Archive for November, 2011

Sunday football is the new Monday Night Football. It used to be that bars competed for the Monday Night Football crowd with drink specials and taco bars and $2 foot-long coney dogs.  These days  Monday Night Football business for the bars  is only a wisp of its former self, with patrons having shot their wads on Sunday  sitting with fellow fans in front of their team’s designated plasma, swigging beers and hurling jeers as all around fans of other teams do the same thing. The NFL’s Season Ticket, which costs approximately $3400 a season or $180 a Sunday, has changed the rules for the bar owners and the how American football fans spend there Sundays.

The hot bed of coals that the NFL is building its fire of popularity on  is the die-hard American adult male fan who latched onto a team during childhood when they became aware of pro football. Often the team they bonded with was going through a dynasty period and had a brilliant leader like Staubach and his Cowboys or Montana and his 49’ers. America’s young boys loved football before they discovered girls and most remain loyal to their first love. Like  geese, most men mated for life with their childhood teams though seldom having the same luck with women.

For me it was the Baltimore Colts who dominated the 1968 season, the year I turned ten. Football had not exsisted for me before then. But in the fall of my fourth grade I got caught up in the drama of Bubba Smith and Tom Matte and John Mackey  and the rest of that mighty team as they barrelled through all foes. I followed their classic season in Sports Illustrated, Sport and Life magazines, only occassionally getting to see them play because we only got one game per Sunday back then. But I watched them each game through the playoffs and though that year’s Super Bowl III with the Jets cruelly upsetting my new gridiron heroes was my first and worst, I have never missed a Super Bowl since and I remain a Colts fan more than 4 decades later.

Each Sunday at the Spokane Valley sports bars that carry the NFL Season Ticket, grown men who have been wearing their favorite team’s jersey since Santa brought them their first one back in grade school gather to watch their team.  Unlike the frustrating days of their youth, it does not matter if their game is being broadcast locally or not. The Season Ticket bars have their game. It is a life-long dream come true.

The Sullivan Scoreboard was the first place I saw this miracle three or four years ago. Since that first year I have watched it go from a light crowd to standing room only with owners Scott and Dianna Reckord rubbing their hands together with delight whenever the Cowboys and the Vikings and the Steelers play at the same time. These are the kinds of teams that go way back in the lives of the Amercan male.  Winning Super Bowls and producing dynasties starring legendary heroes, teams like the 49’ers and Packers have fans loyal to them and them only which adds to the fun as one group watching their team has no compassion on the next table watching their own favorite team getting whupped.

The Sullivan Scoreboard has perfected this game on Sundays, serving a hearty breakfast menu until 2 and offering a Bloody Mary the size of a lineman’s left butt cheek. The place is  mid-sized, blue-collared and ball capped with a neighborhoodly feel which helps The Scoreboard attain the most intimate and rowdy feel of  the Season Ticket bars. Only an out-of-towner would sit down at the large round table on the south end before a Dallas game if it happened to be empty even an hour before the 10 oclock game which it probably wouldn’t be. The Cowboy fans own that table, while the guys in the purple and yellow jerseys or the black and yellow guys have their favorite places as well. They root enthusiastically when their teams make a big play and sit sullenly when the opposing team does well, usually having to endure a few taunts from nearby tables who take pleasure in their misery.

Bolo’s is another sports bar in the Spokane Valley that has bought the Ticket for years. They also do well and have their share of team tables. One major difference between them and the Scoreboard is that families are welcome at Bolo’s while no one under 21 is allowed at the Scoreboard.  They have a large projection TV that is capable of showing 4 games at once, which reminds me of the bingo player who is able to pay attention to 10 cards at one time. My mind does not work that way but I wished that it did so I could visually snort that much more football into my system . Another difference is that Bolo’s has a breakfast buffet for around $8.

I suppose this screen would be perfect for those with more than one favorite. NFL fans are like college students in that they tend to have only one major with a couple of minors .

True Legends out at Liberty Lake is a newcomer but like with everything else, owner Perry Vinson catches on very quick and he bought the Season Ticket last year, his first year in business. He also bought an $8,000 high-def TV projector  to go wth the huge screen that came with the building.  While it is not quite as big as the jumbo-trons at NFL stadiums, True Legends is the next best thing to being there.

Being a restaurant, True Legends serves a killer breakfast and is a great place for die hard fans to suggest when the whole family wants to gather for a special occassion like some kid’s untimely birthday party. If you can’t deter them away from celebrating during game time on a Sunday, you can at least try to get them to go out to True Legend’s, where the  dining room,  unlike Chucky Cheese, always has your favorite game on.

Another thing that adds to experience out at True Legends is the ticker tape feed that runs below the screen and keeps updating the latest developements on all the other games.

In the past, fathers went to church and spent the day with their families since the only place they could watch their team would be on local broadcast which everyone had right at home. The Season Ticket which has every team every Sunday has made it much harder for family’s to stay together as Dad is tempted by Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and the other preachers of pro football. Luckily, The Black Diamond is another Valley newcomer where families can attempt to make Sunday a family day again.

The Black Diamond has 20-some pool tables and an arcade area which can serve as the nursery for the kids while Dad and Mom (more women are being convert to NFLism each year) watch the game. Naturally, the folks are praying the kids will soon understand the meaning of football and accept it as their savior as soon as possible and join the congregation in front of the plasmas. There is no better place for the devout family to worship together than The Black Diamond which also  has a great buffet so the family can also break bread together on the Sabbath.

Praise be ! The Diamond is there for Dad and his delimma. Bring Mom and the kids to the Diamond and keep the Sabbath wholly .... football.

Robin Tuttle and gang recently took over the premises and what little business remained at the old Hotteez in the Spokane Valley on Raymond just north or Sprague. 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 positive had not been done since  the Sea Galley days back in the mid 80’s when Elaine worked there.

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

It was mostly as I would have expected from a gay bar recently opened in the Valley, but there were a few surprises. It was fairly slow and the crowd was not over-crowding 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 demeanors of  drama occupied a barstool or two.

I had no problem with all of this since I was in a gay bar where I felt it best to 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, to 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 received a few threats ( which I find dubious), they were doing it to protect their clientele. I told him that was BS and unfortunate for everyone. 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  an Air Force base 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. Actually, I don’t like going to either one of those places any more than I have to but sometimes I have to. The Holly Rock is sending the message that it is a dangerous place to go even though they are intending to send the message that they are protecting their patrons. Like I said, if someone wants to start shooting up the place, they’ll just start with the guy who wants to frisk them.

Then on a less personal note but still a bit offending, I take objection to the idea that the Valley would be more dangerous for a gay bar than downtown where the gay bars don’t frisk their clientele. We may be further east, but this is not Aryan Nations territory any more than the Northside is less tolerant because it is closer to the backwoods home of the MLK Parade would-be bomber.

All this being said, I can forgive HollyRock for their paranoia and over-zealous attempt to protect their people from the gay-bashing crazies that they fear populate the Valley. The truth is that they are newbies and have the right to make a few innocent mistakes. The trouble is that they don’t have time to make very many mistakes, innocent or not. Opening a new nightclub, gay or straight, is a brutally unforgiving and risky undertaking.

I believe that while they don’t need the intolerant, they cannot afford to not welcome everyone that is tolerant. Frisking everyone who walks in the door will neither deter a terrible hate crime nor welcome the tolerant non-gay crowd which I believe Holly Rock must have to succeed in the Spokane Valley.  The Valley, compared to downtown is the hinterlands as far as the gay nightclub scene is concerned, not because of backward thinking but because of demographics.

I think Holly Rock’s only chance is to welcome everyone that is either practicing an alternative lifestyle or tolerant of those who are. The gay community alone  is not enough to support them, but even if it were why would you want to discourage more business? There are actually a lot of free-thinking people in the Valley, like everywhere in America, who may not live an alternate lifestyle but they might enjoy having the alternative to go there once in a while for a drink or a dance. The Holly Rock needs them to survive and they need to welcome them, not pat them down.

 Read an earlier blog on Holly Rock

Over the last 10 years or so that the Hurd Mercantile has been in business, I had never thought to stop in during the countless times I had driven through the quiet farm town of Rockford located about 18 miles south of Spokane Valley on Highway 27. It is nothing against the Hurd, it is just that I abhor shopping in general and gift shopping in particular. Furthermore, normally I am passing through Rockford by myself on business or passing through with Elaine for a day of pleasure on the lake. When I am by myself, the idea of stopping at a gift shop never even enters my head. When I am with Elaine, I have always been able to successfully object to her motion to have our vehicle come to rest in front of the Hurd.

But last Labor Day as Elaine and our daughter, Jacque, and I took a leisurely road trip down to St. Maries to check out the Lumberjack Festival, I finally lost the battle. In years past, Jacque would have been an ally as a child not interested in mozying around a big store, but now she was a young lady who was growing in the womanly arts her mother was constantly teaching her. Like the skills required to spend hours in front of a mirror each morning, Elaine has been teaching her daughters the love of loitering in leisurely luxury at gift shops. The Hurd Mercantile was the perfect setting to further Jacque’s education. I told them to have at it, I had brought reading material and would wait in the car.

But after nearly a half hour I began to worry. I knew they were safe but I wasn’t sure about our savings and so I headed into the Hurd to herd out my lost girls. In spite of myself, I was in awe as I opened the door and began to take in this amazing store with its abundant variety and creative, lively displays spread out over 8,000 square feet and 2 stories. I knew instantly that Elaine would never leave this place empty-handed.

Upon entering the Hurd I realized my girls were lost somewhere deep inside this monstrous building.

I wandered about the myriad of tasteful displays.

I had to begrudgingly admit that this was a creative and fun place to visit.

Finally I found Elaine, happy as a mouse in a cheese factory. But Jacque was nowhere in sight.

A scan of the incredible upstairs toy section did not turn her up.

Finally I found her in one of the Hurd's many tucked away little nooks and crannies with that same "Ain't I a stinker" look on her face.

Finally after what seemed like hours, Elaine showed her daughter how big girls cap off a visit to any good gift shop by putting her purse on the counter and whipping out the plastic. I knew it wouldn't be cheap. But secretly I was glad that this was a gift shop and that she was buying Christmas presents that needed to be bought anyway. It didn't seem to matter to her that she wasn't buying for herself. I think that for women, the purchase is the climax of the stimulating experience of shopping. At any rate, Elaine has been rather passionate about it over the years.

I was just glad to get out and down the road to the Lumberjack festival. But I did drive all the way there the next month to buy the watch that Elaine fell in love with but that I talked her out of buying that day. Being an uncreative and often impassive partner, gift-givingly speaking, I was more than happy to make the trip in order to get the perfect present for Elaine's birthday. Elaine has suffered over the years because of my weak shop drive , but this year The Hurd helped me come through with flying colors.

Having opened my own restaurant/nightclub years ago, I cannot walk into a new place without scrutinizing everything and calculating their chance for success. I am also a carpenter/homebuilder and I do the same sort of thing every time I walk into someone’s house for the first time.The new Black Pearl Restaurant and Card Room at Pines and I-90 in the Spokane Valley has some impressive ingredients that may contribute to its long-term success. I hope they are enough to overcome some things I see working against that obvious goal.

Top of the list of things to be impressed by at The Black Pearl is the rich decorum the new owners have sunk a lot of money into. Every surface in the old building has undergone a transformation from the paint on the walls to the coverings on the floor to the trim around the doors to the doors themselves. The furniture, the fixtures and everything else right down to the dishware has been selected to contribute to the overall stylish setting that puts the Black Pearl in rare company in the Spokane Valley.

Another feature The Black Pearl restaurant and card room has going for it is food. I have heard a few disparaging remarks but my experience after three visits is that their kitchen does a good job. The other night Elaine had the Chicken Oscar while my daughter, Jacque, had the Chicken Dane. They were both ecstatic about their meals and ate every bite. I had the barbecue ribs and was a little disappointed. It was not that they weren’t succulent and had great sauce, but rather this time that I had them they were overly fatty as opposed to the first time I tried them there a month or so before when they were great in every way.

The upscaleness of the menu, decor and prices is a feature that is good but could work against their success. While the Spokane Valley needs fine dining  places like The Max and Twigs and The Luxury Box, the truth is that for most us a $70 -$100 dinner date (with dessert and drinks) is about a once a year event. This is the Valley, where Thrift stores are the most prevalent type of retail outlet on Sprague.

Furthermore, I think trying to put the two concepts of “upscale restaurant” and “card room” together  in the average person’s mind is not going to be an easy thing to do. When I think of card room, I think of the old smoky, dingy places like the old joint next PM Jacoys downtown. I suppose card players will have no problem, but the decision where to dine is heavily influenced by the ladies and I saw very few in the Black Pearl’s card room.

The card room’s place in the building is one of my big problems with The Black Pearl as it has been reconstituted. Actually, pretty much the entire layout is a problem. Though hundreds of thousands were spent redecorating and recovering the building’s surfaces, the buildings layout remains exactly as it was before the remodel and it was not a good layout before and it is worse now.

Walking into the building, the first thing seen is the beautiful bar and lounge area. It has always been there but now it has a much more intimate or cramped feel, depending on the crowd, because the old dancing area to the right has been walled off to create the new card room. With large windows and two open passage ways, the partition wall does little to provide any privacy between the lounge and the bright, sparsely decorated card room. It is like those exotic aquarium bars you sometimes see in the movies, only the card players are the interesting creatures on display behind the glass. Personally, I found it more irritating than entertaining.

To the left of the front door is the dining area, I think. That is where we have always been seated anyway, though it does not really feel like a dining area so much as a wide hall way with long luxurious booths along the window wall and nothing along the other side. It is wide open with no coziness or intimacy or even much warmth. Beyond this area is another separate, lonely dining room. That is where the card room might should have gone and then been given a more private feel.

The point is that the Black Pearl’s building is large and strangely laid out since it is the product of something like three different add-ons that served an entirely different business. At one time that business, Mathew’s, was just a restaurant (which is now the bar and card room) that added a nice bar and lounge (which is now the dining area) and then added a niteclub area ( the empty back room). New owners came along and bagged the restaurant and completely switched everything around and never attained any visible signs of success as a bar/nightclub for the many years it kept its doors propped open.

My other problem with the Black Pearl is that it seems like the owner is not running the place hands on. I don’t believe it is possible to open such a complex place, hire some managers and then sit back and think it is going to take off. No one ever cares like the owner  because to every one but them it is just a job. I see a lot of little things that need attention like an incredibly long time between taking orders and delivering meals. While we had that problem, the rest of our service was fine but I have heard more than one complaint regarding the Black Pearl’s service.

One night during their grand opening the sign on the end of their building said “half off the entire menu” and the electronic reader sign on Pines said the same thing but our waiter insisted it was only the entres and not apps and sandwiches or burgers. The next night the sign said all steaks half off, but it turned out they offered just one 8 oz steak for $9 something. I didn’t bother with the $12 bbq rib special they promised on the last night. Little things, but an owner that is sweating out the details notices those things while employees may not care quite enough.

So will the good outweigh the bad at the Black Pearl? I think they will have to fix a few things in order to make a profit. I have heard the owner has deep pockets and he will need them. I know they are not as deep now as they were when he got into this venture. But it is a  beautiful building at a great Valley location where they serve a good meal, furthermore it is locally owned and staffed with people who live here and so I hope the Black Pearl makes the right moves and kicks butt and takes names for years and years.

Not a good sign.  

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