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May/June 2019

Loving Spokane

In the interests of full disclosure, I fell in love with Spokane, a mix of old and new. It’s a thoroughly modern city with great restaurants, shops, and a sense of community. There are sparkling new high rises and lovely old buildings that the city has been careful to keep; tall, blond sandstone buildings with nineteenth century embellishments such as ram’s heads, buffalo skulls, and arabesques. There are many old brick buildings with arched windows—nostalgia without sentimentality.

VVA’s National Convention will be hosted by two hotels, the Davenport Grand and the Doubletree, both on Spokane Falls Boulevard, one of the city’s main streets. They’re less than a block apart, and both are just a few steps from the Convention Center. The shops nearest the Doubletree are less for tourists than those in the center of town. This quiet area has charming older buildings, too, many of which still have old-fashioned ads painted on their sides that promote dry goods stores or declare Polio Must End. There are many restaurants—Mexican, Japanese, and Italian—as well as coffee shops, antiques stores, and pubs, even a karaoke bar.

The main business part of town is a bit closer to the Davenport Grand. The sidewalks are wide enough to accommodate pedestrians and wheelchairs. There are wine bars, breweries, a martini bar, a lobster bar, piano bars, large and small restaurants, tattoo parlors, clothing boutiques, and pawn shops. There are restaurants from around the world plus great local food. Daily parking runs from $7 near the Davenport Grand to $22 in the hotels.

Riverfront Park, just a block from the hotels, runs along the Spokane River. It features benches and sculptures, as well as a variety of ducks and friendly Canada geese. The first thing you’ll see there is a clock tower built in 1902, though it’s in danger of being torn down to make room for one of several colleges nearby. The clock is wound by hand.

The walkway through the park is asphalt and a trail runs along the 111-mile river for 37 miles, all of it walkable. There is an indoor merry-go-round from 1909, the Looff Carousel, with hand-carved, painted horses festooned with bright garlands and curly manes. Rising above all but the clock tower is a massive metal and wire frame construction left from the 1974 World’s Fair, the Expo. Canvas sheeting used to cover the structure, but it began to rip and was taken down. The structure still stands, weighing two tons. Many joggers take to the sidewalk by the river while flat metal sculptures of people running mimic their movements.

In the same area is the SkyRide: small purple gondolas ride on cables in the air on a twenty-minute tour over the falls for only a few dollars.
Just a block from the Grand on Spokane Falls Boulevard is the Boo Radley Shop. Yes, Boo Radley from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. What fun! Crazy socks, funny magnets, old paperbacks from the fifties, and great music. You may not find anything you want to buy, but you will be smiling when you leave.

It’s right next door to O’Doherty’s Irish Grille where I had the best fish and chips ever. The pub is also fun. All the walls and columns, even the ceilings, are covered with dollar bills and each one has a name on it. Here’s the deal: You to go to the bar and tell the bartender you want to sing with the music, which is Irish, of course, but also country, as in Johnny Cash. The bartender will ring a bell to get everyone’s attention and he will introduce you. Then you stand on the bar and sing your heart out. If you do this you will get your first drink half-price for the rest of your life.

The old Davenport Hotel (not to be confused with the Convention host hotel) takes up an entire block. This elegant beauty belongs to a bygone era, a grand old place of grace and eloquence. Visitors are welcome to explore its open rooms, such as the Elizabethan Room, with its Tudor wooden panels and long, arched windows, or the Marie Antoinette Room, or the Hall of the Doges. The marble-floored lobby is large and high, surrounded by a mezzanine. The wooden beams that cross the ceiling have been carved with European griffins and knights’ shields. Take a look at the Peacock Room, a lovely small bar with a Tiffany-style stained glass ceiling. Oil paintings and sepia-toned photos hang on the walls, as well as black-and-white photos of celebrities who have stayed there, including native son Bing Crosby. The Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena is also on this side of the river.

For forty years Auntie’s Bookstore has been one of the best bookstores anywhere. The space is 12,000 square feet of little gifts, note cards, and most importantly, excellent book selections, including an entire room for children’s books. Right next to the book store is Uncle’s Games with every kind of puzzle and game you can think of, for all ages and skills. On the other side of the bookstore on Main Street is a wine-tasting bar and next to that, the Pottery Place Plus which features jewelry, pottery, photos, paintings, and more—all made locally.

Several bridges cross the Spokane River. The most beautiful, the Monroe Street Bridge, goes over the Spokane Falls Gorge. It’s a huge, gray concrete bridge built in 1911, though many repairs have been made over time. The bridge rises high, high above the gorge below, with broad sidewalks on both sides. The park down by the falls was closed in March, but walking over the bridge gives full views of one of the most powerful waterfalls I have ever seen. Actually there are two falls, one tumbling onto the other. The snow melt water is loud and meteoric in column and speed, roaring over itself, green and white, over and between boulders big as houses.

Across the bridge is the Spokane County Courthouse. It is a replica of Sixteenth century Renaissance French castles of yellow stone and turrets with dark blue slate roofing. Built in 1893, it was modeled after castles along France’s Loire River. This part of town has not been renovated and still reflects the earlier industrial businesses, like railroads. But this area is the antiques district.

Return to the Convention hotels by crossing the nearest bridge east of the Monroe Street Bridge. This suspension bridge spans a smaller bridge and the first, smaller falls, also breathtakingly beautiful if not so powerful.

On the way to the airport you can see from the Interstate several low bridges that cross the road below. Tractor trailers aren’t supposed to drive there because they’re taller than the bridges, but once in a while one will go anyway and get stuck. You’ll also notice down on your right, a huge old-fashioned milk bottle at the entrance to a building. Spokane’s quirky history is everywhere.

This is a fun place to walk around in. People here love their town and are proud of it. It’s easy to see why. The atmosphere is easy and friendly. The walk signs for crossing the roads make living easy, actually lasting long enough to take a leisurely stroll across the street without fear that a car will run you down. There are also many skywalks that connect tall buildings. Talk to anyone in any store, gallery, bar, or restaurant, and they will gladly tell you about interesting places to visit within walking distance. Every retail place I entered made me feel special. Spokane is a surprisingly wonderful town.

Spokane: Cliff Drive at Dusk

Loana’s Picks

Restaurants in Spokane are moderately priced, except for hotel restaurants.

  • Madeleine’s Café & Patisserie, 415 W. Main Ave.: Several different styles of great coffee, as well as light, flaky French pastries, pancakes, and eggs. Regular coffee gets free refills.
  • Indaba Coffee, 210 N. Howard St.: has unusual styles of coffee and great pastries, comfortable chairs, and a couch.
  • Atticus Coffee, 222 N. Howard St.: Another reference to Harper Lee’s famous book, has gifts and good coffee.
  • If you like fondue, try the Melting Pot, 707 W. Main Ave., on the skywalk level.
  • Area 51/The Onion Grill, near the Doubletree, is a sports bar and restaurant. The cheesesteak sandwich and fries are delicious and too much for one sitting. There are fifty-one beers and a fine wine list.
  • Luigi’s, 245 W. Main Ave.: Really good Italian food and close to both hotels.
  • Rocky Rococo Pizza, 520 N. Main Ave.: made fresh on-site, these are good pizzas. They also deliver.
  • Anthony’s at Spokane Falls, 510 N. Lincoln St.: Just across the river with beautiful views, this is the place for local fresh fish. Indoor and outdoor seating.
  • A RiteAid is within easy walking distance.





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