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An Off-Beat Holiday 

by Ann M. Colford

Off-Beat -- it's a nice hyphenated name for today's couple. They're hip to the cool hangouts in town, but they're not afraid to be uncool if that's what it takes to have fun. They know how to have a good time without slavishly following either the latest trends or the status quo. If you follow along, you'll know, too, but don't follow too closely -- just sniff out the zeitgeist and make your own way.

The Off-Beats decide to start their holiday shopping downtown on a Saturday, and they're determined to have a good time even though shopping can be a drag. A cold breeze lifts off the Spokane River, but the shops of the Monroe Street Antique District are toasty warm and filled with timeless treasures. Who says every gift has to be brand-new? Sometimes the best finds come complete with a life story, even if the story is only imagined. There's some green Depression glass for Aunt Millie and sheet music from the '30s for that co-worker who loves Hoagy Carmichael. And when the Off-Beats find a Tiffany knock-off chandelier that would look perfect above their table, they don't hesitate -- because it might be gone when they come back.

It's just a short trip to the Flour Mill and the myriad of gift ideas at Wonders of the World. A statue of the Laughing Buddha (Ho-Tei) goes in the basket, and the giant insects forever preserved in glass frames may be the perfect choice for that preteen nephew who favors creepy crawly things over most human company.

A quick walk through Riverfront Park brings the Off-Beats to the IMAX theater. This year's newest attraction, The Polar Express, is a holiday charmer to be sure, but these folks prefer the quirky animated slapstick of Santa vs. the Snowman from the maker of Nickelodeon's Jimmy Neutron.

Across from the carousel, they arrive at Spokane's center for all things kitschy and unusual, Boo Radley's. The credit cards are smokin' by the time they leave laden with incense and toys and punching nuns, but the holiday shopping is done. Now it's time to have fun.

First, a quick stop at Far West for some appetizers and a game of pool, then they climb the stairs midway down the block on West First Avenue to Ella's Supper Club at CenterStage. Chef Kile Tansy has created entr & eacute;es inspired by the greats of jazz, and the Reverse Steak Oscar Peterson is the hit of this day, an improvisation worthy of the master.

After a meal like that, a workout is in order, so the Off-Beats cruise to the other end of downtown, to the new digs of ComedySportz at 227 West Riverside Ave. Fresh, family-friendly improvisational comedy rules the day, with actors competing for laughs. The referee calls the play, but the audience determines the winner. Always thinking ahead, the Off-Beats donate their cans of food and get $2 off their admission to ComedySportz.

With faces and sides aching, our couple decides to round out the evening with a mini pub-crawl to some of the most interesting and, well, offbeat drinking establishments in town. They begin with microbrews from the Coeur d'Alene Brewing Company at the Steam Plant Grill, architecturally one of the most unusual places anywhere to have a beer. Next, it's off to the Baby Bar, tucked in behind Slick Rock Burrito, where the tiny dimensions translate instantly into a hip hangout. They end the evening with martinis at the Cavallino Lounge, the urbane bar at the elegant Hotel Lusso. As the wee hours roll in, they toast another Saturday to remember -- until next week.

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