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Hotel Bars 

Seeking an echo of an old scene at the Inland Northwest’s hotel bars

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The pinnacle of hotel bars in Spokane may well have been Ankeny’s. It was not only a literal acme of the scene, high atop the Ridpath Hotel with panoramic views of a twinkling, nighttime city, but also had sleek décor, live jazz for dancing and an overwhelming sense that you were in the beating heart of the cool just by being there.

Ankeny’s was a fleeting escape from grit-on-your-windshield Spokane, revealed in the gray wash of dawn with its crumbling, potholed streets, rendering plants and giant pickup trucks parked on muddy lawns.

Recently we drove, like Tom Waits, with diamonds on our windshields through drizzly winter nights taking the pulse of the hotel bar scene. We found it to be fragmented – one place has dancing but no view. Another has a view but no dancing.

Come ride along.

It’s a Wednesday night and the parking lot at the AIRPORT RAMADA is packed. It’s Ladies’ Night in the lounge, it turns out, and seemingly every graying man in the 509 with a goatee and a ball cap is on deck, ready for action. Strangely, the ladies are facing competition from the two-for-one seafood appetizers that are sizzled up to order from right behind the bar (Wed.-Sat.). On a recent night, a group of men shared a long table, talking amiably about cars, as a lone woman in open-toed sandals tended to her pasta nearby. Perhaps my wingman and I just missed the main mating spectacle, as the ladies’ drink specials ($1 wells, $2 draft beer and wine, $3 martinis) run 4-7 pm.

The SAFARI ROOM, open to the lobby of the Davenport Tower, seems, on a Friday evening, like a petri dish waiting to grow some crazy fun. (Check out the booths along the walls and try this fun experiment: Wear your best leopard-skin top to see if you can blend invisibly into the upholstery). Long, communal tables dominate the space and, as the well-dressed TGIFers grew boozier and louder, their discrete groups began to slide together into a happy amalgam. High-end bar food is a draw. Flatbread with interesting, pizza-like toppings, is half-price through happy hour (from 4-6 pm). But the room can be too bright, too loud, too chilly and too full of elephant heads.

When ladies get together and drink, says RIPPLES head bartender Andy Nagele, the effect is quite colorful. “When we have Working Women’s Wednesdays, I probably make 150 martinis. Pomegranate was big this year… and anything blue.”

A recent Wednesday, however, was merely a regular winter Wednesday, and the room was slow. Ripples is busy in the summer, people attracted to the Inn at the River’s landscaped brick patio. Nagele says that the explosion of downtown clubs killed the local hotel bar scene, though, diverting the live music that used to bring in happy-feet regulars looking for a dressy night out.

“We used to have two bartenders and four or five cocktail waitresses,” Nagele says. The bars still get busy when events like the figure skating championships or the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament is in town. Now the big deal is a $2 happy hour menu from 4:30-6 pm.

The LIBRARY LOUNGE (inside the Quality Inn) is still holding onto that segment of the old hotel bar scene with live music and dancing, booking old Spokane rock ‘n’ roll cover bands on Friday and Saturday nights.

“It’s totally different in here on weekends,” says Sandra, the longtime bartender, describing a happy, sweaty scene. On other nights, the Library Lounge offers something different nearly every night — cards on Mondays, karaoke on Thursdays – to keep the people coming.

If you make the drive east to Coeur d’Alene and take the elevator to BEVERLY’S LOUNGE at the top of the Coeur d’Alene Resort, for an instant – just an instant – the old Ankeny’s seems to reappear. It’s the effect of the reflective copper ceilings, the posh lounge and big panels of plate glass offering a nighttime view into the darkness of Lake Coeur d’Alene. There’s even the jazz guitar of Robert Vaughn — he also does a lot of pop covers — who’s been steady there for 24 years.

“We get calls all the time asking if jeans and T-shirts are OK,” says bartender Caleb Yassanye. “And of course they are.” But if the dress is casual, the bartending skills are not. “We’re not just slinging bull-blasters here,” he says.

Indeed, Beverly’s wine steward Eric Cook says that bartender creativity is encouraged. Last summer, Yassanye and fellow mixologist Aaryn Pecinovsky concocted a Jasmine white tea infusion for vodka as part of a cucumber martini. In the fall, they unveiled a red curry-spiced apple martini.


BAR GUIDE 2010

Downtown Spokane
South Hill
Spokane’s North Side
The Valley
Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls
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