by Korey Hope
If you’ve seen the Spokane skyline, you may have noticed the two large pillar-looking structures that are right next to one another. These are the smokestacks of an old power plant that helped provide service to 300-plus buildings in downtown Spokane for more than 70 years. Now, an old power plant glistens as the Steam Plant restaurant located on South Lincoln street.
Back in 1916, the 225-foot smokestacks were erected and began operation. According to their website, the plant is owned by the Washington Water Power company and ran successfully for almost three quarters of a century. Then it became evident that steam power was no longer the best economic option for energy, so WWP shut down the plant in 1986. It was more or less idle for 10 years, then in 1996 WWP teamed up with Wells and Company, which is a Spokane design-build firm that specializes in historic renovations. The result: turning a disheveled and abandoned steam plant into Steam Plant Square with an elegant restaurant and brewery. According to Anthony Urlacher, the restaurant’s hospitality manager, this was a rather difficult task.
“There’s a lot more that goes into it than you would think,” he said. “They wanted to keep some of the boilers for decor, but other equipment was very hard to remove without removing other pieces as well.”
The boilers Urlacher mentioned were the large compartments used to do exactly what their name insists: boil water. The resulting steam was used as the plant’s power as well as their product. Today, these boilers have been turned into exhibits for visitors, a fountain, and seating for 12. However, you may be wondering why people are attracted to a place that was previously grimy and grotesque. This would seem to be a valid caution, although the evidence against such a claim is overwhelming. Their website is just as well-designed as the restaurant itself, and does an excellent job of providing evidence of their history and transformation.
Many people already know about restaurants like the Old Spaghetti Factory on South Monroe street, as well as The Flying Goat and their outstanding pizza on Northwest Boulevard. If you like to venture away from the herd, you may also know about places even a little more exclusive like the Clinkerdagger or the Satellite Diner. Having spent a majority of the last four years in Spokane, I could continue for another paragraph or two. And if you’re also familiar with the area, chances are I’ve left out your go-to restaurant. This just goes to show the variety of possibilities that are available for a dining experience in Spokane.
“We try to go to a different restaurant every time we go out to eat,” said Joe Saladin, a resident of North Spokane. “We try to make it downtown as much as possible (about a 20-minute drive from Joe’s house) because there are tons of good options down there that we’ve enjoyed.”
The Steam Plant, though, seems to be a more compelling restaurant than all of those listed (or not listed) above. Plus, it helps brings to life a vital part of Spokane’s history from the last century, all while providing quality food and an option to try their own award-winning brews.
This year marks the 100th year of existence for the smokestacks of the Steam Plant restaurant. While there are currently no plans for a centennial celebration, the Steam Plant certainly merits a lunchtime bruschetta sandwich or a dinnertime salmon and ale, in honor of history.