Two new watering holes boring into the Spokane Valley scene, The Ref and Holly Rock

Posted: October 13, 2011 in advice on owning a bar, Opening Business in Spokane Valley
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(The Hollyrock closed after about 90 days and the Ref will open March 6th)  recent blogpost

For every Hot Rod Cafe or Cyrus O’Leary’s that shutters its windows after years of glory only to be brought to their knees by the ravages of our reeling recession, there will always be a new place opening with novice owners confident they will not only attain their own glory but ride it to perpetual prosperity. These new owners are always sure they have an idea that the Spokane Valley has been awaiting since the first settlers rode horseback to the Plante’s Ferry trading post for a swig of whiskey and a venison steak.

Right on cue, two newcomers are busy preparing their places of business for Fall openings. I am sure their heads are filled with visions of dancing sugar plums as they spend money hand over fist shaping their dreams into reality. Though I root for them and all new owners , I always fear it may turn out like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby when she gave birth to a nightmare from hell after expecting a beautiful creation from heaven. As a follower of new openings in the Spokane Valley for several years, I can say that I have seen far more horror stories than fairy tales. But I have got to admit that both new places do have ideas that I don’t believe the Spokane Valley has ever quite seen.

One is only subtly different from the overpopulated Spokane Valley bar scene.  It is going to be a sports bar which we have a lot of in several watered down versions. Sullivan Scoreboard, Bolo’s, Monkey Bar and many others have their walls plastered with plasmas playing all play offs possible, but none of them are what I would consider solely dedicated to being just a sports bar nor are they overly worried about attracting the white-collar and professional fans. This is where the Ref, located in Owens Auction former building at 14208 East Sprague, is preparing to make its mark.

My intel on this new place comes mostly from hearing bits and pieces through the rumor mill for several months and so if it does not open quite like my description, don’t blame me. What I have gathered is that it will be along the lines of Heroes and Legends, slightly up scale with a heavy emphasis on all things sports. The rumors seem likely given the name on the liquor application. Fred and Melanie Lopez, who own the building, applied for their license in early September  which they should have long before they get done with what has to be a rather extensive remodel project. But a recent peek in the windows confirmed they are moving along.

The second new place is not a subtle version of anything existing in the Valley or that has ever existed as far as I know. The new owners here certainly have something original to offer and while the clientelle they intend to pursue has been around since the days when Plants Ferry trading post had an operating ferry, I don’t know if many of them would ever have gone on a public outing to be amongst other like-minded revellers. Perhaps the Spokane Valley is ready for an “alternate life style” bar, perhaps not.

My intel on this place, named Holly Rock, is firsthand, having talked to Robin Tuttle personally during a quick visit on the night they took over the building, which coincidently was where Elaine and I were once ourselves excited, expectant new owners waiting for our  opening 9 years ago to the month. The deja vu I felt on the recent visit did not really date back to then but rather the four previous times I have witnessed this scene since our run ended 5 years ago.

First there was Ripley’s which went RIP after 6 months, then Club Max, 9 months; then Club Edge, one year; then The Fubar, 6 months. The long list of casualties that came in the 20 years between when the original owner, Rose Townsend died and passed the landlordship over to her nephew, Jack Riley, in 1988 and when we opened the Rock Inn is lost to history since the only one who might have kept track was Jack.

Jack, like Rose and Ripley’s and the rest, is no longer with us and there is speculation that this recent development might make a difference in whether or not the new owners will make it. I have always thought that Jack was more of a scapegoat used by disappointed owners and their clients looking for someone to blame. But now we’ll have a chance to find out as  Spokane Valley’s first “alternative lifestyle” nightclub opens at the end of this month.

While I wish the crushing disappointment and financial hardship of opening and abruptly closing a place on niether friend or foe, I know for a certainty that it is the most likely outcome. I  hope fervently for success, however, for both the Ref and Holly Rock and I intend to show them my support and check them out as soon as they open. Though I will probably slip in the back door to our old place and make sure Elaine goes with me.

THIS JUST IN: Since posting the above story there seems to have been an unusual development. For some reason Robin Tuttle seems to be rethinkling going into the old Plantation building. Scott Lane who owns Hotteez on Raymond just north of Sprague has been looking for someone to buy his business for years and then lease them the building so that he can retire. He has been talking to Tuttle and he has been telling people that they have reached an agreement.

I hope it is a good one that Tuttle can do well with. I find it very odd that Tuttle would apply for his license at The Plantation and then get the keys to the building, only to get second thoughts. Normally Jack would have things tied up too tight for a prospective tennant to be able to wiggle away. It was probably a good decision based at least on the condition and layout of the buildings. For being just a nightclub, Hotteez is a much bigger and open building and has been kept up better through the years and has parking and great location.

If I could advise her now that I know that she is not tied to a long term lease anywhere, I would advise her to run as fast she can from this whole idea of owning a nightclub. It is the riskiest of business ventures with the chance of failure hovering right around 98%. If she does not turn away she will almost surely wish she had if not by the end of her first month then by the end of her second. Nearly everyone that I have known that tried the night club game never made one dime and lost in the neighborhood of $200,000. It is one of those things that look like a lot of fun, but that’s because most owners want you to think that they are doing fantastic.

At any rate, the second thing I would advise is that if she has to do this then  get a one-year lease with a series of 3-year leases after that. Don’t buy into thinking you’ll get a better deal with a long term lease. Robin is holding all the cards and can and should drive the deal that gives her the least risk. Scott and Jack have been looking for nightclub wanna be owners for years and they know they are very hard to find. A one year lease let’s the new owner hedge their bet a little just in case things don’t turn out like they hoped.

Holly Rock Update 11/20

Robin and gang recently took over the premises and what little business remained at the old Hotteez building. In a move that I admired and appreciated, they shut down the operation for 2 days in order to deep clean the place as I am positve had not been done since perhaps the Sea Galley left there back in the mid 80’s.

We stopped in shortly after they opened on the way home from the WSU/Arizona game down in Pullman. Not being nightowls, we took advantage of being out late to check out what the Valley’s first gay bar might look like in the hours past our bed time.

It was mostly as I would have expected a gay bar in the Valley that had recently opened, but there were a few surprises. It was fairly slow and the crowd was not crowding out the place but they were getting into the scene more than I was prepared for. By that I mean that while it was not a scene out of the movie Cruising, there was plenty of hot dancing and at least one same-sex couple making out in plain and unavoidable view. To further set the alternative lifestyle mood, a few queens with demeaners of  drama strolled ans strutted about the place.

I had no problem with all of this since I was in a gay bar, live and let live. I am not a critic of gays or their hangouts, but I did not like being frisked on my way in. I was more surprised by this than anything and I let them know it and Elaine actually refused to allow them to touch her when they attempted to pat her down after she returned from the bathroom and wanted to join me . They refused to let her even enter the bar, where I was waiting with a round, and tell me she was leaving.

Elaine called me as she walked across the parking lot to the Monkey Bar and I joined her as soon as I finished my drink. Ironically, the bouncer who frisked her came over too and I had the opportunity to ask him why they thought they had to frisk their patrons and then tell him why I thought it was a terrible idea.

He told me that since Hollyrock was the first gay bar in the Valley and since they had recieved a few threats, they were doing it to protect their clientelle. I told him that was bs and stupid. If somebody wants to blow away someone at a bar they are going to do it just like crazies do when they walk into a McDonald’s in California or Air Force bases in Texas.

On the one hand, I don’t like it on a personal level because I don”t want to go anywhere besides the airport or courthouse that I have to go through security for weapons.

To read a more recent blog on Hollyrock and The Ref click here.

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