Zola Nails Happy Hour
There are few places in the Spokane area that take “reuse, reduce, recycle” to the level that Zola, a bar in the Sodo district, has attempted. Walking in, you are struck by an eclectic vibe which comes, largely, from the salvaged materials that Dan Spalding, owner of Zola and a local developer, culled from local demolition sites, including tilt-a-whirl booths upstairs, from the 40s or 50s, as near as he can tell, as well as license plates and a large neon sign originally from Jim Dandy Donuts on Division.
Opening daily at 4 p.m., Zola is known for their happy hour (4-7 p.m. and all day Sunday), where food and drinks are inexpensive and plentiful. Local music is another staple, beginning every evening at 9 p.m. and bringing drink specials (varying daily) on Monday through Thursday.
Zola’s food menu is limited to appetizers, which are priced accordingly. During happy hour, all food is $5.50, regardless of regular list price. On both of my visits, servers recommended sliders (Kobe beef, pulled pork or Alaskan Salmon, $10, $10 and $9, respectively), Santa Fe Street Tacos ($7) and Zola’s take on Mac and Cheese, which includes bacon and penne pasta in a smoked Gouda and cheddar sauce ($8). According to our server, most items come in threes to promote ease of sharing.
There are three sets of skewers on Zola’s menu and my guests and I tried them all. We found the Bacon Wrapped Chicken Skewers ($9), essentially chicken tenders, to be a little inconsistent in size, though well seasoned. Dates were wrapped up between the chicken and bacon, and though they provided an interesting sweetness, our table agreed that the consistency was not what we were hoping for. The Hummus and Greek Skewers ($8) offer an assortment of healthier options including whole garlic cloves, skewers of kalamata olives, grape tomatoes and cucumbers garnished with pesto and balsamic reduction, as well as a generous helping of hummus and lightly warm pita bread. The Thai Peanut Skewers ($10) were comprised of tail-on prawns and Mahi Mahi, very lightly seasoned and accompanied by a slightly spicy peanut sauce. We found that this appetizer cooled quickly and suggest eating it immediately for best flavor.
Perhaps because of their low price tag ($6) the Maytag fries are a much-talked up part of Zola. You have a choice between traditional and sweet potato fries, which are seasoned and paired with a thick garlic blue cheese sauce for dipping (I recommend asking for more than you’re given, as it does not go far). We tried the traditional potato fries and were very pleased with the large size (not as big as steak fries but larger than an average fast food chain) and the satisfying crispiness. Maybe it’s not all about the price point.
Another option for those looking for slightly healthier fare (or for vegetarians) is the Caprese ($8), served warm on four slices of French baguette. The mozzarella is melted and garnished with fresh basil, tomatoes, pesto and balsamic reduction. This was delicious right out of the kitchen, but lost something after about 10 minutes.
Zola’s Steak and Mushrooms (priced at $11) is described as “fresh top sirloin sautéed with button mushrooms and finished with a green peppercorn sauce.” My guest and I were a little surprised when we received a dish our server referred to as “steak bits” which consisted of pieces of beef in a thick cream sauce garnished with large mushrooms.
The Santa Fe Street Tacos ($7) were a highlight of our visit, from the lemon-infused sour cream (which made even a sour cream eschewer like myself reach for another) to the zest of the cilantro. The tacos tasted fresh and crisp with the exception of the (very spicy) hot sauce, which is described as “salsa” in the menu. If you’re not a fan of spicy foods, I’d recommend holding the sauce.
The food, while sticking to a trim, 12-item menu, is more varied than many Spokane bars, and, also in happy hour, is more affordable than most.
There are rooms off to the side of the bar (which can be reserved, along with the tilt-a-whirl booths, according to Zola’s website), which provide a nice area for groups to be able to chat at a comfortable level when the nightly music starts. If you’re not there to talk, the ground floor and upper level provide seating and access. After a set or so, people seem to be ready to dance.
Zola’s service is on par with an average bar; don’t expect to be treated as if you’re in a restaurant. Water is self-serve, food takes a while and you may have to flag down your wait staff for the check.
If you’re looking for interesting atmosphere, good local music and drinks that (during happy hour) won’t break the bank, Zola is a great choice.
Zola is located at 22 W. Main, in Spokane, and is open 4 p.m. to close, Mon – Sun, (509) 624-2416, www.zolainspokane.com