
    Keep it burnin,
    Camp Thyrza!

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  • Ron Bell says:

    The dreams of Burning Man are becoming more and more surreal and yet vivid at the same time. It haunts me much the same way as as any one would miss a loved one after a year.

    I have been sweet meat helping out there in the past but it will be all I can do to arrive on opening day and leave on closing day as I am now raising my 2 daughters and working beyond full time.

    Call it an excuse but what I am trying to say is I/we really appreciate you guys out there. There are days when it is so hot you are hallucinating (from work and sun) but everyone keeps going with the most “git her done attitude of any group I have ever seen).

    Thanks again you guys and girls, we all love you, this year should evolve into a great homecoming!

    Ron Bell
    Reno Burner

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  • Well, it’s that time again and of course we are not ready. We have all year to prepare, but it seems that just when I think everythings in place…we think of something just a little bit cooler to add to the mix!
    For the last 2 weeks I sit at my desk at work looking over endless Burning Man photos, stories and such. It helps me calm my anticipation for the day when I can pretend I am forever flipping the bird to all my mundane responsibilities. Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?
    Anyhow, I can’t wait to be riding my bike on the Playa, meeting new people, taking in the beautiful art and soaking up a Spiritual essence that only a Burner would understand!

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