Best of the Inland Northw#5181A

by Inlander Staff & r & & r & Best Proofreader Who Isn't Old Enough to Drive & r & After canvassing a dozen middle schools in our area, one clear candidate for the informal title of Best Kid Speller emerged: Sarah LeRoy, an eighth-grader at Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy. Sarah got a head start on the world of orthography: Her father Gino, a native of Switzerland, is an expert in linguistics who's been reading and singing to her in French, German, Spanish and Italian since she was a baby. At Charter, she's studying Latin.

OK, so she knows a few word roots. But it's not as if she'd won the official Inlander spelling bee or anything (mostly because there isn't one). So we decided to put Sarah, age 13, to the test.

Spell hemm-uh-ridge. Slow but sure: h-e-m-o-r-r-h-a-g-e. "Diphtheria." Tough word. She missed the silent "h." But then she rattled off, in order, "fuchsia," "uvula," "coxswain" (giving a correct alternate spelling as well) and "roux."

Sarah won a multi-school spelling bee in the CdA area by correctly spelling such words as "silhouette," "mnemonically" and "Pantagruelism." She claims not to have misspelled any words on a school essay since the second grade, when she misplaced the apostrophe in "don't." (It's been driving her nuts ever since.) Yes, she uses spell-check. Yes, her parents proofread her essays. Still, when other folks fall into spelling traps, she doesn't roll her eyes. "But I definitely notice," says Sarah, "when someone writes 'conscience' for 'conscious' and vice versa."

Get me the copy desk. I've got a 13-year-old here who spells better than the rest of you guys put together. -- Michael Bowen

Best Head Decorator and Amateur Phrenologist & r & You don't walk into Wolf's Hattery and ask for just any old hat. You've got some decisions to make, pardner. You've got your brim width and your crown height. Wool felt, fur felt, percentage of beaver. And Dave Wolf doesn't just take your hat size. He's got an antique contraption called a conformateur -- lots of adjustable pins, looks like a medieval torture device -- that corresponds exactly to the curvature of your noggin. Colors range from black to "High Sierra" to cream. Two crowns, single-slit, C-pinch or diamond? The Tom Mix, the Hopalong or the steep-slope Gus?

The center of the Washington state haberdashery universe, it turns out, is on Northwest Boulevard. When their customers want hats cleaned and reblocked, men's clothing stores and Western stores around here -- even the national chains, even Byrnie Utz, the well-known hat store on Union Street in Seattle -- send their business to Dave Wolf.

Most custom hat makers, says Wolf, "have maybe 50" blocks -- the oval chunks of polished wood that are used to give hat crowns their exact shape. Wolf has hundreds of them. He also has four antique crown iron machines (for ironing felt onto those wooden molds).

About 70 percent of Wolf's hat sales are in cowboy hats; the other 30 percent are in dress styles -- fedoras, derbies, homburgs, Australian hats, Oxford cloth caps.

Says Wolf, "Typical guy who comes in here, wearing a Stetson in basic black, cost him about $160 -- they're what you call a 4X ... that's five or 10 percent beaver. But I've had cowboys come in here, and they look like they don't have a penny to their name, but they'll spend $800 on a custom hat."

Dave Wolf has a nice C-pinch Stetson with a four-inch brim in "caribou" that he'd love to sell you. -- Michael Bowen

Best Endangered Species & r & Spotted owl? Fairy shrimp? Maytag repair man? Ha! Try being an Idaho Democrat. "We are even on a lower level than the caribou," says Buell Hollister, a farmer and Democratic Party stalwart who lives near Hauser Lake. As with salmon, North Idaho was choked with Democrats back in the day. "When we moved here in 1960, you couldn't get elected as a Republican," Hollister says. Today there is one North Idaho Democrat in the Legislature. The decline was subtle and habitat-related: an invasive species. "There's been an influx of Southern Californians, almost all from Orange County. It's a noxious, you might say, noxious invasive species," Hollister says, stretching out "noxious" to three strong syllables. He sees hope -- as in the strong local uproar over Bush plans to sell off forest land -- but recovery is still a long way off. (KT)

Best Literary Celebrity to Reclaim as Our Own & r & Careful readers of Dashiell Hammett's pulp fiction will recall a passing mention of Spokane and the Davenport Hotel in The Maltese Falcon. Although the historical record is thin, the speculation is that Hammett spent a good part of 1921 here. In those days, he was a Pinkerton detective -- a cop for hire -- and many of his experiences as a "Pink" informed his famous characters, like the Continental Op and Sam Spade. It's not clear, but he may have either worked at the Davenport or just hung out there -- later in life, he did admit to buying books at a Spokane bookstore called Iva's. It's high time we reclaimed his brief tenure here; an appropriately seedy watering hole would do. Call it Dash's. (TSM)

Best Excuse to Dust Off Your Cockney & r & Chadwick Baxter isn't the only reason to stay at the E.J. Roberts Mansion, but he's a jolly good one. Impeccable in black tails and the requisite white gloves, the butler of the Browne's Addition B & amp; B entertains guests with tours, piano-playing and smarmy, John Cleese-ian humor in delightful clenched-jaw British fashion. Bollocks, you say? Not according to "madam." Mansion owner Mary Moltke insists that she hired Mr. Chadwick from the late Mrs. Wellington of Foxington Manor, not far from Throthrock's Academy of Butlery. Ask him to tell you about the mansion's recent coverage in Victorian Homes magazine or challenge him to a game of pool in the plush basement, and then see if you can figure out if he's acting or not. It's not easy. (CS)

Best Famous Fiddler's Passion & r & Kelly Farris, Spokane Symphony concertmaster and a community treasure, was having a bad day. It was muggy, in the mid-90s, and Kelly was not playing at all well. Frustrated, he did what he always does: stayed focused, maintained perspective and good humor, urged on his playing partners, and just kept trying to grind things out. But Kelly wasn't playing his violin this day; he was playing golf. Yes, if music has been his passion, golf has been his muse. Back at the car, after struggling over the worst nine holes he had played during this glorious week of golf at Pinehurst -- nine rounds in five days -- Kelly tossed his clubs in the trunk and sighed, "I'm golfed out. I don't even want to think about golf." Then he looked up, gave us that puckish grin and said, "Well, not for at least a couple of hours anyway." After his last concert with the Symphony on May 19 -- marking 36 years as concertmaster -- he won't think of music either... not for at least a couple of hours anyway. (RH)

Best Reason to Get Pulled Over on Purpose & r & Deputy Craig Chamberlin wants to provide a "good face" to Spokane County's Sheriff's Department. And what a face. The big 35-year-old U-High grad with the rugged Redford looks has been providing KHQ and FOX with near-nightly traffic reports for three years, but he hasn't let the face time go to his head. "I'm a humble dude," he says. He's also a happily married father of four. (There goes our handcuff joke.) Chamberlin regards television as an opportunity to promote the police and safe driving. "We're a reminder to do the right thing," he says, "'cuz no one likes to see a cop in their rearview mirror." True, though Deputy Craig could get you smiling -- for any number of reasons. (CS)

Best thing Not On the Menu & r & What are you having? That's a sucker's question, if you ask us. We like being guided through the menu. Hell, the waiters work here -- why can't they just clearly state what's good and save us the "free will" baloney? Tim Lanegan at Bennidito's on 14th Avenue understands this. He cares enough about his work to make sure you understand not only which pizza is the best choice but which beer might perfectly complement your brilliant selection. It helps that he knows everything. (Once, during a single meal, he directed us to an outstanding local breakfast joint and found the number of a good local midwife!) In short, if you want a good meal -- and if you want to feel like somebody out there gives a damn -- shut up and ask Tim. (CK)

Best Guy for Building a Suit of Armor & r & In 25 years at Spokane Civic Theatre -- and including his work for nearly that long at Whitworth College and for local children's theater -- Peter Hardie has designed the sets for around 300 different productions. For the talent and sheer volume of his many set and lighting designs, he's the best techie in town. Set dressing and props, special lighting effects and pyrotechnics, woodworking and welding -- Hardie may be the self-effacing type, but his aptitudes are manifold. A local theatergoer once paid him something close to the ultimate compliment for a designer: "Peter makes sets that you want to live in." For 25 years, audiences have happily been on the outside looking in. (MB)

Best Friend a 19-Year-Old Furball Ever Had & r & Whenever I see Dr. Brandi Hohrman at Hunter Veterinary Clinic, she asks about my elderly cat, Robie. She knows his name and his myriad health problems. She watches for new treatments that might help without breaking the bank. Considering that she sees thousands of four-legged patients -- and their owners -- her recall is remarkable. "I'm not so good with human faces and names, but I remember the pets," she laughs. Hailing from Fort Pierre, S.D., Hohrman graduated from veterinary school at the University of Minnesota before coming to Spokane almost four years ago. She's a specialist in small animals and enjoys working with the human-animal bond. She says she was born to be a vet; Robie purrs in gratitude. (AC)

Best Place to Spy on Trysts and Business Deals & r & With the intimacy of its oaken tables, its floral arrangements and mirrors, Rockwood Bakery turns out to be a great place for people watching on the South Hill. Says a barista, "We see affairs going on, all the time. And politics -- they'll get into vocal arguments about this mayor or that mayor." So we tried a little eavesdropping of our own. Table 1: "That was a miscarriage of justice -- that was a deal where the baby got strangled." Table 2: "Now are you saying this is the coolest way for me to deliver that?" Table 3: "Ted tried to get that through Mack, but he just wouldn't allow it." We smiled over the brims of our lattes, mischievously. (MB)

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 13
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