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Best Of... Nightlife 

BEST CASINO

NORTHERN QUEST CASINO

As you drive across the frozen Airway Heights tundra, first it appears as a warm glow against the night sky: the promise of food, warmth, conviviality, good times and flashing lights. The interior of NORTHERN QUEST CASINO buzzes like a hive, with worker bees busily gathering change and returning to feed the slots, which beckon brightly with names like "Rich Little Piggies," "Raking It In" and "Lucky Larry's Lobstermania."

One of the slot attendants tells me that "Dolphin's Treasure" is the most popular machine: "They're only a nickel, and you can win up to 150 bucks," she enthuses.

But Northern Quest is "more than just gaming," says Debbie Robbins, the casino's marketing manager. Cosby, Sedaka, Leno, Newhart — the recent cascade of celebrities suggests that the casino has been "listening to what people say they want" in entertainment, as Robbins notes. But it also suggests a buildup to the opening, less than two years from now, of an added hotel/restaurants/casino/spa/theater complex at the Quest, making it a destination spot with nearly three times the current gaming space.

Even now, a long walk through NQ's cavernous and smoky gambling area brings you to the convenience of the Non-Smoking Casino — a glassed-in area that, on a recent weekday night, had seven tables full of poker tournament players peering down at their cards. The Ultimate Sports Lounge next door, meanwhile, has John Stockton's basketball, Mark Rypien's helmet and a glassed-in cigar lounge. Those stogies always taste better right after the Cougs beat the spread.

And while wandering through the casino, it's hard not to have your own little fantasy of riding shotgun on the slots all night long. I would pull on the lever and watch, I felt sure, as bucketloads of coins would spill endlessly, endlessly right into my lap.

I love the sound of payouts in the morning. It smells like victory.

— Michael Bowen

2ND PLACE: Coeur d'Alene Casino; 3RD PLACE: Big Daddy's


BEST NEW NIGHTSPOT

ARTISAN ROOM / CLUB 23

Since its inception, CLUB 23 — the club nights that turn the low-key, top-shelf Artisan Room into a throbbing dance floor — has been afloat in rumor. First came the rumors that no one under 23 was allowed in. Then came the rumor that people under 23 had to pay a huge cover to get in.

Then, inevitably, came rumors to the contrary. If you were a hot girl and you knew somebody, the word went, you could get in no problem.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle.

"We'd throw these private parties at Raw," says Club 23 manager Noel Macapagal, referring to another venue he operates, "and see these 30-somethings that we never saw anywhere else." The idea was to attract these people by working the exclusivity of a private party into an open-to-mostly-everyone club. So Macapagal's team set the under-23 cover originally at $23. (It's now $10.)

The wild rumor, though, worked as well as the truth. That first wave attracted the target audience: Spokane's 30-something elite, looking for a place to mingle and grind outside the usual club-kid and gay bar circuits. Subsequent waves of buzz brought more and more of the people whom the bar was purportedly trying to keep out, eventually drawing everyone who wanted to drop a Hamilton for an exclusive-feeling experience (and a bed to drink on). No wonder this place ran away with the best new nightspot category.

Here's another rumor for the mill: that Club 23 may be spun off into a standalone club, taking up residence at the top of the Ridpath. Macapagal won't discount the possibility, though there are other priorities. Still, he encourages people to stop by regularly, you know, just to see if that particular rumor comes true.

— Luke Baumgarten

2ND PLACE: The Swamp; 3RD PLACE: Jimmy'Z; BEST NEW NORTH IDAHO NIGHTSPOT: Bardenay


EDITORS' CHOICE

BEST ACTIVITY TO ENSURE YOUR DATE HAS A BRAIN AND A HEART

The dating scene in Spokane is fraught for a number of reasons — in all the ways that every scene is fraught and in a few uniquely Inland Northwest-y ways — and will undoubtedly require a ton of dating around. With such an obscure path to romantic happiness, it becomes absolutely vital to avoid the get-to-know-you effluvia and get at what's really important in a date.

For the sensitive, intellectual and/or snobbish among us, that means rigorously testing a prospective partner's brains and compassion. Before Spokane's young, hip singer-songwriter scene exploded in the last year or two, this generally required two steps: discussing Keats (or Nietzsche or Kerouac or Bukowski; you'd tailor this to your personal interests) with the guy or girl, then giving them an IQ test.

But no more! For a couple of years now, and with increasing frequency in the last six months, Spokane's given rise to a startling number of good singer-songwriters. The scene's never been this diverse, from the quiet country of Karli Fairbanks to the folk-twang of (The Inlander's) Joel Smith to Matthew Winter's drug-addled emotionalism to Dane Ueland, who mixes space-shuttle-crash imagery and examinations of God's seeming disregard into a mash of pathos and longing. That's to say nothing of Kaylee Cole (see page 51) who conquered Spokane in six months last year and is well on her way to taking the entire Northwest.

In the last month alone, brilliant Open Mic performances have heralded two awesome new singers, Hannah Reader — a breathy, devastatingly frank lyricist and pianist — and a hard-strumming reggae-inflected guitarist who goes by Olivia.

It ain't hard to find something that moves you: Just head to Caterina Winery and Empyrean a couple of times a week for a month until some singer grabs you. Then, use them as a litmus test to search for Mr./Ms. Right.

— Luke Baumgarten


BEST BAR FOOD

SWINGING DOORS

The thing about bar food that certain establishments don't understand — catering to people of a certain sophistication (read: inhibition) — is that light fare is fine for a normal night out. When you're really, really plastered, though, all you want is fat in obsessive quantities. SWINGING DOORS manages both. Get broasted chicken for a quick din-din with the fam (it's a family restaurant until 9), save the massive sausage-pattied Albatross for those evenings you decide to pull an all-nighter to watch European Formula One racing (joint's open 24 hours Friday and Saturday). Get the chicken-fried chicken smothered in chicken gravy when you're just feeling suicidal. (LB)

2ND PLACE: The Satellite; 3RD PLACE: The Elk; BEST NORTH IDAHO BAR FOOD: Capone's


BEST PLACE FOR A BLIND DATE

RIVERFRONT PARK

I'm trying to gauge exactly why people voted for RIVERFRONT PARK. It's a good date place on two fronts. On the one hand, it has the ice rink, the carousel, the mini-golf course, enough skee-ball to support an entire third grade class — all great, non-threatening pastimes — and that gaudy Harold Balazs fountain is a great meet-up place.

On the other hand, it's both pretty wide open in places and well-treed in others, so if the date goes south, you can just pick a direction, run like hell for five minutes and be among any number of dark hedges to hide in until Frankendate gives up the chase. (LB)

2ND PLACE: Starbucks; 3RD PLACE: Twigs


BEST HAPPY HOUR

CLINKERDAGGER

At some point in the annals of drunken buffoonery, an enterprising genius realized that happy hour didn't just mean you got to save a little cheese at your local watering hole. It also meant that, certain hours of the day, poor schmucks like us can drink and eat well outside our means. The best thing about CLINKERDAGGER then is taking half off 15 of its appetizers every day from 4 to 6 pm and 9 pm to close. The $3 draft beers, classic mojitos, scratch margaritas and house martinis — that's just icing. Plus, unlike most joints with river views, happy-hour prices extend all the way to the patio. (LB)

2ND PLACE: Twigs; 3RD PLACE: Steelhead Bar and Grill; BEST NORTH IDAHO HAPPY HOUR: The Iron Horse


BEST TEEN HANGOUT

NORTHTOWN MALL

"It's me. Where are you?"

"Not much. I'm at the mall... Kayla got in a fight with Jared."

"I was there. Totally... Did you finish that report for Barnes' class?"

"Oh, just something about the War of 1812 that I got from Wikipedia and this book I read. I'm heading to Zumiez now. That Empyre hoodie I bought? Yeah, at the beginning of winter. Hound's tooth with the fur collar. I'm taking it back. I know I wore it for three months, but I kept the tag on."

"Hanging out at NORTHTOWN can be so educational. I mean, have you seen 10,000 B.C.? But you should hear what Kayla said to Jared..." (MB)

2ND PLACE: River Park Square; 3RD PLACE: The Service Station


BEST MARTINIS

TWIGS

Since basically every bar in town thinks of itself as a martini joint, competition is fierce. In order to be competitive, you have to offer all the froofy pink ain't-really-a-martini martinis that draw the peeps with no taste for vermouth. You also, though, have to cater to the purists. That means a ton of stuffed olives, strategic use of lemon rind, and a deep stock of top-shelf gins and vodkas. All the top finishers boast these. What separates TWIGS is that, with three locations serving all the major population centers, Twigs doesn't make you come to it. It comes to you. (LB)

2ND PLACE: Bistango; 3RD PLACE: The Peacock Room; BEST NORTH IDAHO MARTINIS: The Oval Office


BEST BEER SELECTION

THE VIKING

Some places get voted Best Of for the right reason — earth-shaking wickedness — but just as many win because they're the most visible or have a ton of locations or have billion-dollar advertising budgets. Know how you can tell THE VIKING has, without doubt, the best beer selection in Spokane? It's literally a corrugated metal building awkwardly placed on the top of a rock behind KXLY 4. It's in the middle of nowhere and looks, to the uninitiated, like a warehouse where the TV station might store old 6 o'clock News sets. It wins — every year — because everyone who's ever gone there has told a friend what a great, friendly, booze-rich environment it is. The best, in fact. (LB)

2ND PLACE: The Elk; 3RD PLACE (TIE): The Swamp, Steam Plant, Northern Lights; BEST NORTH IDAHO BEER SELECTION: Coeur d'Alene Brewing Co.


BEST MOVIE THEATER

AMC RIVER PARK SQUARE 20

This is not your average corporate multiplex. It's certainly corporate. It certainly has multiple... plexes? At 20 screens, it's easily the biggest theater complex in the Inland Northwest and among the biggest in the region.

What makes the AMC 20 unique, though, is its continued commitment to bringing top-notch art-house cinema to downtown. During the week of March 6, in fact, AMC was showing almost as many indie flicks (eight films on nine screens) as big studio releases (nine films on 11 screens). Unheard of. Oh, and this year they held a ton of screenings of Spokane International Film Festival Film. Place kicks ass. (LB)

2ND PLACE: Regal NorthTown; 3RD PLACE: The Garland; BEST NORTH IDAHO MOVIE THEATER: Regal Riverstone


BEST LATE-NIGHT COFFEEHOUSE

EMPYREAN

A place for all tastes, EMPYREAN opens relatively early and closes relatively late. It houses rock shows and punk shows and hardcore shows and metal shows in its back room and singer/songwriters and poetry slams up front. It has a great coffee and tea selection and also serves beer (three on tap). It's not inconceivable to have half the clientele studying to the plaintive strains of acoustic guitar and the light coconut aroma of their Bangkok green tea while the other half gets wasted on Newcastle while fixating on the Guinness charger in preparation for an evening of speed metal. (LB)

2ND PLACE: The Service Station; 3RD PLACE: Satellite


BEST LIVE MUSIC VENUE & BEST DANCE CLUB

BIG EASY

When the Knitting Factory bought the BIG EASY, the upper management promised to appease both the club kids and the concertgoers. They'd no longer kick bands offstage to start club night early, they said. They'd also take a zero-tolerance approach to their bouncers alienating club kids and concertgoers.

The Eaz won both the dance club and music venue categories last year as well, and this year they're making a hell of an effort to stay on top — and people have taken notice. (LB)

BEST MUSIC VENUE 2ND PLACE: The Blvd; 3RD PLACE: ella's

BEST DANCE CLUB 2ND PLACE: Trick Shot Dixie; 3RD PLACE: Dempsey's; BEST NORTH IDAHO DANCE CLUB: Big Al's

BEST KARAOKE

PERCY'S CAFE AMERICANA

Percy's parades amateur solo singers every night (except Friday) from 9 pm to 1 am. Karaoke host J.B. Hendon reports that he has "more than 30 regulars" who come in at least once a week to share their renditions of tunes ranging from Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" to the B-52s' "Love Shack" to (inevitably) Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." With seating for 150, it's often SRO on Saturday nights. "There are guys who sing country, guys who sing rock," says Hendon. "I got a gal named Inez comes in, sings a lot of, you know, those '80s power soul ballads." But can she swing that microphone cord in an overhead circle? (MB)

2ND PLACE: Studio K; 3RD PLACE: Raw Sushi


BEST OF HALL OF FAMER

THE VIKING

It doesn't take long to figure out that THE VIKING tavern is serious about beer. The walls are covered with old beer paraphernalia — posters and signs from Genesee 12 Horse, Samuel Smith's, Schlitz, Lorelei, Oly. Behind the bar, tap handles hang from bolts on the ceiling like colorful stalactites and jut from the bar like stalagmites. They rotate 55 ales and lagers — micros, Europeans, etc. — among 32 taps here. In refrigerated cases behind the bar stand 96 more bottled varieties. The place is so serious about beer — and is so confident of its place as the capital of good beer in Spokane — that it's never seemed to show the need to brag about it. It's housed in an unassuming, metal-sided shack behind KXLY's studios on Boone Avenue. Hardly flashy. Hardly classy. Bric-a-brac pervades. Popcorn litters the carpet. (They estimate they spend upwards of $400 a month on the stuff.) But it's the beer that matters.

For now.

Even as the Viking enters our hallowed Hall of Fame — a recognition of 10 years of beer dominance — its brew-centric days are numbered. The bar manager says that in the coming months, she will introduce hard liquor to the Viking for the first time in its 30-year year history. [We're in] survival mode," says general manager Sabrina Watson. "The price of barley's going up. Beer is going to become very expensive." Watson says the Viking hasn't felt the pinch yet, but she's anticipating it. The good news is they appear to be taking the same stance toward Hard A that they've long taken toward beer: just the good stuff. No shots, no well drinks, no Jager bombs, says Watson. We're talking brandy, cognac, Courvoisier, a limited selection of martinis.

Still, we'd be surprised if the ale-aphernalia gets replaced by slick Hennessy ads, the popcorn swapped for cashews. The beer's staying put. And with a little bit of luck (and whiskey), so will the Viking.

— JOEL SMITH


Good Answer!

Wisdom from the ballots of our Best Of Voters

Electric cars, Mel McCuddin, bicycle commuting. Best local celeb: David Lynch. Best first date spot: Baby Bar (imagine those two together). These and much more were listed on a ballot that colored Spokane in shades of cool and encompassed all points from tres chic to Donut Parade.

Did Mariah McKay fill out a Willamette Week ballot by mistake? Is this — all of this earthy, funky, pulsing, rooted... -ness — really Spokane?

"Progressiveness is in the eye of the beholder ... so if you look for it, you'll find it," McKay says. "I have Mariah's 30-point quiz to see how well you know the city."

Her Best Of ballot teased out the funk of Spokane, pinched all the quirks of Spokane, gave a noogie to all the cool of Spokane. If she didn't like a category, she'd say so. (Best local music venue? "Not one that comes to mind.") Plus she invented categories that better fit her worldview.

"I thought it outrageous you don't have a category for best public park" — she names Comstock for the pool and the "uber tall" conifers — "and best neighborhood (Peaceful Valley)."

She offers needle-sharp observations even on the point of Best Of. There are too few about community, too many that are shallow.

"It's silly to have a competition for best dentist or best family doctor. The average consumer sees one or two of them in a lifetime so it just becomes a popularity contest for an already privileged group," McKay says. "And best news anchor? Why not the cutest Lilac Queen and do something that's totally superficial?"

Ow! Stop making us use our critical thinking skills!

— KEVIN TAYLOR

Previous Winners

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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