by Susan Hamilton and Suzanne Schreiner & r & Retro Dining RESTAURANTS & r & "I've always been attracted to '50s stuff," says owner Kevin Thomson. "I grew up in a small town and remember watching Elvis on TV."

Thomson's fascination with the '50s would explain why his new downtown Spokane restaurant, Cruisers Family Diner and Bar, is modeled after that era. There's a checkerboard floor, stainless steel stools with red Naugahyde seat covers at the coffee counter, a jukebox and photos from the '50s adorning the walls. A small dance floor allows customers to rock and swing to '50s tunes and country music, some of which are live. Cruisers' bar and four pool tables occupy separate rooms of the restaurant.

"I get young kids who want to play pool coming in here, and I show them how," Thomson says.

The family-oriented restaurant features American comfort food. Pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and eggs any way you want them are regular breakfast items. Lunch features burgers and 10 different sandwiches, including a Reuben and the popular Philly, with its secret seasoning, fresh peppers and onions. Cruisers' dinner menu is simple but satisfying. A four-piece chicken dinner, basket of shrimp, hot roast beef or turkey sandwiches, and ham steak are a few of the dinner items.

A veteran of various Spokane eateries, including Frankie Doodles and Oldies Diner (you may remember its 10-pound burgers), Thomson emphasizes the personal touch at Cruisers.

"There's no personal touch in many restaurants these days," he explains. "We know which of our customers get cream in their coffee."

And Thomson keeps Cruisers personal by having his family members work at the restaurant. "My twin 15-year-old boys, who helped me put this place together, work here on weekends," he says. "My daughter and ex-wife work here too." -- SUSAN HAMILTON

Cruisers Family Diner and Bar, at 1321 W. 2nd, is open daily from 7 am-2 am. Call 624-4309.

Fresh Tastes WINE & r & Whether your fancy runs to Riesling or Semillon, Champagne or Cabernet, Syrah or Ruah, you can sip it at Huckleberry's wine tastings, which will be held on Saturday afternoons, stretching from Oktoberfest season until just before Christmas. On Oct. 29, Amavi Cellars in Walla Walla will uncork two Cabernets, a Syrah, and a Semillon, and Huckleberry's Chef Jamie Lombardi will provide things to nosh while you quaff.

You can get a few ideas on the variety of sparkling wines out there before the holidays hit and nibble a little caviar while you're at it (fear not -- no endangered beluga here). Huckleberry's will introduce an international cast of sparklers on Nov. 5: one true Champagne, the aristocratic Veuve Clicquot from la belle France, Scharffenberger (of chocolate renown) from California, Trevisiol Prosecco from Italy (which just sounds sparkling), Mont Marcal from Spain and the top-of-the-line Cuvee Forte from Spokane's own Mountain Dome. Last, and separate from the drink-with-caviar group, is a sparkling Shiraz from Shingleback in Australia, which is more happily paired with beef, caution the folks at Huckleberry's. (Hostesses, take note.) On Nov. 19, it'll be international wines for your holiday dinners, featuring a Grand cru sauterne from France and a Pinotage from South Africa.

The focus shifts back to Inland Northwest vineyards, with wines from Prosser's Desert Wind Cellars on Nov. 12 and Goose Ridge Vineyards in the Yakima Valley on Dec. 10.

So, take a rest from the rake, seek a respite from football fatigue -- spend a couple of hours at Huckleberry's sampling the glories of the grape. There are far worse ways to spend a chilly Saturday afternoon. -- SUZANNE SCHREINER

Wine Tastings at Huckleberry's, 926 S. Monroe, run on Saturdays -- Oct. 29, Nov. 5, Nov. 12, Nov. 19 and Dec. 10 -- from 2-4 pm. Call 624-1349.

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19
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