My Own Private Portland

“Hmmm.  What a lovely room of death,” I thought upon walking into a most unusual store stocked with all manner of taxidermied, mummified, and otherwise deceased creatures.  I would be exaggerating if I said that that the variety of unusual articles offered by the shop was downright terrifying, but the vibe erred well onto the side of spooky.  Despite my misgivings about the overwhelming presence of dead animals, the store’s singularity and the pleasant nonchalance of its staff made my visit memorable, to say the least.  Where does one find such a store?  Why, in Portland, Oregon, of course.

A mere 6 hour drive southwest of Spokane lies fabled Portland, a Mecca for beer lovers and connoisseurs of the charmingly peculiar.  Prior to my most recent trip, I hadn’t visited the Beaver State for several years, nor had I made brewery-hopping an objective of my visit.  A number of sources informed me that there was far more to Portland than the obvious draws, like Powell’s City of Books, Hopworks Urban Brewery, and Voodoo Doughnuts, though, heaven knows, I couldn’t help but check them out (again), anyway.  This trip, I resolved to jump off of my previously beaten path so that the question wouldn’t be what was I going to do, but what wasn’t I going to do?

I ate tofu at a small neighborhood restaurants I’d never heard of with signature cocktails served in (what else?) wide-mouthed Mason jars.  I satiated a spontaneous fit of curiosity by popping into a comic book store that just happened to catch my eye.  I was utterly enamored by the outrageous combination of pear-blue cheese and IPA-upside down cake ice creams served up in a homemade waffle cone (totally worth the twenty minute wait).  I proved to my cousin that perfect strangers regularly walk up to me and ask me questions about the store/brewery/park we’re in for reasons largely unbeknownst to me.  I watched the most magnificent group of nerds reenact a classic Star Trek episode (“The Trouble with Tribbles”) at a packed outdoor amphitheater.  I drank a beautiful golden British ale whose flavor elicited a delightful slew of childhood memories.  I bought more books than I honestly need or have the time to read, and I escaped from a doughnut shop without being accosted by maple-bacon-loving passersby.  I had a packed, exhausting, and completely fantastic weekend in P-town.

The quarter-day drive home allowed me to plenty of time to reflect on the weekend that was, and I realized that the unfamiliar wasn’t quite as foreign as I’d feared it may have been.  I already knew full-well that Mason jars make for excellent glasses and that it’s never a bad idea to drop into a new bookstore.  I knew that a fresh beer in the sun with a good friend is one of life’s simplest and greatest pleasures and that seemingly bizarre flavor combinations will often surprise you in a very good way.  Truthfully, though some of the content differed, the feel and presentation of the places I visited in Portland were not too unlike those found in my own hometown of Spokane.

Spokane has its own local book haven (Auntie’s), an eccentric doughnut shop that sells its goods in eye-catching pink boxes (Dawn of the Donut), and a slew of top-notch breweries (No-Li, Iron Goat, 12 String, etc.).  Brain Freeze Creamery has been known to produce a few off-centered flavors (cinnamon ice cream with lentils, anyone?), and Manito Park frequently plays host to outdoor concerts throughout the warmer months.  The idyllic South Perry neighborhood, even without a shop full of dead animals, could fit right in to the quietly lively retail strips that dot the ‘burbs of PDX.

I love to excurse out of town whenever I can; there are far too many places to visit and experiences to try to be content sitting at home every weekend.  Nevertheless, most of my weekends are, indeed, spent in here, in my hometown.  I absolutely adored Portland, and I’d jump at an opportunity to spend more time there.  However, since that is not the case at present, I’m glad that I’ve taken the time to ponder what it was I really enjoyed the most about the City of Roses, for that reflection has allowed me to see a little bit of it in the Lilac City.  I don’t need to travel across the state and over a river to recreate some of the best parts of such a unique city.  My own little slice of Portland has been hiding here, in plain sight, all along.

The Hop Shop

image from the Hop Shop

This spring, my mom, her two sisters, and her dad all hopped on a plane together to spend two weeks traveling through Germany and the surrounding areas.  As her father is originally from Germany, it was his dream come true to have all of his girls with him while touring his home country.  They visited castles, recreated multiple scenes from The Sound of Music, and, of course, drank a lot of great beer.  As a beer geek myself, I was thrilled to hear that my mom and my aunts took full advantage of the situation and imbibed in the local specialties.  The story I enjoyed most of all was that of their trip to the Hofbrauhaus in Munich.  Along with its historical significance, the Hofbrauhaus is renowned for its terrific beer garden.  Unbeknownst to me, the bierhaus has a policy of serving beer in containers no smaller than a liter after 5:00.  Oh my.  Undaunted, the intrepid quartet took the plunge, and, beers and pretzels in hand, had a lovely afternoon drinking beer and enjoying each others’ company in Munich.

DSCN2274Here in the states, the Hofbrauhaus in Las Vegas is probably about the closest you can get to the aforementioned experience.  Nonetheless, it’s still nice to enjoy a brew or two out on a patio on a summer afternoon.  Here in Spokane, one of the South Hill’s hidden treasures, the Hop Shop, is my favorite place to do so.  Situated just up the hill from the beautiful Manito Park and a few blocks away from the lively bustle of Manito Tap House, the Hop Shop’s vibe is low-key and relaxing.  The same two fellas are always manning the bar, comfy seating is plentiful, and the work of local artists is featured on each and every wall.  As its name implies, beer is the focus: the bar offers a great selection of limited release bottled beers, as well as nearly a dozen rotating taps, several of which feature local breweries like Iron Goat, Budge Brothers, and Orlinson.  For those who are not beer lovers, fear not: the Hop Shop also features a top-notch wine list including everything from Pinot Grigios to Malbecs and beyond.  If you’re in need of some sustenance, local food carts are known to appear on a regular basis in the parking lot, and a cheese plate can be ordered from the bar.  A little snack and a great beer- what more do you need?

While I do love (LOVE) having a whole food-and-drink pairing experience at a brewpub or sampling each and every offering at a new brewery’s tasting room, every once in a while, it’s nice to just take a breather and enjoy a pint of one of my favorite IPAs with good company.  It may not be quite the same as a trip to a German bierhaus (I’ve never seen anyone sporting liederhosen at the Hop Shop), but the idea and feel is the same, so, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a step in the right direction.

The Hop Shop is open 4pm-11pm Tuesday-Thursday and 4pm-12am on Friday-Saturday.

Spokane’s Summer Bikes and Brews

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Bikes parked at No-Li Brewhouse

With temperatures nationwide regularly reaching into the 80s, 90s, and 100s, there’s only one conclusion I can confidently draw: summer is here and in full swing!  Here in the good ol’ Lilac City, we’re deep in the heart of the hottest season of them all and loving it.  With cloudless skies as far as the eye can see, multiple lakes less than an hour away, tons of great biking and hiking trails, and some of the best breweries around within the city limits, what’s not to love?

Amy (Goose) and me (Maverick) were the only two goons on a tandem bicycle that day. What can I say? We love fun! Image from Lantern Tap House

This weekend, I was lucky enough to enjoy what I think was the epitome of a Spokane summer experience.  Once again joined by Amy from Amy’s Nutritarian Kitchen, I headed up to Spokane’s South Perry neighborhood to take part in the newly expanded Lantern Tap House to take part in their monthly bike pub crawl, though this time around, it was really more of a brewery crawl (or ride).  With about a dozen other intrepid beer lovers, we set off from the tavern in the afternoon sun and headed to our first destination: Spokane’s celebrated No-Li Brewhouse.  Located on a particularly serene stretch of the Spokane River, the wide-open patio of the brewhouse has lounge chairs right on the river bank, as well as a fire pit and picnic tables galore for the enjoyment of sun-loving patrons.  Our ride leader, Mike, ordered up a few pitchers of No-Li’s Summer Wheat for everyone to sip on while we chatted and worked on our tans.  After an hour at No-Li, we steadily mozied on to our next destination.

Enjoying the patio at Iron Goat. Image from Lantern Tap House

Just a stone’s throw from No-Li is Iron Goat Brewing Company, which celebrated its first anniversary just last month.  Once again, everyone grabbed a pint glass, filled it up with the beer of his/her choosing, and scurried to the patio to relax and chit-chat.  Our relaxation efforts were aided all the more by the sudden appearances of an ice cream truck and the Shameless Sausages cart.  After refueling, we summoned our strength for our final destination Budge Brothers Brewing Company, which resided only a few blocks away.  Those who weren’t yet acquainted became so, and we each enjoyed one final, locally brewed pint before heading back up the hill to our starting destination.

By the end of the day, our adventure earned its title of “crawl”; the whole voyage took nearly six hours to travel a distance of only a couple of miles.  Nonetheless, it was a great way to spend a leisurely Saturday afternoon: the beer was terrific, the ride nice ‘n easy, and the company amiable as could be.  Lucky for me, and maybe you, too, the Lantern Tap House hosts bicycle pub crawls each month, most with five destinations rather than three.  If you’re looking to ride from a different destination or on a different route, or if you’re still on the lookout for your ideal outdoor beer hangout, there are options to be had here in Spokane.  I encourage you to check each of them out so as to find the one that’s best for you!  Cheers, and ride safely!

Bike Rides Around Spokane

Lantern Tap House Pub Bike Ride – Groups ride from the tap house on South Perry to 3-5 downtown or South Hill pubs.  Rides occur approximately once each month.  Check Lantern Tap House’s Facebook page to find out about upcoming rides.  Note: If running is more your style, there’s also a Lantern Running Club.  They’ll be meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, July 16) at 6pm at the tavern to run, and the run will be followed by $2.50 pint night!  Haven’t you heard that beer is a great post-workout drink?

Two Wheel Transit Recyclers at Manito Tap House – The Two Wheel Transit Recyclers meet at Manito Tap House on Thursday evenings at 6:15pm to go for a 60-90 minute ride around the South Hill before meeting back at the tap house for drinks and snacks.  Manito Tap House has a great little bike maintenance station right in front of the restaurant in case you need to make any last minute adjustments to your ride.

Elk Drug Drop-Outs Vintage & Cruiser Bicycle ClubThe Elk‘s bike club meets at the pub at 3pm on the first Sunday each month.  They ride from the Elk, in Brown’s Addition, to No-Li Brewhouse, located near Gonzaga University, and back.  The ride is family-friendly, and anyone and everyone is invited to ride whatever they’ve got!  The next ride should be on Sunday, August 3rd.

Spokane Party Trolley – OK, so this isn’t a bike club per se; it’s more of a club on a bike.  A really big bike.  Like, a big bike that you can ride with a dozen or more friends at once.  It’s crazy fun.  I was lucky enough to get to take a spin on the party trolley for a pub crawl a couple of weeks ago, though the trolley can also be rented for bachelor/bachelorrette parties, family reunions, team building, you name it.  If you’re looking to try it just to try it, the party trolley also hosts Mixer Tours, 2-hour pub crawls that peddle to 3-4 pubs in downtown Spokane.

For information about other Spokane bike clubs, check out the F&*%ing Bike Club’s website.

Thanks to the Lantern Tap House for leading such an excellent bike ride.  Thank you to both Amy from Amy’s Nutritarian Kitchen and the Lantern Tap House for the photographs.

Weekend Events for the Basketball-Averse

Happy Hump Day!  We’re halfway through the week and just days away from the weekend!

It’s gearing up to be a big weekend here in the Lilac City, due, in no small part, to Hoopfest.  Are you playing this year?  If so, for fun or to win (or both)?  Either way, good luck!  If you’re not planning on joining the masses downtown, fear not, for there are so many other great events going on this weekend!  The forecast calls for beautiful weather, so this should be an excellent weekend to get out and see the sights!  Check out just a few events that are going on around the area this weekend:

  • Selkirk Abbey Brewing Company’s First Anniversary Party– Go wish a happy birthday to Post Falls’ Belgian-themed gem!  Selkirk Abbey specializes in Belgian-style ales, ranging from saisons to quads to IPAs and beyond.  The party takes place at the brewery (6180 E Seltice Way, Post Falls, ID) and will feature music, food, and two special release beers.  I had the pleasure of sampling one of these beers, St. Joseph, during my last visit to the brewery (read about it here), and, let me tell you, it’s amazing and will probably make all of your dreams come true.  Truly, it’s magical.  Bonus: St. Joseph in bottles is currently available for pre-sale and will also be available for sale at the party.  I cannot emphasize enough how strongly I encourage you to try it.
  • Bikes, Brews & BBQs– The Kootenai County Fairgrounds in Coeur d’Alene, ID will be taken over by Bikes, Brews & BBQs this Saturday.  The event is exactly what it the name implies: there will be motocross and BMX races, a beer garden featuring a number of local and regional breweries (they’ll have wine available, too), and a barbecue competition open to both professional and amateur grill-masters.  Entrance to the festival itself is free, tickets for the brewfest are $8, and there’s a brewfest/motocross combo ticket available for $18.  A full day of fun and entertainment await you just over the state line!
  • Spokane on the Rocks– Got an hour or two to kill between games at Hoopfest?  From 10am-8pm on Saturday, the Spokane Convention Center will be hosting Spokane on the Rocks, a festival featuring over 20 Northwest distilleries and breweries and their best products.  The event will also feature live music and air conditioning.  Tickets are $10 (available at the door and online) and include three samples of beer or spirits (or two non-alcoholic beverages).  Happy day drinking!
  • Strawberry Celebration– As indicated by the offerings at the farmers markets, fresh fruit season is upon us.  Might I add, it couldn’t come soon enough!  Both this weekend (June 29-30) and next weekend (July 6-7), Green Bluff is throwing its annual Strawberry Celebration, where citizens from across the land are invited to head up north and pick to their hearts’ content.  Before you head up there, be sure to check Green Bluff’s website to determine which farms you want to visit, and don’t forget to stop at the Harvest House on your way out for an ice cream cone!
  • Drift & Drags– Do you wanna go fast?  Would you settle for watching others go fast?  On Friday and Saturday (June 28-29), head on out to the Spokane County Raceway to watch some real-life Fast and Furious action and watch drivers test their skills on the drift course or test their speed on the drag strip.  The gates open at 6pm on Friday and at 2pm on Satuday, and spectator tickets are $12.
  • Old Time Farm Days Did you know that Spokane has a farm museum?  Yeah, it’s totally a thing!  From 9am-3pm on Saturday, June 29, the North Spokane Farm Museum (6223 W. Ridgeway Rd., Deer Park, WA) will feature events such as tractor pulls, barrel races, and live demonstrations at the annual Old Time Farm Days celebration.  Bust out your overalls, and get ready to get your farm on!

So many great events to choose from, and only a few days in which to prepare for them!  Enjoy the rest of your week, and have a great weekend!

Night Out: Saranac Public House

image from Saranac Public House

Have you ever accidentally put a red shirt in a load of white laundry?  Even if you haven’t, you know what happens: the color bleeds off of the red shirt and rubs off on everything else in the load.  A similar phenomenon happens with friends: even if you’re dissimilar in so many ways, after spending time together, she’ll start to rub off on you.  I’ve noticed this happening a bit as of late: one of my good friends, the one with whom I visited the MAC and the Flying Goat earlier this spring, recently graduated from Washington State University’s interior design program.  By virtue of her field, she’s very cognizant of wherever she is, noticing the way a room is constructed, how its contents are arranged, and how lighting completely affects the feel of a space.  In our travels together, she has brought these aspects to my attention, and now, almost automatically, I find my focus shifting to them whenever I go someplace new.  This was the case last week when I made my first visit to Saranac Public House in downtown Spokane.

Saranac Public House resides in the Saranac Building, next door to the Magic Lantern Theatre and across the street from Zola and Boots Bakery.  The Saranac Building itself, recently renovated to become LEED Platinum-certified, played host to the single-room occupancy Saranac Hotel for nearly 100 years.  The exposed brick walls and abundance of natural lighting present in the modern pub are indicative of the building’s long history, though the modern artwork spread throughout the restaurant the the constant rotation of new taps suggest more concurrent affinities.  The vibe is open and relaxed, an ideal setting for a happy hour meeting after a long day or a relaxed lunchtime get-together with friends.  This particular outing was one of the former variety.

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Saranac boasts a fine line-up of a dozen taps, most from northwest breweries, including a house beer brewed by Spokane’s own No-Li Brewhouse.  The day seemed like an IPA kind of day to me, so I opted for a pint of Lovely Reida from Seattle’s Georgetown Brewing Company, while my friend went with something a bit fruitier: Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale Ale from another Seattle brewery, Elysian. Other breweries of the day included Mac & Jack’s (whose African Amber is a staple around these parts), Ninkasi, and Lost Coast.  Featured on the pub’s rotating nitro tap was Pyramid Weiss Cream, an offering I found to be an nice alternative to the standard nitro option of a stout.

DSCN2130As we caught up over beers, my friend and I worked up an appetite.  To remedy this, we took to Saranac’s selection of happy hour appetizers, which includes one heck of a pretzel (who doesn’t love a pretzel with her beer?), a hummus plate, and some good ol’ chips and salsa.  We opted for the polenta.  Pan-seared and baked, the polenta was light and fluffy, just enough to curb your appetite before dinner, but not so much as to entirely eliminate your hunger.  Topped with a generous scoop of tomatoes, mushrooms, and caramelized onions, the warm polenta is cooled by a healthy addition of fresh basil.  In addition to being a most savory appetizer, the polenta is also one of Saranac’s many vegan and/or gluten-free offerings.  While I know many vegans and vegetarians will appreciate this, carnivores (myself included) need not worry: the restaurant also offers more traditional pub fare, such as burgers, sausages, and tacos.  See?  Something for everyone!

DSCN2132We were enjoying the polenta so much that we’d nearly forgotten that we ordered dinner, too, and hurriedly shuffled to make room when our meals arrived.  Fixin’ for somethin’ hearty, I had the pork verde stew: seared pork shoulder smothered in spices and seasonings, including tomatillos, cumin, and pasillo, all served over brown rice and season pinto beans.  All of that heat was blessedly countered by a topping of cilantro and sour cream.  Also feeling the need for beans, my friend went with a cup of the vegetarian (or vegan, if you wish) black bean chili, a thick, kickin’ blend of onions, peppers, and jalapenos with locally-grown black beans.  Yep, in addition to being and IPA kind of day, it was a spicy beans kind of day.  By the time I finished off my bowl of stew and sipped the last of my beer, I was full and on my way to being stuffed, though, thankfully, not quite there.  Had I wanted to (which I did, but had the restraint not to act on the impulse), I could have lingered a while to try one of the flatbreads, a small house salad, or a bite of dessert, but I elected to save such an adventure for another day.

As it’s a few blocks away from the hustle and bustle of the center of downtown, Saranac is a place to get away from it all without being too far away.  The space’s century of history is apparent all around, though its presence complements the modern accoutrements of the pub rather than detracting from them.  With the debut of summer upon us, I look forward to a few afternoons at Saranac enjoying the sun, a brew, and good company, be it in the form of a friend or a building with stories to tell.