Archive for the ‘Spokane Valley Bars’ Category

I truly wish that all hospitallity establishments in Spokane Valley could prosper and make their owners rich and happy. I especially wish that for the independent owners who have tried to create nice and fun places that are an expression of themselves. We the patrons are the beneficiaries of their creative efforts.

Take the Black Diamond, located at Sprague and Farr in the Valley, for example. For many years it was known as McQ’s and it was primarily a great pool hall but it always had potential to be a lot more. If I have my half-facts right, it was originally opened several years ago by one of the principals involved with the old Swackhammers on north Division. Then the guys who own the local Denny’s franchise ran it for several years before selling it a few years ago to an owner that was unable to make it prosperous.

Along come Steve and Kenna Lagault from San Francisco this summer with their own dreams and visions and pick up the place at a bargain price. I talked to them a few months ago right after they took over and Steve talked about knocking out walls and moving things around. I thought he had a lot of good ideas, but I wondered if he would really do it and how good it would turn out.

Turns out that it turned out amazing. Elaine and I were shocked when we went in to have a look last Saturday night. I could not believe that they went for it, got it done fast and did such a classy job. They now have a very tasteful and roomy dining area that opens to a nightclub with a stage and some of the coziest and classiest seating in the Valley. Over by the pool tables they’ve created a comfortable area to watch sports on their state-of-the- art flatscreens and they updated the bar.

So now we have been given a wonderful place to have a fun night out at. It really is a gift from two hard-working, imaginative and creative people who were willing to go for it and give us a new and exciting place. All that we have to do to repay them and have it available to us for years to come is to fulfill their dream by supporting them and packing it out.

But that has gotten to be a tall order for the Valley. Since last Spring, 4 places have opened up that are looking for the night scene as part of their business. You put those on top of the existing places and you probably have about six too many.

If somebody told me that I had to take any one of them over tomorrow and make it go, I would choose the Black Diamond. I don’t envy anyone in the local business, but I think Steve and Kenna have a good shot at making it go because of the thriving pool business they have going. That brings people in who can see what they’ve done and help get a buzz going.

They have done a phenomenal job remodeling. I just hope for our sakes as well as theirs that they are as good at building a crowd as they are at improving a building.

Black Diamond Sports Bar on Urbanspoon

Last Spring shortly after Charlie P’s opened at Sprague and Vista, I wrote a blog entry declaring my belief that he had opened up with the best menu of any bar in the Valley.(They also have family dining.) After adding a calzone section to his menu recently, Charlie goes to the top of all eateries as far as I am concerned.

It is not that I am a calzone connoisseur. In fact, I almost never order one. But I am a seafood lover and I will try anything new that looks good along those lines. So when I spotted the “Seafood Calzone,” I had to give it a whirl. I already knew he put out the best seafood omelette and fettucine around and so I had high hopes as I hungrily awaited the arrival of this new concoction to my table. I could have waited for hours and it would have been worth every minute.

That first bite was an eye-popping, “OH-MY-GOD!” moment. That calzone deserves the Tony the Tiger “They’re Grrrreat” seal of approval. It instantly became my favorite dish in Spokane. It was the best thing Elaine and I had eaten since Cyrus O’Leary’s stopped making their Shrimp Fromage several years ago. We were so bummed when they took it off the menu and had not found anything like it until that first bite of Charlie P’s seafood calzone.

Now I understand that rich, cheesy and doughy seafood calzones are not for everyone but that wonderful dish is not really the reason that I put Charlie P’s at the top of the list. It is the fact that his kitchen is able to put out dishes that make a seafood lover cry, while out back he is smoking up ribs and chicken and beef that make a barbecue lover pee their pants. I know because I am both and have figuratively done both. In fact, now I am in a culinary conundrum whenever I go there. Which do I order, the ribs that I have been gorging on for several months or the new kid on the block, the seafood calizone?

Charlie P’s ability to offer great barbecue and seafood put him firmly at the top of my list but he doesn’t come close to stopping there and that is why he deserves to be at the top of everyone’s list. He serves broasted chicken that I have often seen tables of six eat nothing but that. His weekend prime rib is always good . He has awesome daily lunch and dinner specials. His menu has anything anyone would want from salads to steaks to burgers and it is all great and reasonably priced.

Charlie P’s is doing great and it is always busy during meal hours but you can usually find several tables available during the off hours which tells me that most of the Valley has not discovered them yet. I say this because the other night I stopped in at Applebee’s on a Wednesday night at 7 and there was a line. I know there was not a line at Charlie P’s at that moment, but there should have been. In fact here should alway’s be one. Applebee’s has great specials and mega advertising and that seems to be just the ticket for Valley. I have eaten there many times over the years and it always pretty good, but not one time have I ever had an oh-my-god moment. Whereas at Charlie P’s I get that every time I order the ribs or the calzone (which almost always all I order because I am fanatical about both). I may have trouble deciding between the two, but I never have trouble deciding where to eat when I am hungry. It is Charlie P’s every time I get to make the call.

this seafood omelette is oozing with good stuf including real crabmeat and scallops

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From the Ribs to the fries to beans and bread, this meal is all good

Another post on Charlie P’s

(This something I wrote a few years ago to set the record straight. It has been buried with no link on my website ever since.)

Many times I have been presented with incorrect theories as to why we left the Rock Inn from people who seemed to not realize they were talking to the one and only authority on the subject. Perhaps, even my wife ,Elaine, does not  know exactly why I decided it was time to move on.. It was my call and this is why I made it.

The biggest misconception was that our landlord, Jack Riley, raised the rent so high that we could no longer afford to stay there. While it is true that he wanted $1,000 more a month than I wanted to pay, we could have afforded it.

We had an option in our original 3-year lease, to sign up at $5000 for another 3 years,and then $6,500 for the next three years after that. After seeing the realities of the business I determined that original agreement was more than I wanted to pay. So rather than signing up for the second 3 year term, I went month-to-month and tried to get Jack to renegotiate. After 8 months,  he finally said pay $5500 and sign a three year lease or get out in 10 days and that was his perogative. He could not understand why I would opt to leave rather than pay his price. The truth is I had a lot of reasons that had nothing to do with his price.

The biggest one was as simple as wanting to do better at the most important role in our lives. We have 4 kids who never saw us. When we got into the Rock our oldest was 13 and our baby was only 7. During the 4 years there, we did not have more than maybe 10 family dinners and not once were we home for a Friday or Saturday night. The only time I spent  with my children is when they worked down at the Rock. When deciding whether to sign another 3 year lease or not, that was the biggest factor … by far.

Another huge factor was the industry itself. I could see a big difference in the ring-outs on a weekend night from when we started to when we ended. In the beginning people simply drank more. As time wore on and the cops became more and more determined to

inforce the dui law, it truly affected our bottom line. That was a trend I did not see going away.

In connection with this there was the moral dilemma of being in a business that profited from putting our customers at risk. The more they drank the more money we made which put them at more risk of getting a dui which no one can afford. The regulars were our friends and we did not want to see them suffer and we did what we could to look after them, but often they were their own worst enemy and we were there to help them be just that. That was something we never got used to.

Another deciding factor was simply quality of life. While I did not mind working almost 80 hours a week to make the place succeed, I also realized that is the way workaholics are and that it was not healthy. Especially when the place you work is a bar and part of your job is having a good time with the customers.

Many people think that we simply failed in business and that no one could make it at that location. The Plantation locale at Sprague and Vista has seen a lot of failure in the past 20 years. One business neighbor believed the current occupant, Club Max, is number 16.

Ripley’s, which came right after us, was open about 6 months. Since Rose Townsend passed away in 1986, no one that  I  know of has made it as long as two years. We set the record at 3 years, 8 months and we left not because we failed, or that Jack raised the rent

too high. That location is tough because of the age and size of the building. But we proved it can go if you are willing to dedicate your life to it. But there in lies the rub: after nearly four years I was no longer willing to dedicate my life, my wife’s life and our family’s life to making the Rock Inn succeed.

We were well on our way to getting established and were making money when we closed, but I had come to the conclusion that the high price for success at that location was more than a father of four should pay. I look at it that Jack did me a favor by wanting more than I was willing to pay. It cost us a lot financially and emotionally to walk away but it was a decision I have never second guessed.

   O.K. it is long shot but wouldn’t it be nice to have  some place in the Valley that you could just walk from one happening night spot to another without having to drive down Sprague for several miles and risk life and a D.U.I. ? Downtown is full of such opportunities but you have to drive there and back to be able to barhop on foot. There has always been one obvious potential spot in the Valley and a few years back when Percy’s was rolling and Hotteez was actually hot and the Monkey Bar was staying the course as it always has, the old University City area was our lone opportunity to stroll around sans auto.  

   Things are off to a slow start at the Luxury Box, which has taken over the Percy’s location, but things should pick up once summer is over. Hotteez is trying to re-ignite and has been known to draw a crowd from time to time these days. Eric at the Monkey Bar is doing his part as he has all along and so there is hope that this triangle of night life might rise up to its past. But last night I saw a new spot down on Sprague and Vista that has gone to the top of my wish list.

   Up until last night, the Fubar, which is the latest reincarnation at our old location, has been a pretty lonely spot. But with the help of a KZZU remote and the Shock championship game, they got a great crowd. After the remote they had an exceptional band but the place was a little empty so we walked across the street to eat some great food at Charlie P’s. The place was packed with people who had just taken advantage of all the drink specials at the Fubar and were hungry like us.

   Some stayed and sang karaoke but a lot of them made their way back across the street to go dancing.  If only Charlie P’s was across the street when we ran Rock Inn four years ago. We always got great crowds on the weekends, but I am sure we would have done better with a good bar across the street. It would have just been another reason for partiers to make Sprague and Vista the destination. Maybe even get a cab ride there and back.

   I am pretty sure that Charlie P’s is a survivor and I am hoping that the Fubar will also be a success. The owners are really nice guys and it would be nice for us all to have two places for the price of one. Gas isn’t cheap these days and neither are D.U.I.s.

I heard a rumor a month ago that the guys opening our old place were going to call it Fu Bar. I thought no way, but people kept talking about it. Then Elaine went in and talked to them and saw the name on their liquor licence or menu or something. I still couldn’t believe it, I figured it must just be a temporary name or something but yesterday I saw they got their sign up and sure enough it’s the Fu Bar.

Fubar is an acronym that stands for F***ed Up Beyond All Repair. It comes from a 1944 Army short film called “The Three Brothers”. The main characters were Fubar and his brothers Snafu (situation normal all f***ed up) and Tarfu (things are really f***ed up).  Fubar is also a famous gay bar in San Francisco. I guess it works in San Fran and it probably won’t bother the bar crowd around here but don’t expect to see any of the general public going there with a name like that. It is beyond me why anyone would choose a name that will hurt business in any way. A name should be clever and catchy at best, or simple and passive at the worst. It should never have anything about it that would turn anyone off.

For example, our old place was for years called the Plantation and the landlord forced all the tenants to use the word Plantation in their name. He was so proud of that name that he actually put it in each lease agreement that the new owners must use the name so that it would remain registered and always be a part of that location. He only allowed us to call it The Rock Inn if we added “at the old Plantation” in small letters below our name. It was a big battle just to get that concession but I would have fought harder had I realized that some people found the word “plantation” offensive. I had a good African-American friend who would not go there because of the name. I know that if it offended him it must have offended a lot of people. That always bugged me.

Then you have Hotteez. Elaine hates the name and I’m sure a lot of women find it sexist. But I know the owner of the place and I am surprised that he does not call it Hoteez Plantation. That way he could offend about 75% of the people all at once just with his name. He might even have the African-American women picketing the place since they would be doubley offended.

A lot of people don’t give the name of a place any thought and it has no bearing on whether they go there or not and I am one of those people. To me personally, The Fu Bar is fine. It doesn’t bother me at all. But I know they are shooting themselves in the foot with that name. Just below the big neon Fu Bar they have another sign that says “Steak House.”  Well, I’m sorry but there are a lot of people who like steaks but don’t like bars.

When Elaine talked to them she told them how we used to have a lot of groups that held their meetings in our banquet room. They said they would really like to try to get them back. I doubt the Rotary Club will be real anxious to invite their guests and speakers to join them at a place called the Fu Bar. The new owners can also forget about the Gideon’s, who used to gather once a week and have prayer meetings in the banquet room at the front of the building while the sinners were raising hell at the bar in back. I always got a kick out of that.

I hope for the new owners’ sake that they run such a great place that the Fu Bar name will seem like pure irony, but based upon their first move, I am a little worried for them. So far all they have shown us is a Thifu – That Handle Is F***ed Up!

Well, Elaine went in to our old place and got the scoop first hand from the two guys who are getting ready to open it back up. They are not Valley people. They are Mark Hogue and Allen Jennings. Mark is in the flatwork business and Allen has something to do with xray equipment. While Mark has some experience with the hospitality industry on the north side of town, they are both pretty much novices at owning a nightclub.

But they are nice, open and down-to-earth guys that are excited about trying their hand at the old Rock Inn. They are thinking about rotating country and rock. They plan on serving good steaks and will be open for lunch. Beyond that, the only other tidbits Elaine gathered was that they hope to open in three weeks and are thinking about calling the place The Fubar. They might want to rethink that.

   The owners of McQ’s have wanted out for quite sometime and they may be getting their wish soon. The landlords are negotiating with a couple who has been looking around the Valley for a place to open a nightclub. It is far from a done deal, but both parties seem very interested.

   Starting this time of year, people love to sit outside at their favorite places. Most bars have little more than a slightly sheltered smoking area. Some don’t even have that. But some places have the room and resources and have created nice outside areas. Here is a short review of some of them.

* The Iron Horse has a decent patio. The Robbs have done a nice job with their planter wall that provides some privacy and their fountain is a great touch. They basically had to convert their sidewalk and a piece of their parking lot into a patio and I give them a lot of credit for putting out the money and effort. It was a smart addition to their business.

* Charlie P’s understood the importance of an outside area and put one in when he converted his new place from the old Pizza Hut. I like the grass but it’s a little too unshaded and close to Sprague.

*The Brass Faucet has the coziest and most comfortable outside area. The 6′ wooden fence blocks off Sprague and the nice landscaping and furniture makes it feel like you’re in a nicely kept back yard.

*Scott Reckord at the Scoreboard has it really going on outside. While people can just sit there, they can also play volleyball or horseshoes or dance when there is a band. Those nights the barbeque is going and there is always a big crowd. Most bars suffer when summer comes because people go to the lake or do other things outside. The Scoreboard’s business increases because of his patio.

They will be having a band once a month all summer long . Sammy Ewbanks is usually their guy and he will be kicking off the season June 12th. They usually start early because they have to stop playing at 10. Get there early because it always packs out.

Let me define what I mean by best bar food by saying if I want to go out for a drink and I am hungry, Charlie P’s in the Spokane Valley at Sprague and Vista is my first choice. A lot of places have good food like O’ Doughtery’s and The Iron Horse, and Dianne’s lunch specials at the Sullivan Scoreboard are great, but nobody has the selection of Charlie P’s.

He has juicy barbecued ribs that only O’Doughtery’s can rival, and I know because ribs are my favorite meal. Elaine is a French Dip lover and she said the one she ate there was the best she has had since we closed the Rock Inn. She also loved their pizza. We normally sit at the bar next to the kitchen and I watch a ton of good-looking food go out like broasted chicken and steaks and fettucine and heaping hamburgers. He also has daily lunch and dinner specials, which few other bars take the time and effort to come up with each day.

Charlie spent a lot of money setting up a big kitchen at his new place and I think he put his money in the right place. Every bar has pretty much the same drinks and beer, but he was able to open ahead of the competition with his menu. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns into one of those local treasures that is packed all day long serving meal after meal. I have waited since Waffles and More closed years ago for someone to serve a good Seafood omelet in the Valley. Leave it to Charlie P’s to come up with one even better than the one that I had been dreaming about.

Charlie P's on Urbanspoon