I knew that the Viking was the place for beer in Spokane the moment I stepped into the shack's little foyer. There, on the door leading into the smoky cavernous bar, a smudgy whiteboard announced that tonight's special was cheap pitchers of kriek lambic. Not $1 keg cups of Coors Light or a two-fer on pints of Kokanee. No, kriek lambic -- one of the beer world's oddest sisters.
But it's a perfect fit for a bar that has put good, hand-crafted beer front and center, not only at the taps but also in its d & eacute;cor. On this particular trip, I counted Newcastle Brown Ale, Fuller's ESB, Lost Coast Great White and Grant's Mandarin Hefeweizen among its 20-some taps. (Let's not forget the huge selection of bottled beers behind the bar, either.) And I lost count trying to tally the bar's beer memorabilia. The place is practically plastered with beer plaques, posters, paintings and buzzing neon lights. Aged ads for Grolsch and Guinness, Foster's and Franziskaner, Red Wolf and Rochester, cover every square foot of the walls and creep up onto the ceiling.
And the best part is that while the jukebox does come furnished with the likes of Wilco and Radiohead, this is not a pretentious micro-centric Northwest hipster haunt. Quite the contrary. It's dark and windowless -- almost grim -- and decidedly working-class. Crusty locals mingle with Gonzaga coeds. One corner of the room is cluttered with clanging pinball machines, pool tables and an electronic dart board. And it's nearly impossible to walk around without stepping in mounds of the free popcorn spilling out of the wicker baskets on the tables.
The Viking may lack what beer snobs might call "ambience," but it has beer down cold.
1931 W. Pacific Ave. * 363-1973
The Elk not only has one of the most consistently great tap selections in Spokane (including a couple under nitrogen), it has also become Browne's Addition's de facto community center. Delicious imports and local micros, a solid menu and an almost familial atmosphere make this a public house in the truest sense.
Coeur d'Alene Brewing
209 E. Lakeside Ave., CdA * (208) 664-2739
Lake City tourists flock to the downtown pub for brewer Laurie Krause's distinctive Huckleberry Ale, but regulars -- members of the bar's Brew Crew -- prefer to fill up with the exceptional Pullman Porter and Rockford Bay I.P.A. When they're sufficiently buzzed, they hang their mugs back on the racks lining the bar's walls and head for the lake. (You can also quaff their brews at Spokane's Steam Plant Grill.)
406 W. Sprague * 838-1570
Though not popularly considered a beer palace, Mootsy's is notable on this list for one good reason: a reddish amber ale issuing from the tap with a Campbell-esque soup can hanging from the handle. Called Loudmouth Soup and brewed exclusively for Mootsy's by Northern Lights Brewing Co., it's a crowd favorite -- especially at $3 a pint.
1003 E. Trent Ave. * 242-2739
While almost all of Spokane's independent brewpubs have quietly shuttered over the years, Mark Irvin and Northern Lights have remained. One sip of his Chocolate Dunkel, Crystal Bitter or Blueberry Ale, and you'll know exactly why. Once you've solved the mystery, you can finish off the rest of the taps in satisfaction.
Others Worth Checking Out
Far West Billiards; the Blue Spark; Eichardt's in Sandpoint; Moon Time in Coeur d'Alene; O'Doherty's