Opposite Day

It is decidedly brisk today. In other words: upon emerging from our cozy Airbnb cottage, an arctic blast to our faces makes the decision for us. Our Coeur d’Alene walkabout will include ducking into as many galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants as possible. We’re not mad about the prospect.

I grew up in the Inland Northwest—Spokane to be precise—so this quick getaway with my wife isn’t about discovering something totally new. I know this place a bit. Enough to have spent endless days on the beach or at a friend’s cabin, enjoyed performances at the summer theatre, and played out some Friday-night-lights-eque scenes against a cross-border rival. But this city is changing, and there’s a lot to learn. Today will be about deliberately opposing my prevailing impressions of Coeur d’Alene as an ignorant youth. It’s opposite day.

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First impression to oppose: Coeur d’Alene is for summertime. We’re here intentionally in the offseason, when fewer tourists are around and there is more time for relaxation and conversation. We’ll head east a few miles to view dozens of bald eagles as they swoop down to snatch kokanee out of Wolf Lodge Bay in their annual feast. We’ll take the time to focus on off-the-beaten-path restaurants, which take the time to focus on each plate. We’ll walk the trails and look out over the cold gray depth of the lake, seeing it differently than the bright swimming-pool blue of summer. There’s a calm, small-town beauty to this place in the cold months.

Second impression to oppose: Coeur d’Alene is for rich old people. As a child, it seemed like the Coeur d’Alene Resort itself took on this persona in my mind of a huge-haired, gold-braceleted 80’s lady: super nice, someone my mom might like... but not really my style. The resort doesn’t really deserve that characterization, but that’s what is in my mind. Luckily, despite the building cutting an immense shape against the sky from anywhere near downtown, there is far more to the city than one hotel.

Of course, instead of in a gilded resort, our day begins in the garage of a couple not that much older than us. Okay, not really in the garage. In a really nice, perfectly appointed little one-bedroom apartment that shares the same building as their garage. Venturing out, we know a day like this calls for excellent coffee. DOMA’s coffee lab at their roastery is closed Saturdays, but we also know where to get one of their single-origins anytime: Vault, on Sherman.

Caffeinated and satisfied, we’re ready to buzz around to a few spots that feel fresh and new. The Art Spirit Gallery is first on our list; they recently celebrated their 20th anniversary not too long after their new curator, Mason Miles, celebrated his 20th birthday.

During a recent conversation, Miles relayed the surreal story of how he gained the position at this iconic spot for top-end northwest artists to show their work. A curious and art-obsessed student at North Idaho College, he began spending time at the gallery in 2016, and his attentiveness caught the eye of manager Blair Williams and founder Steve Gibbs. Early on, Gibbs challenged Miles to hang his first show—the thoughtful, meticulous process of placing pieces that Gibbs was known for. Everyone had expected a teachable moment, in which everything had to be taken down and redone. But, when Gibbs paced through the gallery, there weren’t any changes.   

“He had the eye,” said Williams. “Just something you can’t teach.”

Ten days after Miles was hired on, Gibbs was diagnosed with ALS. The mentoring process sped up as Steve slowed down. Just months later, on New Years Eve 2016, Steve Gibbs passed away. Almost exactly one year after that, Gibbs’s dear friend, the iconic Inland Northwest artist Harold Balazs, passed as well. We’ve profiled both Steve and Harold in these pages, so today’s walk through the Art Spirit Gallery is an emotional experience. Knowing the new story of Mason just getting his start, there is a clear and current passing of the torch, from one generation to the next.

The rest of today continues along the “next-generation CdA” theme: we embrace the new by lingering in Thrux Lawrence, smelling and feeling sturdy leather goods as we stare at the variety of young owner Tanden Launder’s mixed-media Americana artwork. Later we’ll see more of his pieces on display as we eat dinner at Syringa, a Japanese cafe and sushi bar in midtown. Owners Autumn and Viljo Basso are a powerful young culinary couple who have also recently launched Midtown Bluebird (New American) and the brand-new White Pine Coffee in the same neighborhood, creating a well-deserved regional following for their businesses, which (bonus knowledge) are named respectively for Idaho’s state flower, bird, and tree.

After a couple days of knocking around like this, we’re fully convinced that, though we’re neither rich nor old, and certainly a long way from summer, we are right where we belong in this latest version of Coeur d’Alene.   

-Ross Carper

Read more of Field & Compass, Issue 008.