Washington’s second-largest city, historic and hilly Spokane is also tied with Boise as the largest of the Inland Northwest’s cities - both are home to about 210,000 residents. In the northwest corner of the country, most people think of the liberal western and coastal regions - home to Portland, Seattle, Eugene, and Tacoma - as possessing the region’s only visible LGBT scenes. While it’s true that cities like Spokane and Boise are surrounded by deep-red seas of conservatism, and each city is comparatively less diverse than Seattle or Portland when it comes to sexual orientation, these cities do nevertheless have sizable queer populations as well as plenty of businesses that enthusiastically welcome LGBT patrons.
Spokane - which is a four-hour drive east of Seattle, a five-hour drive northeast of Portland, and a six- to seven-hour drive north of Boise - lies on the eastern edge of Washington state, just 20 miles from the Idaho border and about a 75-minute drive north of the twin college towns of Pullman, WA and Moscow, ID. It’s an attractive city filled with dignified century-old buildings and anchored by a beautiful downtown Riverfront Park bisected by the Spokane River. The city’s longest-running and most popular gay bar, Dempsey’s Brass Rail, shut down a few years ago, but there are still a handful of nightspots around downtown -mostly located on or near West Sprague Avenue, which is within walking distance of several major hotels.
One of the most inviting of the city’s LGBT hangouts, Nyne Bar & Bistro (232 W. Sprague Ave., 509-474-1621) is run by women and opened with an eye toward serving Spokane’s women’s community. That said, owner Kitty Cane makes it very clear that Nyne welcomes everyone - gay or straight, male or female. This attractive spot with a sports-bar theme also serves food, including burgers, Caesar salads, flatbread with hummus and tzatziki, and chips with housemade salsa. All of these dishes cost less than $10.
The comfortable space has slick lighting, cocktail tables, a large outdoor patio, big “garage door” windows, high ceilings, a dance floor, and exposed-brick walls. There are shows and live performances some evenings, karaoke on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and video monitors air everything from sporting events to Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
For several years, another gay favorite along Sprague has been Irv’s (415 W. Sprague Ave., 509-624-4450), which from the outside looks like a fairly dive-y neighborhood bar but is actually a large space with a big dance floor with dancing (and a stripper pole, of course), a bar area with karaoke and other events, and a game room with pool and other diversions. The crowd here is, like pretty much all of the places to include on a pub crawl through the neighborhood.
Next door, the beloved Satellite Diner (425 W. Sprague Ave., 509-624-3925) has for years been reliable late-night venue popular with gays and straight - it serves food until 4 am nightly, and it opens early each morning for breakfast, too. This lively bar-diner also has a full liquor license. You can sit at the bar or grab a seat in a comfy booth. Specialties from the food side of the menu include biscuits and gravy, focaccia breakfast sandwiches, Philly cheesesteaks, bacon-Swiss burgers, and four “extreme eating options”, all of them absurdly filling.
If you can polish off the Cheese Bomb (Parmesan-encrusted bread filled with provolone and cheddar as well as deep-fried mozzarella cheese sticks), power to you.
Elsewhere downtown, hipsters - both queer and otherwise - favor such intimate spots as Baby Bar (827 W. 1st Ave., 509-847-1234), which has earned a steady following for its excellent jukebox, cheap booze, and absolutely tiny layout (that’s really both a plus and minus, depending on how much you like bumping elbows with fellow revelers), and Andy’s Bar (1401 W. 1st Ave., 509-747-0304), which is on the west edge of downtown (just off Sprague) and counts among its attributes a lovely patio, cozy lounge seating, an expansive beer lists, creative craft cocktails, and reliably good food (served late), including Cobb salads, pulled-pork sandwiches, coconut prawns, Thai pizzas, and more.
There’s a very nice weekend brunch, too.
For a more substantial meal, or simply for snacks and fine cocktails or a glass of wine, book a table at romantic, gay-popular Wild Sage Bistro (916 W. 2nd Ave., 509-456-7575), a dapper downtown restaurant specializing in creatively prepared farm-to-table cuisine and using local ingredients whenever possible. The food here is artfully plated and delicious - from the ever-changing menu, you might find the likes of poblano-artichoke dip with Dungeness crab, burgundy-pepper-glazed beef satay, Idaho trout with a lemon-chive beurre blanc, and almond-flour ravioli filled with burrata cheese and served with mushroom-tomato ragu and pecornino-romano.
Also notable for both food and drink is downtown’s Nectar Tasting Room (120 N. Stevens St., 509-869-1572), where you can sample wines from several Washington boutique wineries as well as light tapas to pair with you vino flights.
Like every fine metropolis in the Northwest, Spokane has a number of fun brewpubs. One of the most acclaimed in Spokane is Iron Goat Brewing (2204 E. Mallon Ave., Suite B, 509-474-0722). Their well-respected Head Butt and Impaler IPAs, Bleating Red Ale, Garbage Pale Ale, and Goatmeal Stout are poured at a number of establishments around Spokane, but you can also stop by their East side taproom, which is open until 9 Tuesday through Sunday.
Another favorite with a sizable gay following, Atticus Coffee & Gifts (222 N. Howard St., 509-747-0336) carries cool clothing, accessories, and housewares and also serves good coffee and baked goods. The owners also operate neighboring Boo Radley’s (232 N. Howard St., 509-456-7479), another fun boutique with offbeat gifts and goods.