1716 E Sprague
Spokane, WA 99202
Reviewed: November 10, 2009
Re-reviewd: October 22, 2010
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Ahhh the Checkerboard. This bar plagued us for months. Every time we would have a dive bar hopping night we would call ahead to make sure they were open, mainly because East Sprague isn’t necessarily an area you just slowly want to wander around in. It didn’t matter what time it was 10pm, 9pm, 8pm?!?! They were NEVER open! To understand this maybe we need take a short look at The Checkerboard’s history.
According to the Checkerboard’s website, the bar opened just after prohibition in 1933. It also has the honor of having the oldest liquor license in the state of Washington of a bar that has remained in the same location. This is the main reason why the place never stays open past 7…yes that’s right 7pm. One would assume this to be because a liquor license given to an establishment slightly after prohibition wouldn’t allow it.
When you arrive at the Checkerboard you will definitely feel like this building has been around at least since prohibition. The wall, the floors, the tiny wooden benches (Did anyone in the 30’s weigh over 90 pounds?), the tables that are…you guessed it CHECKERBOARDS.. all scream antique. Oh, and did I mention the posters are almost as old?
As far as selection goes you have a variety of rare canned beer gems everything from Hamms to Schmidt to Old Milwaukee. It’s all good. We also swear that there was a can of Lucky on the “Beers they might have” display. However, they were out on this particular visit. Damnit!
The Checkerboard also has a visible kitchen! Sure, it might be the smallest kitchen you’ve ever seen. But hey you really only have a choice of microwavable Digorno Pizza or Hot Dogs, so anything other then a microwave and a George Foreman Grill might be over doing it.
As far as the negatives go, The Checkerboard has no public restrooms…a SDB first. So if you have to go just bug the Apple Re-seller people next door. Also they are cash only, which isn’t that big of a deal considering you will have to get there A. Before they close (again 7pm) and B. You probably will have 3 cans of Hamms that will cost you a grand total of $4.80 before tip. So…really no card needed.
So if you want to start off your night/afternoon right, start at The Checkerboard, its not crazy or sketchy…and its definitely one of the cheapest and more historic bars in Spokane.
Rating: 2 Pints out of 4
-=RE-REVIEW October 22, 2010=-
A few months back, we here at Spokane Dive Bars received and email from the Checkerboard informing us that they were under new ownership. They saw our previous review and extended an invitation to us to come and see the “new and improved” Checkerboard. We of course decided to take them up on this offer, and after several delays (extended summer break, Rainier hangovers, wedding season, etc) we’re offering up the re-review of the “new” Checkerboard for your reading and diving pleasure.
Walking into the bar the interior had the same feel to it as before, but it was about 1,000 times cleaner than the past owners liked to keep the bar. They decided to keep the old tube TV’s behind the bar but also added some flat screens as well. Behind the bar had to be the biggest improvement made. Not only did the bartender have an Olympia tattoo, the selection of beers included a micro on tap next to the tried and true domestic classics. The cost of cleaning supplies for the bar drove the beer prices up slightly (Domestic pints $2.25 and $6 for the pitcher, premium drafts were $3.25 a pint and $9 pitcher), but not having to worry about stepping on a needle from one of the Sprague regulars is well worth it, and they also now accept debit cards. The owners also own One World Spokane just a few blocks east on Sprague. That lead to an all new menu consisting of actual food, not just microwaveable dinners and pizzas that were on the menu last time we were here. The menu consists of typical bar food; burgers, nachos, hotdogs along with some not so usual bar fare, hummus plate, vegan wrap, sweet potato fries. Nothing on the new menu is more than $8, and you can get a 16oz PBR and two dogs for $3.50.
The biggest drawback to the old ownership was the hours. Unless you got off work early or camped out in front of the door you rarely saw the place open. Under new ownership however the hours are set and posted right on the front door. (Weekdays open to 9, Weekends 10 even later when it’s busy) No more disappointment rushing through rush hour traffic to get to the bar before five, and find that they’ve already closed. The new owners also decided to try and attract a larger clientele than the homeless person/lady of the night wandering by and have different events set up on various weeknights. Come in for $3 pitcher and $3 meatball subs on Sports Monday, 50 cent tacos and $2 Coronas on Tuesday, Wii Wednesdays with free peanuts and Wii Tournaments, College Thursday for $1 dogs and beer or Friday head down for trivia.
All of these improvements can’t change the location and the clientele that filter in. We were offered “cheers”repeatedly from a very drunk Indian who tried to smoke in the bar and was very confused when told her couldn’t. Head out the back of the bar and the new patio complete with a house for small cat or dog is open for you to enjoy your drink on and have a smoke. You may want to bring a large group with you onto the patio though as we were witness to a very intoxicated gentleman stumble back into the bar with his head split open and nice swollen eye. He didn’t know what happened, perhaps the animal who calls the patio home was angry to have to share the patio, it will remain a mystery that only the Checkerboard knows. Just before the exit to the patio is the bathroom that is now open for public use, and includes a Rebecca Romijn Miller Lite poster, pre Stamos.
All of these improvements led us to give a ½ pint improvement on the rating of the Checkerboard. You can try to class up a dive, but the clientele are what make the bar as our trip proved.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 4 Pints