Gateway to the Beautiful Pacific Northwest
By Richard Frinta
The year is 1871. The first two non-Native American settlers arrive in Spokan Falls (as Spokane was originally called) and stand in awe, gazing at the monumental Spokan Falls. They are greeted by a host of Native Americans who are part of the Spokane tribe, meaning “children of the sun” (aptly named: Spokane is sunny the majority of the year).
Fast forwarding to the year 1889, a fire destroys 27 blocks of the city, but it isn’t long before the city is back on its feet serving the suppliers and passengers/guests of the Union Pacific Rail and Oregon Railroad and Navigation lines. Spokane rode the railroad prosperity boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s, as is still quite evident today by the many mansions gracing this charming and interesting city. In 1974 Spokane was picked to host the first environmentally themed World Expo. Over three decades later…
ARRIVING IN SPOKANE
It’s late evening, and I’m comfortably reclined on a flight heading for Spokane. My thoughts drift… I am thinking of an image of Spokane, a photograph taken in the late 1800s by Carleton Watkins. I will soon be surprised by how much the city has changed since then.
The plane arrives at Spokane International Airport. There are 10 carriers that serve this airport. For a more scenic trip, one might take the Amtrak Empire Builder from Chicago, Vancouver, Seattle, or Portland. Arriving via Vancouver or Seattle allows you to see the spectacular beauty of the Cascade mountain range: Amtrak (1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245). Once you are in Spokane, the city is well served by Spokane Transit (509-325-6094).
It will be hours before the neighboring wineries will open for wine tasting, so I head over to the Agave bistro, Spokane’s version of Boston’s Cheers bar.
Agave (509-473-9180) is in the heart of historic downtown Spokane, located kitty corner to the Davenport Hotel (1-800-899-1482), which Conde Nast Traveler magazine rates as one of the top 100 hotels worldwide. The friendly staff at Agave will give you lessons in crafting the perfect cocktail in an eclectic/upscale atmosphere. But they’ve just announced last call and I haven’t had the chance to strike up a conversation about their fair city. Being that the staff is flying around trying to close things down, I refrain. Here’s how the conversation might have unfolded, had you (or I) asked:
First, you might mention to the Agave mixologist that you are staying at the Davenport Hotel. “Ah,” the helpful Mixologist remarks. “You must sleep in late, for a finer bed you won’t find, and the rooms are equipped with bathrooms the size of a beach house living room. The Davenport Hotel, opened in 1914, was the first hotel with air-conditioning, and its grand lobby makes one squint, blinded by sparkling crystal chandeliers and gild patterned walls. However… on a more restrictive budget, you could choose from: The Courtyard Marriot (401 N. Riverpoint Blvd., 509-456-7600, rates $135-279), The Days Inn-City Center (120 W. Third Ave., 509-747-2011, rates $67-80). If you prefer a more ‘rustic’ feel, there’s the RV park and campground at scenic Riverside State Park, a gorgeous and geologically significant natural area along the Spokane River, just minutes out of downtown (509-465-5064, for rates visit: ). If you want to experience a day in the life of a cowboy and you are up for a mini road trip, head up to K.Diamond-K Guest Ranch (509-775-3536, call ahead for updated rates and availability as you would anywhere else).”
You mention that you’ve had little to eat (or drink) today and you plan to make up for it over the next several days. What does the mixologist recommend?
WINING AND DINING Without hesitation, the response is: “For breakfast try Frank’s Diner on Second Avenue (509-747-8798) and ask for Gage; she’ll engage you with her knowledge of this historic rail car eatery. Gage will have you envisioning waterfalls cascading outside your window, and pastoral views along the beautiful Centennial trail (which we’ll talk about later), somewhat similar to scenes painted centuries ago by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot: and Albert Bierstadt. For lunch try either the Ambrosia Bistro Wine Bar (509-928-3222) or the Steamplant Grill (509-777-3900). Ambrosia is known for their cocktails, which can bring back fond memories of the three-martini lunch. You might want to try one of their delicious salmon plates. Everything is prepared from scratch and each dish will excite your palate. The SteamplantGrill, at 159 South Lincoln. It once provided steam heat and electrical power from its twin 285 feet smokestacks… back in the day.”
You ask, Where should I dine for the next three nights?
Again without hesitation, the response is: “In no particular order, you might want to try C. I. Shenanigans (509-455-6690), where you can be introduced to the Spokane River, if you haven’t been already?” No, you shake your head. “Well then…. There you can have a table on the patio alongside the peaceful Spokane River.”
“Another evening try Mizuna (509-747-2004), noted for their delicious vegetarian cuisine and awesome wine bar. The ambience is wonderful, as Mizuna is housed inside a charming turn-of-the-20th-century building, with marble tables, tall brick walls, and warm lighting. There is also a very quaint patio on the side of the building. If you like ahi tuna and flatiron steaks… [you nod your head], then head over to Moxie (509-456-3594), with Euro-Asian cuisine; their asparagus tempura is quite succulent. Best of all, these dining experiences are within walking distance of your hotel.”
You remark, “One reason I’ve come here is to indulge in the fine wines produced in the Spokane region, but I know you’re closing soon…” “No worries,” the mixologist replies. “I’d be happy to recommend a few, but before continuing on I might add that after dining at any of the fine restaurants I’ve mentioned, you can head over to the Wild Sage Bistro (509-456-7575) on Second Avenue. Try one of their many tasty desserts; possibly the cookie kabob with fudge or the delicious Mountain Dome. For fine wine… Perhaps you could start with these: Barrister Winery (509-465-3591), which garnered the gold medal at the Indy International Wine competition for their 2005 Syrah – Bacchus Vineyard. Robert Karl Cellars (509-363-1353) has been recognized as one of the top 100 wineries by Wine Spirits magazine, and Arbor Crest Winery (509-927-9463) was named one of the Top 50 Wineries in the World Every Wine Lover Should Know by Wine Spectator magazine. There are so many personal stories that owners often share regarding their passion for wine making. For instance: The owners of the Barrister Winery (aptly named because they are both attorneys) started out making wines in a garage as a hobby. A few years back, they gained two gold medals at the 2007 Northwest Wine Summit. Basically, they traded in their suits for overalls, their computer screens for a vista of the rolling, golden hills… and now carry wine barrels instead of briefcases.”
Closing time has arrived. You thank the mixologist for the assistance, and he quickly adds that there are many other good restaurants, wineries, and lodging possibilities, and you should visit the Spokane Visitors Bureau for additional selections. You leave Agave bistro armed with good information, and thoughts of sharing it with others.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN AND AROUND SPOKANE
The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (509-456-3931) houses a large collection of Native American artifacts and is situated amidst late 19th-[CORRECT?]century mansions in the Brownes Addition district. In general, Spokane has a cornucopia of architectural eye candy, from Tudor-style mansions to Greek classical homes with Doric and Ionic columns homes to the neoclassical style.
Arts Districts: There are many galleries concentrated in the 1800 East Sprague Art District, the Davenport Art District, and Garland Village. At various First Friday events, you can mingle with local artists at the Spokane Art Walk.
Mini Hollywood: From as early as 1980, Spokane has been known as a mini Hollywood where many motion pictures have been filmed. Walking Spokane streets you’ll notice familiar settings for such movies as Family Holiday and Home of the Brave starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, Curtis Jackson, and Christina Ricci.
The Martin Woldson Theatre at the Fox (509-624-5992) opened in 1931 as one of the most breathtaking, opulent, and expensive theaters west of the Mississippi. Little by little, however, it fell into disrepair. This grand old theater has been returned to its former glory with a $31 million renovation.
Park Gardens (509-625-6622) began as a zoo in the early 1900s and now contains a spectacular assortment of European Renaissance-style, Japanese, and Rose gardens.
Riverfront Park (509-625-6601) was the site of the 1974 World Expo, which had the distinction of being the world’s first environmentally themed expo. Take the new gondola skyride and witness the rushing waters of the Little Spokane River Falls crash beneath you. Head over to the IMAX theater, and on your way there feed the garbage-eating goat, sculpted by sister Paula Turnbull. Then visit the historic 1909 Looff Carousel (one of only a handful of Looff carousels remaining in the world); with any luck you’ll grab the brass ring and take another ride on the house.
Cycling: Ride along the Centennial Trail (509-624-7188), a 37-mile paved pathway to the Idaho border (you can join it at Riverfront Park).
Canoeing and Rafting: White-water enthusiasts contact Pangaea River Rafting (877-239-2392), or you can paddle your way along the Spokane amongst some of the 180 bird species documented by the Audubon Society.
Golfing: Spot a few deer at one of Spokane’s newest golf courses, The Creek at Qualchan (509-448-9317), situated in a peaceful setting of creeks and ponds with wooded and hilly areas.
Pick Your Own Organic Fruits: From mid June to late fall at Walters Fruit Ranch (509-238-4245) you can pick cherries, peaches, apples, strawberries, and more. Enjoy a batch of the huckleberry pancakes in their cafe.
MANY MORE REASONS TO VISIT SPOKANE (AND ENVIRONS) IN 2010:
There are some major events being held in Spokane in 2010 for the complete listing, contact the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau: toll free (1-888-SPOKANE) or (1-509-747-3230).
DID YOU KNOW?:
Spokane is home to Father’s Day and will be celebrating 100 years in June. Father’s Day is celebrated in 52 countries worldwide.
Things have come full circle and am boarding the plane heading home. Facing Northward, wishing the Pacific Northwest’s athletes (and all others), the best of fortune in the soon to be Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
This trip was sponsored by Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau.