I’ve heard them all, Spokanistan, Spotucky, Spocompton and my personal favorite Spokan’t. But you know what, Spokane Doesn’t Suck. I recently saw this on a T-Shirt, and I wholeheartedly agree. Living in the shadow of her emerald, grunge goddess, Silicon Forest, Seahawk infested, fish slingin’ sister to the West, Spokane has always struggled to find herself. She’s a gem of a city with so much to offer and it’s about time she has her time to shine.
Spokane, WA is my hometown, and while I have a special love for the Lilac City, I haven’t always liked it. I think most people who move away from their hometown at a young age reach a point where they are over it and don’t want to look back. I wanted to escape the small town mentality even before I left high school and quickly high-tailed it out on my own shortly after graduating. At 20 I moved to Portland with my then boyfriend (now husband) with a bittersweet taste of Spokandy in my mouth.
Truth be told, I grew up in a very small town about 30 minutes NW of Spokane called Nine Mile Falls and no, Eminem didn’t live a mile away. Growing up in 9 Mile, Spokane was “town”. We’d take “the river road” (aka Highway 291) to town daily because all we had in 9 Mile was a small strip mall designed to vaguely resemble an Old West boardwalk called the Suncrest Outpost. Here, we had a market (where I worked one of my first jobs known as “Inmate”. Don’t ask.), an old school gas station with pumps that had to be reset with a key after each pumping, a pizza parlor with mediocre (at best) pizza, a VHS movie rental shop that also rented out VHS players and Nintendo consoles, a barebones hardware store, a strange gift shop with Precious Moments figurines and rock candy, and of course the notorious Wagon Wheel Tavern that is everything you expect from a small town tavern. Everything was overpriced, so we’d often “go to town” just for our groceries, gas, pizza, plywood, etc. Everybody worked in town, ate in town and ran errands in town, the 30 minute drive was just a way of life.
Spokane was the big metropolis to 9 Mile, and as the urban legend goes, boasts the highest concentration of fast food restaurants west of the Mississippi. It’s no wonder I grew up on spongy, grease-laden square pizza slices from Little Caesar’s (gimme all the corners!), Crispy Meat Burritos from Taco Time (those crispy ends, though) and 5 for 5 roast beef sandwich deals from Arby’s (plus an extra large order of curly fries).
High-end eating was Olive Garden or Red Robin and when prom season came around we’d splurge on local staples Clinkerdagger’s and Patsy Clark’s mansion. Most of the time, though, it was fast food chain restaurants and Northtown mall. All day every day. It seemed the only local spots had been there for generations and there was never any room for the new, little guy.
Recently, Spokane has undergone a bit of a resurgence in the local upstart arena. Over the past few years I’ve seen all kinds of homegrown restaurants, coffee shops, antique markets and local artisans popping up in every corner of the city, from Felony Flats to Hillyard. And whats most remarkable, these places are actually thriving and sticking around. The citywide shift to local support is palpable, the city seems brighter and beams with hometown respect and pride. It may have taken a while, but I think the lilac princess has finally blossomed and proved to us all that Spokane Doesn’t Suck after all.
I get up to Spokane once or twice a year and I’m always eager to check out the new hot spots with my family and friends. Here are some of my new haunts and old favorites as of July 2016.
Chaps: This is by far, my favorite place to eat in all of Spokane. Celeste and Gina opened Chaps just about 10 years ago in an unassuming strip mall just outside of town. The small entrance takes you through an original 1912 Farmhouse and immediately sets to tone of the space. You feel like you’re visiting an eclectic home of a sweet Grandmother with treasures buried in every nook and cranny. After passing a chic little side bar, the ceiling opens up into what feels like a converted barn. The decor is an elevated shabby chic mixed with Parisian inspiration and down home southern comfort. Bright light spills in from the windows onto darkly painted walls that allow the funky collections of vintage paintings, industrial scones and mismatched vintage furniture to shine.
The owners have poured every ounce of themselves into this place and you can see it, smell it, taste it, hear it and feel it. Celeste, the owner, is as sweet as pie and always greets each customer with her trademark smile and gracious demeanor.
The food. I can’t say enough about the food. This beautiful bakery cranks out a variety of the tastiest pastries in all of the Inland Empire and that’s just the beginning. They serve breakfast, dessert and everything in between, including a lovely cocktail menu. A highlight, and my personal favorite, is the Baked Blueberry Oatmeal (Celeste’s Mother’s recipe) offered only on weekends. You cannot go wrong at Chap’s and you may just find yourself relaxing in the garden next to a vintage pickup truck with a bed full of flowers all afternoon. Go now!
Rocket Bakery: The Rocket is a Spokane staple. They’ve been slinging coffee and baking up oversized baked goods since the early 90s. There are multiple locations throughout Spokane and they maintain a classic 90s vibe throughout their shops and menu. They sell their goods to every drive-thru coffee stand in Spokane, and are most famous for the Big Pink Cookie. Drive-thru coffee stands are a phenomenon in Spokane; they are on nearly every street corner in the city. In the late 90’s/early aughts while going to college, I worked as a barista in a Drive-Thru coffee shop and easily gained that freshman 15 on the cream cheese frosted Big Pink Cookies. I still long for them and even came up with my own version to satisfy that longing. Check out my BIG PINK COOKIE RECIPE and make them for yourself!
Batch Bakeshop: Batch is a small-batch bakery in the burgeoning West Central neighborhood of Spokane. This sweet, little, stand-alone brick building churns out handmade batches of beautiful baked goods made from locally sourced bounties. When I stopped in with my Mom, we were greeted by the baker’s own Mother who radiated pride for her daughter and the bakery. The goods are great. You can taste the handmade love and goodness that goes into each bite. This is the type of solid, go-to bakery that every neighborhood needs.
Boots: While I am a major advocate for real flour and high fat, quality butter, Boots won me over with their vegan and gluten-free fare. They’ve got the market cornered on alternative baked goods and they aren’t afraid to show off. Their pastry case is filled to the brim with grain-free cupcakes and butter-less baked goods. The interior is a long galley of hodge-podged, second hand furniture and repurposed blenders turned pendant lamps that lighten up the joint. The coffee is hot, the Arnold Palmers are freshly squeezed and the baked goods are undeniable. Even if you aren’t on the vegan or gluten free bandwagon, this place will make your belly smile.
Common Crumb: Located directly across the street from Boots, Common Crumb is housed in Saranac Commons Community building in downtown Spokane. Tucked in the back of this shared space, Common Crumb is producing artisan breads and French style pastries with finesse and care. Good bread is hard to find and I was sure glad when I found Common Crumb.
Madeleine’s: A classic Parisian style patisserie is located in a classic brick building in downtown Spokane. Flat gray walls, polished concrete floors and marble countertops become a neutral backdrop to the simple French lined furnishings and pretty patisserie case. The morning pastries are my favorite thing here. The line can backup all the way out the door on a busy morning, but when you’re hungover from a raging wedding that had you dancing in an 11th floor window until 3 am, pastries and black coffee are your only hope.
The Yards Bruncheon: My sweet friend, Tia J, of The Urban Peach health blog, introduced me to this place last summer. I was blown away when I pulled up to Summit Parkway to see an entirely new skyline. The strip known as Kendall Yards, in the West Central neighborhood, has been completely built up from a barren, vacant lot that sat empty for decades. The Yards Bruncheon has a retro vibe without being kitschy. They serve up solid brekkies with portions far too big for any one human to take on. It’s worth the wait on the weekends and is a cozy spot to catch up with old friends over tasty vittles on a rainy morning. This new hot spot is serious proof that Spokane Doesn’t Suck!
The Wanderding Table: Also located in the new Kendall Yards area, The Wandering Table leans more to the finer dining end of the spectrum while maintaining a casual beat. The’ve got all kinds of retro-chic cocktails and a modern American menu that caters to sharing enthusiasts with an array of small plates and table plate options. I met up with a group of high school gal pals for drinks and bites and we snagged a seat outside on the patio where we sipped on punch and shared plates for hours. It’s a great spot share bites of new foods with old pals.
Lost Boys Garage: Located in repurposed mid-century gas station in North Spokane, Lost Boys Garage has a theme and they’re sticking to it. The interior is shop themed with plenty of diamond plate, polished steel and oil cans to reinforce the garage tone. My parents enthusiastically brought me here for dinner on my last visit and we had a blast.
The menu is on the greasy spoon side, but you’ve gotta expect things are gonna get greasy when you’re eating in a garage, right? The sammies are stacked high with layers of meat, cheese and bread. They’ve got a solid beer selection featuring a rotating tap of draft and local brews and pretty extensive cocktail menu. These boys are super nice, accommodating and just want to make sure you’re having a good time and having a happy meal.
Clover: Their Bloody Mary comes with a fat slab of house cured beef jerky, need I say more? Also, they bake their own bread and baked goods in house. Win/Win. The restaurant is in a charming bungalow on the east side of town. It’s cozy and quaint and a lovely spot for brunching or lunching.
Clinkerdagger: Talk about old school Spokane! Clinks has been there forever, or at least my entire life, and it seems the interiors haven’t ever been updated. It sits right on the Spokane River and is the ideal place to grab a summertime happy hour on the sunny patio that extends straight out towards the river. After all of these years, I am still a huge fan of that pea salad.
El Que: Tucked behind the Elk in Browne’s Addition (another great spot) is a cute little tequila bar that has a rotating list of house infused tequilas with all kinds of crazy flavors. I met some girlfriends here for an afternoon margarita and we all had a spicy jalepeno infused number that really hit the spot on a hot day. Muy Bien!
The Flying Goat: Pizza + Beer in a warm and comfy little corner restaurant in the picturesque, tree-lined Audubon neighborhood. A solid choice, always.
Frank’s Diner: Frank’s has been slinging greasy spoon breakfasts out of this train car turned restaurant for nearly 100 years. It’s a Spokane landmark with classic diner eats.
Waddell’s Brewpub & Grille: My Dad is big on beer. He’s a fanboy to say the least. So, he was super pumped for dinner at Waddell’s because it meant beer, lots of glorious golden beer. On the north side of town, this is a good place to go to keep everyone covered. They’ve got all of the classic American staples from sammies to salads to burgers and fries. They also brew their own beers and have a large selection of wine and cocktails. My Dad had some bourbon Sriracha rib situation that was tasty as heck.
Coeur Coffeehouse: Located on Monroe, just north of the Monroe Street Bridge this cute little coffeehouse is the real deal. They’re brewing up legit blends of strong coffee with care. It feels like a Portland coffeehouse in the heart of Spokane and instantly won my love.
Main Market CO-OP: I go here for baking supplies when I’m in Spokane. They have a good bulk section so I don’t have to spend an arm and leg on ingredients that I only need a few tablespoons of.
Saranac Commons: Until just now, I always thought it was called Sazarac Commons. I guess we know where my mind goes…straight to drinking. This community space houses Common Crumb Bakery, a brewery and a few other hot spots.
Boulevard Mercantile: I was working on a photo shoot last summer and needed to find some vintage props. I instantly fell head over heels for this spot on North Monroe. They’ve got all kinds of antiques with a decent selection of mid-century modern. It’s a good thing I was flying home or I would have left with a vintage world map and an industrial metal medical cabinet I don’t have space for.
Chosen Vintage: in downtown Spokane is another fun way to waste an afternoon. I bought a vintage western belt with a horse on the buckle here and a few props for a photo shoot. It’s a great location, right next to Saranac Commons and across from Boots.
Riverfront Park: is a classic Spokane stop. A 100 acre park right downtown along the Spokane river built for the 1974 World’s Fair. The iconic Pavilion built for the fair still stands today and houses an ice skating rink. The the clocktower, aerial tram and carousel have all been there forever and are quintessential Spokane sites. The giant red wagon slide is fun for the kiddos and be sure to track down the vacuum powered, trash gobbling, Garbage Goat, a personal favorite of mine.
Manito Park: My parents got married at the fountain here when I was 3 years old. Our High School senior picture was taken at the fountain for some reason, even though it was at least 30 minutes away from our HS. Manito Park is a beautiful park nestled up on the South Hill with a Japanese garden, sunken English gardens, a duck pond and a greenhouse full of exotic plants. Pack a picnic and head to the park to enjoy one of Spokane’s best spots.
For your viewing pleasure, I have mapped out all of the listed spots to give you and idea of this great city and to show by map that Spokane Doesn’t Suck.