April 2, 2006 in City

The Comet shuts down, and that’s no joke

Doug Clark The Spokesman-Review
Christopher Anderson photo

The Comet Tavern in Hillyard, owned by Spokane City Councilman Bob Apple, is closing this weekend.
(Full-size photo)

The toilet paper bandits won’t be pinching Bob Apple’s Charmin anymore.

Apple is giving up his role as Spokane’s only bar-owning city councilman. He told me Friday he planned to close his landmark Hillyard saloon – The Comet – at 2 a.m. today.

I made the councilman swear this wasn’t an April Fools’ prank.

“I want out,” said Apple of his corner bar and eatery at Market and Queen. “I haven’t been able to make it work since I was elected.”

The Comet closure is not merely a blow to North Side drunkards and revelers on a budget. This is a flushing – excuse me – crushing loss of comedy material.

Need I remind you of Apple’s bathroom bombshell last summer?

We learned Apple was embroiled in a spat with county health officials in part for refusing to stock toilet paper in his Comet commodes. Apple explained he had been forced into this extreme measure due to customers routinely swiping his toilet paper.

“This has always been a rough and rowdy part of town,” said Apple, 49. “But we’ve never had any gunshots fired off in here while I’ve been the owner.”

Under the Bob Apple potty paper protocol, anyone feeling nature’s urge was required to check out a roll of TP from the bartender. The idea was a lot like borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbor – only with much more humiliation.

In the end, however, Apple said the toilet paper pilferers had nothing to do with wiping out The Comet.

This was all about a bad bottom line.

“I’ve been stewing over it for a year and a half,” said Apple, who blamed the prohibitive costs of running a bar.

Apple railed against licensing fees, high utility rates, taxes, health inspections and $25 hot water tank examinations.

Toss in the Washington indoor smoking ban, which has hurt the entire bar biz.

A few weeks ago The Comet was cited by a booze agent for overserving a customer. The violation “wasn’t the last straw, it just added to it,” said Apple, who called it “outright harassment.”

Perhaps the biggest factor convincing Apple to quit The Comet is his work schedule. Besides the bar, he owns a small construction company. Plus, his council duties, he said, take 40 hours each week.

It’s a lot to pile on a plate even for a single guy.

Apple never planned to own a bar. It just happened.

He said he bought the tavern 14 years ago when it was operating under another name. Apple had retired from a union job in a grocery warehouse and was looking for something to do.

He renovated the structure, which he said dates back to the late 1800s. Then Apple sat down with a few buddies and brainstormed bar names. They came up with The Comet, which they all thought was perfect. That is, until the locals sarcastically dubbed it “The Vomit.”

The bar was always a magnet for characters. You’d expect as much from a joint that has half of a ‘63 Comet automobile screwed into the Market side of the building.

Bartender Gary Gabbert maintains a logbook containing the names of more than 240 troublemakers who have been permanently banned from the premises. Even dying doesn’t get your name erased. “It’s our way of remembering people,” added Apple with a smirk.

Apple hopes to sell the place. Maybe it will stay a saloon or become one more Hillyard antique store.

Will Apple miss it?

“It’s like high school,” he said. “I was sad I was leaving but happy it was over.”

One role he won’t easily give up is being a gadfly councilman. Always plain-spoken, Apple vowed to continue his battle against bureaucracy and the high costs of government.

Good for him. But while you can take the Apple out of The Comet, there is a part of The Comet that Apple will never be able to shake.

“Whatever I do the rest of my life,” he noted, “they’ll be questioning my toilet paper supply.”

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