When a customer called out from the end of the bar, “Is that Rikki down there?” he had a 50 percent chance of getting it right. He didn’t. “It’s Vicky!”
Of course, it can be difficult telling them apart. Bar owners Victoria “Vicky” Bates and Erica “Rikki” Mongeon are identical twins.
The sisters – as well as Rikki’s husband, James Fountain – are the forces behind The Blind Buck, a new bar in downtown Spokane that specializes in mules, also known as bucks, served in their signature copper mugs.
The name of the bar comes from the beverage – a mixture of citrus, ginger beer and alcohol – as well as Prohibition-era speakeasies, sometimes called blind pigs or blind tigers, and the animals themselves. Deer abound in this neck of the woods.
“We wanted to take the ‘blind’ part and put it with something that was Spokane,” Bates said of the buck. “Also, they’re really cool (animals).”
A mounted buck head anchors the bar’s back wall, with “blind” spelled out in lighted, three-dimensional letters above it.
The rest of the décor is modern-meets-the-1920s. Dark velvet wallpaper lines one wall, offsetting the metallic ceiling. Crackle paint covers another. Vintage-style light bulbs dangle above the bar. Floors are hardwood. The bathrooms are hand-tiled with about $240 worth of pennies.
“It was very well thought out, even the little details: the lighting, the variety of whiskey, the name itself,” said bartender Kahlani Badeaux.
“We just wanted everything to be perfect,” said Bates, noting the partners spent more than $100,000 and three months to remodel the space.
They also did their research, visiting speakeasy-style bars in New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego. Plus, the 33-year-old twins have worked in the food-and-beverage industry most of their adult lives, including nine years with Hooters, where they were waitresses and crew trainers. In late 2008 and early 2009, they gained celebrity, appearing on an MTV reality show as Vikki and Rikki, the “Ikki Twins.”
But owning a bar after more than a decade serving drinks “was the next step,” Bates said. “We want to be a kind of neighborhood bar where anybody would feel comfortable. It’s for anybody that wants to get a good drink in a good atmosphere.”
A popular drink at The Blind Buck, which opened in August, is Dickel my Pickle, a shot of George Dickel whiskey with a pickle juice chaser, garnished with a cornichon. But the best-selling cocktails are the mules. Called “Pack Animals,” the house specialties include the Moscow Mule, made with vodka; the Unicorn, made with flavored vodka; the Jenny, made with gin; and the Donkey, made with whiskey.
Classic cocktails – like Manhattans and Sazeracs – also grace the menu, affixed to pages of old Mark Twain books. Many have modern twists. Instead of a muddled cherry, for example, the Old Fashioned features a cherry frozen in an oversized ice cube.
It’s “on the rock,” not on the rocks, Bates said.
Other than Goldfish crackers, customers won’t find any foodstuffs at the bar, which takes on a clubby atmosphere Friday and Saturday nights. A deejay starts the electro-dance music at 10 p.m., and seat cushions come off the corner booths, which double as platforms for dancing.
“I love this place,” said Lincoln Bechard, 21, an Eastern Washington University senior. “It feels local and personal. It’s low-key. It’s unpretentious. I very quickly made it my go-to bar.”
The sisters came here from Southern California, where they lived for about 10 years after growing up in Florida.
“We moved a lot growing up, and we wanted to feel a part of a community,” Bates said. In Spokane, “You actually know people,” she said, just before the customer called out, wanting to know if she was her sister. Bates knew his name even if he couldn’t tell the twins apart from across the room.
“Hi, Ryan!” she shouted, before making her way to the front of the house to greet him face to face.