by Mike Corrigan

What's the first thing that materializes in your noggin when the subject of wee-hour dining is broached? Perkins? Oh sure, you could do that. Denny's? After all, they are always open. Shari's? Well, yeah, they are strategically placed along downtown-to-suburbia escape routes. But hey Joe, take a walk on the wild side. Instead of marching lockstep with the great unwashed, why not break ranks a little? For late-night dining that represents a significant split from the homogeneity and boredom of the staid American experience, seek ye nocturnal ingestion of another stripe.

The trouble is, Spokane isn't exactly a late-night town, is it? So the options are, not surprisingly, somewhat limited. On weekends, life flourishes in little pockets until the taps shut down, then trickles away into the darkness. On weeknights, it's like a ghost town around here after 11. But there are plenty of nightlifers out there who require late-night refuelings and who recognize the value of options. That's why places like the Satellite and Dolly's have become magnets for the weary, post-last-call weekend warriors seeking late-night dining alternatives that satiate growling guts -- and do it with style and verve.

The Satellite Diner

In the heart of downtown, there is really only one place that you can bank on for soothing, booze-absorbing grub after the notice for last call reverberates through the streets. And this is it. The Satellite is open until 4 am every single night of the week. And though I can't imagine what toiling over a grill at 4 am must be like (a sweet, surreal form of hell, most likely), I'm sure glad it's being done. Need breakfast and a gin and tonic? A sandwich and fries with brown gravy? Potato skins with bacon bits and green onions with your pint of stout? It's all in the plan.

"I'll tell you," says owner Colleen Freeman, "I wanted a place downtown you could go and sit down, visit with a friend, where you didn't have to go home right away and you could grab something to eat and sober up. We have over 67 items on our menu that are available 21 hours a day."

And so, in a brilliant move that has proven to be wildly successful, Freeman combined food, liquor and astoundingly late hours to create a kind of one-stop nightlife emporium. In just four-and-a-half years of operation, the Satellite has become a Mecca for drinkers and diners alike. It's a mandatory stop on any respectable Spokane bar crawl -- definitely one of the premier "see and be seen" hangs in town. And when you're out there pounding intoxicating beverages, the one thing you want more than that blurry yet comely stranger at the end of the bar is food. Oh God, do you ever.

Though good service here is assured most of the time, on weekend nights, it's anything but brisk.

"If you're looking for a place on Friday night at two in the morning where you can get in and get out, this is not the place to come," admits Freeman. "This is where you just better sit down and drink some coffee, B.S. with your friends, and your food will get to you when it gets to you. It gets so packed on the weekends that, if you're in a hurry, I would never recommend that you come in here."

The people-watching at the Satellite is top notch. Look around. You'll notice guys drifting in after weird late-night work shifts, barely legal 20-somethings jump-starting their drinking careers, students working on term papers and of course a few drunks. And that's on a slow Tuesday night. The weekends are another beast altogether.

Says Freeman: "If there's no diversity anywhere else in the entire city, it's all right here on the corner of Sprague and Stevens. Every one of my servers should get an honorary degree in psychology just for working that shift. And the weekends are tough. Our servers have to put up with a lot.

"Usually, the customer is always right," she adds with a laugh. "But not when the customer is wasted. I tell them not to take any crap from anybody."

Dolly's Corner Cafe

Out of the hustle of downtown, on the near north side, there's Dolly's Corner Cafe. There's nothing retro about Dolly's -- that's for places trying to be authentic. Dolly's just is. The place looks pretty much exactly the same inside and out as it did when it first started occupying the corner of Indiana and Washington more than 40 years ago. And thankfully, some things -- like great diner food and even better service -- never go out of style here.

Barbara Burchell and Carol Weltz have owned and operated the joint for the last three-and-a-half years. The all-night hours on Friday and Saturday (starting at 9 pm and continuing right through until 2 pm the next day) are popular among night denizens looking for a hangout alternative to the bars and coffeehouses. And the after-hours crowd definitely appreciates the opportunity to enjoy homestyle cooking without having to rouse Mom at 3 am for that sobering mess of eggs and stack of hotcakes.

"Anything that's on the menu you can always get day or night," stresses the typically cheerful Burchell during a recent (and brief) dayshift lull. "One of the reasons we started the night shift is because we had a lot of customers that said that they wish they could come here after they got out of the movies or after they got out of a show or something. And so we thought it sounded like a good idea. We have a great crew that's been doing it for quite awhile now. We're fortunate to have them."

You never know who you might run into on an after-hours run to Dolly's. It's quite a menagerie, in fact, but an amazingly well-behaved and congenial menagerie, says Burchell.

"We get everyone in here," she exclaims. "We'll have teenagers at one table and a group of seniors at another. We've only had one guy that was in here who was kind of belligerent. And we do get an after-bar crowd, but they're always just a lot of fun, really. It's a good place to be late at night."

More choices

There are several other restaurants about town that do an admirable job of stretching the dinner hour into the early morn -- call your favorites to preplan your late-night dining excursions. But both Europa Pizzaria and Luigi's are good bets for pastas and other delights until midnight. The Cavallino Lounge cuts the delicious Fugazzi appetizers off at 9 pm on weekdays but lets them fly until 11:30 on Friday and Saturday nights. Around the corner, Quinn's is well worth checking out (Tues-Sat till midnight) for the great lounge, well-made drinks and intriguing entrees. Need a fix of good old Americanized Chinese food? The Cathay Inn on North Division serves its full menu until the witching hour. And out in North Idaho, check out the Wine Cellar in downtown Coeur d'Alene, which keeps its kitchen open until 10 pm on weeknights and until midnight on weekends.

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