Above-ground underground

By Tom Bowers  •  Staff writer  •  AUGUST 8, 2008

The Crescent Court sits empty, nothing more than a glorified breezeway, booths shuttered like a Sunday flea market on Tuesday.


The second floor of the historic Bennett Block has a secure keypad entry and advertises vacancies on its tenant display.

Yeah, somewhere along the line, Spokane consumers stopped traveling by way of skywalks.

Considering the area's long, abrasive winters, you'd think a greater number of enterprising folks would succeed in opening up shop amid the ample retail space along the city's many elevated pathways between buildings.

But as it stands now, the majority of businesses that survived the fallout were those that came armed with sourdough sammies and sides of chips and pickle.

I am, of course, referring to Spokane's extensive network of second-floor sandwich shops.

If you're wearing a confused look, you're not alone. These places don't thrive on stumble-upon business, and therefore don't care about curb appeal.

In fact, only one of them – Crescent Court alumnus Our Daily Bread Deli – has a noticeable street-side presence, and that's just a menu display in a first floor window on Wall Street with a sign guiding people upstairs.

But with a built-in customer base, these office-building oases don't need to advertise. For the most part, they act as de facto cafeterias for their respective buildings, and as such, they're perpetually populated by shop-talking suits.

But that doesn't mean they're not worth checking out in the quest to discover a new hidden lunch spot.

As one of the more full-service stops on the list, Reflections Kaffee Haus and Eatery is one of those secret stars waiting to be discovered.

Owners Georg Weimer and Nancy Claassen serve house-made bratwurst and schnitzel along with panini, burgers, sandwiches and breakfast items in the second floor lobby of the Whitman Bank Building.

But don't worry, the corporate chic surroundings don't detract from the homey flavors. On a recent trip, I ordered the Monte Carlo sandwich ($7.95), which is their take on the famed Monte Cristo. Reflections prepares each slice of French toast-style bread separately before adding turkey, ham and Swiss cheese, making for an interpretation that's less unwieldy than versions that are battered whole and then grilled. Definitely not something you'd expect to find on the second floor of a bank building.

Other markers on the skywalk map, such as the Intermission Café, act as stop-in coffee and snack shops for the office building crowd. And still others, such as Crickets Deli, fall somewhere in between.

But it's curious that sandwich and coffee shops seem to be the only eateries that can survive on Spokane's second story.

Considering the diverse, vibrant street-level restaurant and bar boom currently pervading the downtown core, perhaps it's only a matter of time before the skywalks again serve a useful purpose among Spokane's consumers.

Maybe. Let's sit tight and see how brutal this winter is.