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The Patio Experience 

Even in oppressive heat, Spokane’s patio dining thrives

click to enlarge A summer evening on the patio at EJ's Garden Bistro in Browne's Addition. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • A summer evening on the patio at EJ's Garden Bistro in Browne's Addition.

It’s July 2 — the peak of Spokane summer, where the heat hangs in the air late into the evening, thick and sticky. Most people are cocooned indoors, air conditioners chugging and box fans whirring.

But some views are too good to be seen through window glass. State Rep. Timm Ormsby, his wife Kim, and Jim Hedrick, a lobbyist from Tacoma, gather outside on the patio of Central Food. Built in the burgeoning Kendall Yards, Central Food’s patio sits just on the edge of the north-side bluff of the Spokane River, offering the perfect vantage point. They lean back in their chairs, gazing off the deck, across the river and toward the Spokane skyline.

It’s one of the best views in the Inland Northwest. Sunlight dances across the rapids. The city rises up from the river shore and the parks of Peaceful Valley to the downtown high-rises.

Where you sit, after all, can impact your meal as much as how your food tastes. Patio dining can lead conversation in new directions. Ormsby’s group points out the buildings they recognize, offering thoughts on the architecture. The churches are beautiful. The federal courthouse is an “eyesore.” The Spokesman-Review tower looks almost European.

“I was just saying, before a reporter showed up, that you don’t get this view of Spokane,” Hedrick says. “The only other dining deck I can think of on this side of the river is Clinkerdagger. And you really don’t get this view of the skyline.”

The view brings back decades of memories. Ormsby points across the river toward where the apartment he lived years ago was located. He points to the Peaceful Valley park where years ago he hit a home run.

“And of course it went into the river,” Ormsby says.

T

hirty minutes later, Jay Staggs and Raina Peone sit outside Zola’s on Main Avenue, eating mac and cheese, sipping on $1.50 happy hour Bud Lights.

“You can see the folks on the street walking by. There’s been musicians and regular workers, getting home from work. I love it,” Peone says. “I’ve traveled a lot. You feel part of the community and the vibe and the atmosphere when you’re outside.”

This, she says — drinking beer, soaking in heat — feels a lot like vacation.

At a table next to her, Púal Berks holds a cigarette. “More people should do this,” Berks says. “It just feels better to be outside with other people who smoke.”

Another hour passes, and a sherbet-colored sunset falls upon Browne’s Addition. The temperature has cooled from scorching to a sleepy, comfortable sort of warm. Outdoor dining thrives here. Patrons sit out late into the evening at patios, munching on burgers at The Elk, downing tequila at El Que, and savoring handmade pasta at Italia Trattoria.

But EJ’s Garden Bistro, a house-turned-restaurant, may have them all beat for ambience. On a gated manicured lawn, surrounded by flowers, underneath strings of glowing lights, Melissa Eastman and Aaron Abolofia end the night with a few drinks.

“It’s a nice night out,” Eastman says as the evening dims. “We just wanted an after-dinner drink.”

Tonight, the two thought they’d get away from their downtown apartment, eat together and catch up. They’ve been here before, and the patio brought them back.

“It disconnects you a little bit, I’d say,” Abolofia says of patio dining. He means that in a good way. Here, there’s no TV broadcasting the ball game, no pop songs blasting from restaurant speakers, no clinking of glassware from the kitchen. There’s just the night air, the hum of the occasional car, and the meandering musings of laid-back conversation. 


WHAT OUR READERS SAY...

We polled Inlander Facebook readers for their favorite outdoor dining spots. Here’s what they had to say.

For urban appeal, readers recommend Monterey Cafe for pizza, The Wave for sushi and Andy’s or drinks or brunch. Madeleine’s and Santé carry the air of fine dining out on the sidewalk, and Mizuna has a romantic patio hidden away from the sidewalk. Saranac Public House has fans of both its patios — one out front, and one tucked away in back.

Along the water, the patios at Clinkerdagger and Anthony’s got the requisite mentions for their unbeatable views of the falls. To the east, readers recommended the river views at the outdoor seating at Ripples Riverside Grill patio, the No-Li Brewhouse and Bangkok Thai.

Outside of downtown Spokane, South Perry Pizza, Clover and The Flying Goat draw a crowd for relaxed seating and fresh, seasonal food. For an emphasis on the cool drinks, readers praised Press Public House, Stir and the spacious deck at Ugly Bettie’s. The grassy lawn at Chaps complements the restaurant’s bright farmhouse atmosphere (and parents love the play area for kids). Ferrante’s Marketplace Cafe is decked out with flowers in the summer so it feels like “your own little oasis,” one reader says. 

But no patio got as many mentions as the spacious, resort-like patio at the Wandermere location of Twigs, which overlooks a landscaped lake and fountain.

Over in North Idaho, Bardenay also offers a peaceful pond view in the new Riverstone development. On Sherman Avenue in downtown Coeur d’Alene, sidewalk patios at restaurants like Fire Artisan Pizza give the whole town a “festive atmosphere all summer long,” one reader says. The Porch Public House in Hayden offers a quieter, more rustic version of the patio at sister restaurant the Elk. And readers highly recommend Capone’s, because what’s the point of a good patio without plenty of good beer on tap?

— LISA WAANANEN 

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