The Riff

215 W Main
Spokane, WA 99201
Reviewed: June 13, 2011
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The Riff is the very definition of a “Hole in the wall” bar. Nestled downtown in between nondescript buildings right before Main & Browne, you will find this place, its eye-catching red & white rock n’ roll sign letting you know just what to expect. Flyers for local bands and shows are plastered on the windows outside, right next to the obligatory neon beer signs. Next to the riff is a disused-looking, unpaved parking lot that apparently is the property of “Grizzley Parking” (I guess they don’t have spellcheck) – I’ve never heard of them aside from this parking lot. It looks more like a place for illicit activities, in my opinion.

As you walk into the black & red interior of the Riff, it almost feels like walking into a friend’s mancave: classic rock posters, beer signs, a black & white collage of rock stars, and even a record player can be seen in the tiny space. In one high corner of the Riff, a grey sweatshirt with the Riff logo is mounted, its arms spread wide, giving it the appearance of some kind of dive bar ghost. There is even a well-travelled and extensively decorated guitar suspended above the bar, a long-time possession of the owner. The Riff gets extra dive points for having a veritable wall of empty PBR boxes stacked up next to the back door, next to which is a sign that says, “Hippies use backdoor, no exceptions!”.

The Riff’s main strength is the friendly atmosphere. The bartenders are very approachable and involved in the goings-on. Though they have to kick someone out once in a while, they tend to joke and chat with the patrons pretty regularly. Some of the conversations are pretty amusing, too. The clientele at the Riff is pretty typical of a dive bar: you have the old barflies here to regale the bored bartenders with the same stories they’ve already told a dozen times, but you also get a nice mix of younger regulars.

The beer list is pretty much what you would expect from a dive, most beers are 2.50 or less, and some prices have been crossed out with sharpie, proof of the informal nature of the place. Bud Light only costs a buck until 8 o’clock, if memory serves. But if you’re in the mood for something different, they have a special on PBR 40s most nights, so grab ’em while you can. Optionally, you can play some Snoop Dogg on the internet jukebox while you drink it.

The interior of this place is as small as it seems from the outside, although there is an outdoor patio for smokers, a necessity for any dive. When the weather is cold, they’ll put up a giant space heater and canopy to make it a little more tolerable. The funny thing is, there’s probably more seating outside than there is inside.

The bathroom at the riff definitely shows the personality of the place. There was at one point a giant stencil of Jimi Hendrix, but it has been obscured by white paint and various forms of graffiti. However, upon looking at some of the writing, you can tell that there’s a little more effort here than you typically find with bar bathroom scribblings. Someone wrote, “Ski til death or die!” and beneath it, someone else writes, “Yeah!!! Wait…what?”. Another writes “Don’t write over Jimi, bitches!” further evidence of the rock n’ roll spirit that The Riff embodies. Various other thoughtful quips are written on the walls of the small, single-person bathroom, and I imagine that nobody would mind if you wanted to leave your own.

If you’re tired of the same ol’ bar games like darts & pool, you can come to the riff and play chess on sunday or monday with the set that Joshua Simon keeps at the bar. You also might see a hacky sack circle outside of the bar on occasion. Just make sure you don’t try to play with a full pint in your hand, it will only end in disaster.

Aside from the small size of the Riff, there really isn’t much I can say against the place. The beer is cheap, the people are cool, and if you’re a vinyl hound or rock n’ roll fan, you’ll feel right at home. Just try not to fart while you’re in there.

Rating 3 1/2  pints out of 4