Four Inlander writers share their go-to spots for casual bar vibes, high-end imbibing and more

click to enlarge The cocktails lean "classy" at Seasons of Coeur d'Alene. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
The cocktails lean "classy" at Seasons of Coeur d'Alene.

Part of the fun in being a journalist is having a job that takes you into places you'd otherwise never see. That can be thrilling, and that can be scary. But the job develops a sense of adventure among its practitioners, and the ability to switch easily from extremely formal settings to utterly chaotic ones.

Many of us carry that taste for bouncing between life's extremes to our bar-hopping habits. Four Inlander writers below share some favorite spots for when they want to experience the high life and to experience someplace a little more gritty (and maybe a really cheap Miller High Life).

KNOCKING THEM BACK IN NORTH IDAHO

Idaho isn't the easiest place to imbibe if you're into cocktails. The scarcity of new liquor licenses issued by the state always has me looking for spirit-forward spots. For me, the best way to compare venues is to order the same (or similar) drink across the board, and my go-to is typically a Manhattan.

Sandpoint's 219 LOUNGE, the self-proclaimed "five-star dive bar," makes a good, reasonably priced one. No food — it's just strong, well-made drinks and maybe a game of pool at the 219-er.

My upscale choice to visit is SEASONS OF COEUR D'ALENE, especially for happy hour (3-6 pm most days; all day Sunday) and great people-watching any time in the snazzy U-shaped bar. Seasons' new James "Fatty" Carroll martini — named for an alleged turn-of-the-century Lake City gangster — modifies the Manhattan formula by adding ginger liqueur for a potent kick. The bar menu has terrific snacks, too, like sliders or Gorgonzola fries to balance your buzz in gourmet style. (CARRIE SCOZZARO)

FANCY PANTS IN DOWNTOWN SPOKANE, RELAXED AND CASUAL IN P-TOWN

I've had a strong aversion to absinthe, or at least the idea of it, since I took a film class as a running start student at Washington State University. One particularly stubborn group member was obsessed with the stuff and insisted we storyboard a green fairy-themed movie for our final project. It was... not good.

But one fancy night not too long ago, some friends and I were chatting up owner Aaron Hein at EMMA RUE'S in downtown Spokane, and his extensive knowledge of the alcohol's tumultuous history convinced me to give it a shot. As he filled an ice water basin held aloft by a silver statue of a woman, I knew we were in for an experience. Watching the water slowly drip over a sugar cube into the shot of absinthe was entertaining enough, but the knowledge shared throughout the process was what really made the experience special.

Keeping all things in moderation and balance, it's also good to kick back at a chill sports bar from time to time. Whenever I visit my parents in Pullman, we'll pop into their watering hole, MY OFFICE BAR & GRILL. With dartboards, scratch tickets, an impressive number of TVs and a jukebox, there's a little something for everyone. Even if your parents aren't picking up the tab (thanks guys, I love you), it's an affordable place to grab everything from a beer to your favorite cocktail. (SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL)

click to enlarge Maxwell House has the basics covered, and then some. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
Maxwell House has the basics covered, and then some.

MAKING THE MOST OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD

I've turned into someone more likely to make myself a cocktail at home than make a point of going out for a drink. And by "make myself a cocktail," I really mean "pour some whiskey over ice." But all the lockdown time has shifted my attitude, and I'm lately filled with the urge to get out there and mingle over a beer or shot. And when I head out, I'm increasingly drawn to neighborhood joints where the vibes are friendly, the conversations random and the dress code nonexistent.

THE MAXWELL HOUSE changed ownership just as the pandemic hit, and just after I moved to the West Central neighborhood, and I haven't been there a ton. But every now and again I pop in for a $4 Rainier draft or a $4 basket of fries and soak in the chatter around me and the decades of history in the place — not to mention the smell of the broasted chicken that's drawn generations of diners there.

I've found THE BAD SEED, a relatively new addition to the Hillyard neighborhood, to have similar good feelings when I make my way there for some Tex-Mex grub and a slightly upscale cocktail. While it's hard to pass over the house margarita for just $8, I was intrigued enough with the name of The Devil Was At His Elbow to plunk down $11 for the mix of mescal, habañero-honey syrup and peach bitters. Hard to go wrong with anything on the menu, and enjoyed in the retro-cool decor, a trip to Bad Seed is unlike any other night out in Spokane. (DAN NAILEN)

A COZY, QUIRKY FAVE AND A DOWNTOWN GO-TO

I've mentioned my love of the Garland District's BON BON in our Drink Local issue more than a few times, and yet here I am again. A couple years in pandemic lockdown made us hanker deeply for a return to "old times," which, for me, includes regular pre-movie visits to Bon Bon for drinks off its stellar happy hour menu (offered Mon-Thu from 4-7 pm, Fri-Sat from 10-close and all day Sunday), and some free popcorn. After this first round, we grab a couple beers to go with our movie snacks and head off to the dark theater. Such frequent date nights at Bon Bon and the Garland will always hold special significance for me, and are something I'll not take for granted again.

Equally fond memories from both the heart and taste buds also come courtesy of WILD SAGE bistro in downtown Spokane, where many a meal begins with cocktails from its "lusty libations" menu section, like the effervescent Spokane 74, paired with the addictively delicious and buttery popover rolls. No meal there is complete for me without Wild Sage's famous Yukon taquitos, either, and maybe another drink like the titular Wild Sage, a gin cocktail with sage, orange and fresh lime. (CHEY SCOTT) ♦

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