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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