Hang Out at Center Stage -- On the second story of this downtown building you can find a dinner theater. But if you continue up one more flight of stairs, you'll encounter a beautifully wood-paneled room with a small performing space at one end.
The stage is for the live music that this restaurant -- the Upstage Supper Club -- features almost every Thursday through Saturday night. Devoted primarily to jazz, it's currently the best place in the region to catch some of the Inland Northwest's most engaging jazzers -- and to eat some of Spokane's best food.
Chef Kile Tansy, formerly of the much-missed Quinn's, seems in his element here, with his fresh, bistro-based dishes taking on more spontaneous twists than he's exhibited in the past. Carnivores will be in heaven with Tansy's frequent multi-protein ensembles. Vegetarians will always find several full-meal options. And, as is his habit, Tansy makes sure each plate contains enough of his marvelous food to satisfy a ravenous appetite (or provide a second-day's leftovers). The appetizers -- particularly the Six Lily Turnovers -- are perfect if you want to focus on the jazz more than the food. But if you can, take the time to sit down and eat a full meal. The meaning of harmony will become clear as the music starts and the food arrives. With live jazz, a genuine speakeasy atmosphere, and Tansy's food, this is easily one of the most innovative, enjoyable restaurants I've found anywhere in the Northwest. Call 747-2860.
Spend Time at Silverwood -- Fairs and carnivals are standard summer diversions, but real ride-riders know that only theme parks qualify as genuine destinations. Not only do they have all the popcorn, junk food, games, and rides of their counterparts, but theme parks have the advantage of having a fixed location and facilities.
Last summer, Silverwood opened its new water park, adding to the attractions that visitors can expect every year when they visit. These aren't portable rides with questionable operators. These rides -- from the water slides to the roller coasters -- are fixtures, and as such, they can offer much greater thrills.
But even with the new addition, it's hard to beat the appeal of Silverwood's iconic coaster, Tremors. Just like the monstrous worms in the movie, the cars full of screaming thrill-seekers on this ride plunge underground for their scariest moments. There's also a classic coaster -- the Timber Terror -- and dozens of other diversions.
Just remember to bring your sunscreen, since lines can get long. And if you don't feel like eating the park's food, take advantage of the views offered at the tops of the coasters to seek out a good North Idaho picnic spot. It will be the last coherent thought you have before the screaming -- and smiling -- starts.
Find a Drive-In Movie -- Almost forgotten now, drive-in movies are a throwback to a time when technology changed the way Americans entertained themselves. They allow people to escape the classic formality of movie theaters, where, with dimmed lights and (hopefully) respectful patrons, the emphasis is on the movies. But they also create a more informal setting, where, like watching movies at home today, people are free to emphasize comfort, convenience, and companionship. As a result, drive-ins became great places to find those other great American pastimes: cars, and making out in cars.
Spokane, which used to boast as many as seven different drive-in theaters within easy driving distance, can now only lay claim to a single one: the Auto Vue in Colville (444 Auto View Road). Each weekend this summer, while sitting under the stars in (or out of) the comfort of their cars, movie lovers can catch recently released films. (Showing the weekend before you read this were Denzel Washington's Man on Fire and The Rock's Walking Tall. Call (509) 684-2863 for current films). The pictures' sound is broadcast over AM/FM radio, so if you plan to park yourself on a blanket or chair instead of a backseat, bring along something portable. And for all of us who would like to see businesses like the Auto Vue stay open: Don't try to sneak people in. Prices range from $5 for adults to $1 for children under 11, so if you can afford gas these days, you should be able to pay an honest admission. Besides, making out is still free.
Listen in Leavenworth -- Tucked into the quaint town of Leavenworth, Wash., is one of the region's classiest summer destinations for classical music lovers: the Icicle Creek Chamber Music Festival.
Lasting the entire month of July, the festival presents weekend concerts that range from the resolutely classical (guest cellist Stephen Doan playing a Haydn concerto on July 24-25) to the ear-opening (on July 16, Bach's Sixth Brandenburg Concerto arranged for viola and mandolin, along with Brazilian chamber jazz). The idea to create a place devoted to music and musicians during summer months is nothing new. What makes the Icicle Creek Chamber Music Festival different is that, instead of using diverse (and more pop music-driven) influences to attract a bigger audience, the festival tries simply to erase boundaries. So audience members sit intimately close to the performers, who are featured in settings that feel like parts of the landscape. Performers with jazz and bluegrass backgrounds work with classically trained musicians not to create lucrative fusion opportunities, but to stretch their musical and expressive ranges.
It's an example of how good philosophy can lead to success. This summer marks the festival's 10th year, and joining the celebration is Songfest, one of the nation's best summer vocal programs. The result will be an even wider range of music (including "A Midsummer Night's Evening of Song and Opera" on July 3), along with, for the musicians, an even more spectacular musical landscape in which to collaborate. Call (509) 548-6347.