Last month, New York magazine published “Cocktail Country: Outstanding Drinks From All 50 States.” Unsurprisingly, the editors of that rag chose a Seattle-mixed chardonnay concoction that does little to represent drinkers on this side of the state. So we asked some Spokane bartenders to describe the perfect cocktail for the Inland Northwest.
One stands by his opinion that the true cocktail of the Inland Northwest is “an extremely hoppy IPA, because this region is known for its hops.” It’s also becoming known for its craft liquor. Since the early aughts, the number of craft distilleries in Washington has steadily increased and The Seattle Times reports that Spokane’s own Dry Fly Distillery began the trend. Judging from the list below, Spokane bartenders combine local beer and liquor to agreeable effect.
The Spokane Car Bomb — PJ’s Bar & Grill
As the saying goes, those who work hard play hard. They also drink a lot of vodka, according to Meadow Frank, who has spent the past nine years behind the bar at PJ’s on North Monroe. In many ways, PJ’s is the quintessential Spokane bar. In Frank’s time there, it’s lost its reputation as a place for nightly brawls and gained a reputation as a friendly neighborhood tavern that welcomes anyone from anywhere and will even experiment with recipes so that you get the drink you want. In that spirit, PJ’s Spokane Car Bomb was born.
“I had a customer come in and he wanted some kind of beer to go with his shot of Jameson’s and Bailey’s, but he didn’t want Guinness, so we took and dropped the Bailey’s into the Northern Lights [now No-Li] Chocolate Dunkel and I tried it later, when I wasn’t working, and — the Spokane Car Bomb! It was delicious,” says Frank.
As a seasonal beer, Chocolate Dunkel isn’t an option right now, but Frank has found that No-Li’s Stellar Stout works well. Most nights, however, the hard-working, hard-playing crowd sucks down vodka Red Bulls. Stop in and ask Frank to mix up one of her favorite drinks, like the Starburst, and watch the award-winning bartender flawlessly maneuver ice, patrons, cash, shakers, glasses and multiple bottles of flavored Smirnoff without missing a step.
The Round Up — Two Seven Public House
A family-friendly establishment, Two Seven Public House’s clientele tends not to play quite as hard as their north-side neighbors. Bartenders serve mostly beer, and that beer is often IPA. But when they do mix cocktails, it’s tried-and-true concoctions like mojitos in the summer or hot buttered rum during colder months. This suggests that perhaps South Hill drinkers would prefer to be somewhere else — like Mexico or Victorian England. But for drinkers willing to accept something closer to their current reality, bartenders are more than happy to supply the Round Up, a shot of Pendleton whiskey mixed with Thomas Kemper root beer. Throw in a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have the perfect drink for those glorious Inland Northwest summer days.
The Cider That Dare Not Speak Its Name — Baby Bar
The crowd at Baby Bar has a name — or two — for this drink. But none, they say, “that we’d feel comfortable to see in print.” What is in this prurient aperitif? Hard cider and whiskey. But not just any cider and not just any whiskey, or else this would just be any other Apple Jack.
“There are some amazing ciders that come out of Washington state,” says bartender Patti Tully, who mixes Tieton Cider with Dry Fly or any other popular rye or bourbon. On this occasion it was Bainbridge Organic Distillers’ Battle Point Whiskey. The cocktail, with its mild cinnamon-clove tones, tasted like Christmas, highly appropriate for a region that experiences an eight-month cold season. Most patrons consume PBR, especially on Wednesdays when a Pabst and a grilled cheese sandwich only run a buck each. On paydays, however, Baby Bar hipsters drink Greyhounds.
ALL AROUND TOWN:
This strong, minimalist beverage (a shot of Dry Fly whiskey and a locally brewed IPA) conjures up the mean days of pre-Prohibition Spokane, when all those single-room-occupancy buildings downtown housed laborers, railroad workers and transient young men in search of fortune. They may have downed a primitive version of this retro classic which is currently available at most north-side, hillside, riverside or valley taverns.