Feature image via travel.yahoo.com.
0. 2/20/2012 – Here/Queer Call for Submissions, by Riese
1. 3/02/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Montreal, Canada, by Sid
2. 3/05/2012 – Playlist: Here/Queer, by Riese
3. 3/05/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Portland, Oregon, by Lesbians in PDX
4. 3/07/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Brighton, United Kingdom, by Sarah Magdalena
5. 3/07/2012 – Oh But To Be A Queer in Sicily, by Jenn
6. 3/08/2012 – City Guide: Seattle, by Marley
7. 3/11/2012 – City Guide: Washington DC, by Keena
8. 3/13/2012 – Here/Queer: Sydney Mardi Gras Is On Your To-Do List, by Crystal
9. 3/14/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Spokane, Washington, by Ana
It’s been nearly a year since my official return to Spokane, the place I grew up before leaving for college and travel, and I’ve found a few things to be true. First, there is an LGBT presence in the city, but you’re going to have to look for it. Second, Spokane is trying to brand itself as a sports-prominent city, and it’s doing pretty well at that. Third, young and/or progressive people tend to clump together in a few hip neighborhoods, but if you don’t know them it looks like a conservative white man’s city. Spokane’s official motto is “Near Nature, Near Perfect.” While all of us would like for this to be true, it’s more like “Near Nature, But Still Up-and-Coming.”
As a whole, Spokane is thought of as the conservative and maybe a little “straighter” version of Seattle. This is probably true, but discrimination against LGBTs isn’t the norm here. It’s almost like most of Spokane either doesn’t realize that actual gay people exist, or they just don’t care.
All the Lesbian Bars/Nights
The bar scene as far as queer-leaning folks in Spokane is interesting. The best part about queer friendly bars in Spokane is most of them are clumped into a two-block strip on Sprague Avenue in downtown. Over the past year, the number of “gay” bars has fluctuated between three to five.
nYne Bar and Bistro (232 West Sprague Avenue, 99201) is the most lesbian-friendly bar in Spokane. If you are a girl who likes girls, it’s the best place to meet ladies, have a friendly free-throw contest, or have a burger/veggie-burger. Owned by two lesbians, nYne attracts every queer oriented woman in Spokane. If you arrive before 8:00pm, you will meet an O.W.L. or two. After that, it’s game on for twenty and thirty something lesbians. Nyne is not exclusively a lesbian bar, but everyone in town knows it’s the safest place to go for gay/bi women. On occasion, local college basketball players will show up to party. I’ll drink to that.
Spotlight Lounge (321 W. Sprague Avenue, downtown) serves the purposes of night club and grungy gay bar. People go to Spotlight when they want to dance with no reservations, take one too many shots, or to scope out who else is queer in town. It’s a fun place, but pretty much everyone I know has a “Spotlight” story. Mine includes excessive amounts of foam and lost jewelry. It’s like the youngest sister of the gay bars: it’s a little wild but gets away with it. Ladies night every Thursday.
“Irvs” (415 W. Sprague Avenue, downtown) is the gayest in town, only because it brands itself as gay more than other spots. It’s the oldest gay bar in town since the legendary “Dempsy’s Brass Rail” closed. It’s more of a gay male thing, but they do have drag shows and a dance floor which attract the entire LGBT scene. Thursdays are a pretty good night to people watch.
Other queer-friendly bars:
Satellite Diner (Sprague Ave., next door to Irv’s): This bar/restaurant serves food 24/7. A friendly gay man bartends and it’s a good place to find queers at night.
Baby Bar (827 W. 1st Ave, downtown): The most hipster bar in town, it fits about 30 people max. A place you are likely to spot a lesbian or two at some point during the night.
Bon Bon (924 W. Garland Ave): It’s about 10 minutes north of downtown, but serves old-school, fancy drinks and has adorable bartenders. It’s attached to Spokane’s old dollar theater, the Garland.
Andy’s: On the western edge of downtown Spokane. Small and intimate with late night eats. Lesbian spottings are common, at best.
Things To Put In Your Stomach
The best place to take a lady-of-interest on a date is Mizuna (214 N. Howard). This is the closest thing to a vegetarian restaurant in Spokane. It’s an upscale spot downtown with a lengthy wine selection. The atmosphere is romantic without being too intimate. In the warmer months, try to get a patio seat!
The Flying Goat (Audubon neighborhood) is an excellent pizza place on the North side of town. You can get a beer flight, fill a growler of beer, or buy wine to go. The pizza selection is unique and delicious. Notable plus: a lot of queer women frequent it.
Italia Trattoria (144 S. Cannon Street, in Browne’s Addition) offers a fancier dining experience, featuring gourmet Italian dishes and a great wine selection. Its owners are a very sweet lesbian couple. Can’t go wrong here. Across the street are the Elk and El Que restaurants which offer great people/hipster watching, and great food.
If you care at all about sports, you will need to know about Gonzaga Basketball. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams do well year after year, and Spokane is pretty much obsessed with Gonzaga Bulldog Athletics. Lesbians are a common sighting at “Zags” game, and many go together. The women’s team has made the NCAA tournament four years in a row.
Eastern Washington University is about 30 minutes west on Interstate 90. Their football team won the Division 1-A Championship in 2010. Eastern games are fun to attend, especially when they’re playing basketball against a local team like Gonzaga or Washington State University, or football against University of Montana.
The Spokane Indians are a minor-league baseball team. The games are fun, though the team is not particularly stellar. A great place for a beer and sports date.
The city hosts a few women’s rugby teams, including an Eastern Washington University club team and the city team the “Marmots”. The latter is made up of quite a few lesbians, and pretty much all of them are ridiculously friendly and will encourage you to come to a game or practice.
What would a city be without Roller Derby? We’ve got the Lilac City Roller Girls for that.
Spokane hosts the biggest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world. In the world! Hoopfest happens for one weekend each summer. The downtown city streets are closed off and basketball hoops are rolled in. 7,000 teams compete, with players ranging from eight to retirement age, women, men, co-ed, family, you name it. Think about creating a team or at least watching the adult women’s games.
Life a la College
The college life in Spokane is diverse, with private, public, religious, and satellite campuses. There is no united front for college LGBT groups or communities, but most of them have at least one club/support group.
Gonzaga University remains the most prominent school in Spokane because of the caliber of education, the Law School, and athletics. It’s a Jesuit university just a few blocks away from downtown, but its Catholic roots don’t discourage diversity. The campus LGBT resource center is a good place to get involved or find allies on campus. Their women’s athletics attracts tons of lesbians to their games (and on occasion to their rosters).
Whitworth University: A Christian University. Don’t waste your time looking for a date.
Eastern Washington University: Eastern students have a conservative reputation, but the campus offers a variety of resources and allies for the LGBT community. In fact, a men’s fraternity hosted a drag show in Spokane as a fundraiser! For non-students, there is a women’s pick-up basketball league on Tuesday nights.
Riverpoint Campus: This “campus” is really a satellite branch for Washington State University and Eastern Washington University. Not much student life occurs on this campus, making a lesbian or gay scene sort of inconsequential. With that said, a lot of students are in medical school or something else really smart, so naturally there are some lesbians frequenting campus.
Spokane has many neighborhood “pockets”. While no one neighborhood is gayer than the rest, some are catching on as hip places to be.
Browne’s Addition is the most talked about “up-and-coming” hood. It’s just off of downtown, and features a popular restaurant, a taco/tequila bar, pizza place, bike shop, and some of Spokane’s oldest and coolest homes. See Italia Trattoria in the restaurant section.
The Garland District (North Garland Avenue) has been known for years as a funky strip of shops and restaurants. The best known spot is the Garland Theater, with cheap films and midnight movies.
On the other side of town, the South Perry District (1000 block of South Perry Street) is growing like a weed. Young people flock to this neighborhood, as do trendy restaurants and clothing shops, and one of the cities best farmers markets (a popular lesbian hangout).
Support for LGBT Families
The most prominent organization for family support in Spokane is the Odyssey Youth Center.
Other options are the classic PFLAG and the Inland Northwest Pride Foundation. For women looking to adopt, good social workers in Spokane will connect you with other lesbian moms as a way to build community.
Pride After Dark
Gay Pride in Spokane picks up more speed and a larger crowd every year. The general idea of Pride here is to show the rest of Spokane that being gay is okay, and that LGBT women and men have families too. Spokane as a whole needs to know that gays are just like them — respectable people — so people avoid costumes and binge drinking until nighttime. A parade goes through downtown, followed by parties at every gay bar at night.
Women’s Health Services or The Lack Thereof
Not many services aside from Planned Parenthood are available for lady-specific health.
The local LGBT Center (1522 N. Washington, Ste 102) provides good information on what queer things exist in the city.
The Inland Northwest Business Alliance (INBA) is a pro-active organization working to unite all LGBTQ businesses in Spokane. They provide an excellent book of resources. INBA is moving the LGBT community forward more than anyone else in the area.
Out Spokane also hosts a variety of events and provides resources for the community.
Spokane does not have a gayborhood, but the most gay-filled places to live are: Browne’s Addition, Garland District, South Perry District, and the Audubon Park area on Spokane’s North side.
Places to Avoid
Certain bars tend to be scary for LGBT people, but for the most part, queers are okay everywhere. It’s not that Spokane is always accepting, it’s just that people don’t often address queer issues. The Spokane Valley (a city attached to Spokane) is a place to skip as a whole.
Auntie’s bookstore in downtown Spokane provides the best options of lesbian and feminist reading. It’s a locally owned store with nice staff, and is a staple to the city. Finding a good lesbian read can sometimes be hard in Spokane, but Aunties will help a sister out. Pretty much the only place to find a Curve magazine.
Better Than Ira Glass
The most notable “performing” arts presence in Spokane is really a radio show. Spokane’s KYRS-Thin Air Community Radio station hosts a show called Queer Sounds. It’s pretty much awesome and features music for the queer ear, hosted by some great queer ladies.
You know that stereotype where lesbians stay at home and play with their cats while they listen to Brandi Carlile? I think this happens a lot in Spokane. It can be hard to find other queer ladies in the city outside of the bar scene. Craigslist and OKCupid are okay, but taking time to get to know the community is your best bet. If you make a friend with someone you meet at a bar/club/playing sports, make your way into their circle of friends. The dating scene is tight-knit, and after a while, you’ll pretty much know about every lesbian circle in the city.
A few LGBT events exist in Spokane, with Pride being most prominent. After that, the Spokane AIDS network hosts four annual events including an Oscar night gala, and Out Spokane hosts a “Pride Cruise” on a nearby lake. Spokane also is home to a gay film festival.
Some events that aren’t LGBT-focused but are great to attend are the Dirty Dash and the Sasquatch Music Festival. Sasquatch is the northwest’s version of Coachella, Lollapalooza, etc., and it’s a truly amazing experience. Lesbians come out of the woodwork here.
Get Your Hair Did
For the best haircut in town, go to Koi Salon. You will know you’re there when you spot a badass, tattoo covered guy or gal with a pair of shears in hand. Coco is the best, but everyone is great here. They understand what kind of cut you need for your lifestyle. You may leave with a crush on your stylist.
Zen Hair Studio: If you’re looking for a less expensive ‘do, Zen is your place. Ask for Danielle.
The Law Loves You
Just so everyone knows, Washington legalized same-sex marriage in the 2012 legislative session. It will likely be up for a state-wide vote in November, meaning it’s up to us queers to make this thing last!
Part of an ongoing series of Queer Girl City Guides.