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Go Berserk: New downtown bar pays homage to Baby Bar but also offers its own vibe

They call Patty Tully their patron saint.

And they pay their respects to their good friend – and owner of Spokane’s legendary Baby Bar – with an original painting that depicts her as the iconic Our Lady of Guadalupe. It adorns a back-corner sanctuary that’s cordoned off from the rest of their newly opened space with a red velvet rope. That space – they call it the “baby Baby Bar” – is intentionally designed to evoke Tully’s nearby hole-in-the-wall watering hole, one of the four friends’ favorite gathering places.

“It’s an homage,” said James Hunt, a local musician and bartender turned bar owner.

Hunt along with Josh Davis and the husband-and-wife team of Lon and Beth McRae have been dreaming for years of owning their own bar, creating a space where they would want to hang out when they weren’t hanging out, of course, at Baby Bar – or, these days, at home.

The result is, “I think, incredibly punk rock,” Hunt said.

But, Beth McRae noted, “We’re old, tired punk rockers.”

Still, Hunt said, “It’s our party.”

The four friends opened Berserk Bar, where old-school punk rock meets pinball and pool, in early June. The aesthetic is avant-garde, quirky, cool and eclectic. Colors are bold. Lighting is dim. Music might be from Brian Eno or David Bowie or the Police.

“We want it to be a place where we always want to be,” Hunt said. “We want it to be a place that has all the things we love about other bars, and this is what we came up with.”

The place is painted in jewel-toned versions of primary colors: royal blue walls with gold posts and a deep red floor. Thick, dark green velvet curtains dull the natural light that pours in from a wall of windows overlooking South Stevens Street. (Beth McRae’s mom, Elaine Forster, made them.)

A print of Vladimir Tretchikoff’s iconic 1950s’ painting “The Green Lady,” portraying a young Chinese woman with a blue-green face, keeps watch from the front-and-center spot above the bar. In front of it, a cozy little living room-esque area has been set up, complete with a vintage coffee table, and velvet couch and armchairs. Behind the bar, an old vault has been converted into a walk-in cooler. It was the detail that sold them on the space, which Hunt described as “one big giant concrete room.”

In it, Beth McRae said, “there was nothing.”

Then they saw the walk-in safe, and “all of a sudden, the whole thing started making sense,” Hunt said.

“We fell in love with it,” Beth McRae said. “It took us about 15 minutes to go from hating the spot to loving the spot. It just seemed like a good fit. We all had a good feeling about it.”

They looked at the building last August, signed the lease in November and started construction in January. Since then, “It’s been a labor of love,” Hunt said. “We called in a lot of favors from a lot of friends,” who helped build the bar and paint the place.

In addition to the walk-in safe, the friends liked the location, which is “close to some of our other favorite bars without being too close to the downtown core,” Beth McRae said.

Their other favorite bars are noted on the back of Berserk’s business cards with red stars on a map. Baby Bar is listed, of course, along with the Observatory, Hogwash Whiskey Den, Tiny Tiki, Mootsy’s and Garageland.

“Those are places we enjoy and that have a good identity,” Beth McRae said.

“But,” Hunt said, “this is more our style.”

A pool table greets guests from its spot just inside the front door. Pinball machines line the back wall, where a mural of Klaus Nomi, the eccentric German pop singer, watches over everything. It was painted by Spokane artist Susan Webber, Hunt’s girlfriend, and captures Nomi’s pointy and highly stylized signature hairdo and emphasizes his iconic, chalk-white, Kabuki-like mime make-up.

He’s a favorite of the four, who invited people to dress up like the late performer the first night Berserk opened. No one did.

“That’s OK,” Hunt said, acknowledging a Nomi costume might be difficult to whip up last minute.

On 1982’s “Simple Man” album, released about a year before Nomi died, he sang of “Traveling through the galaxy, Looking for a home.”

And the four friends and Nomi fans have made a home at Berserk, which takes its name from the early ’80s arcade, Atari and Milton-Bradley board game “Berzerk.” The owners liked how it sounded.

“It’s a strong word,” Hunt said.

He and his business partners have a strong sense of what they want Berserk to be. What they’re trying to build here is as much – if not more – about art and music as it is about booze. (Berserk Bar is open late. It doesn’t serve food.)

“Community is really important to us,” Hunt said.

And, “We wanted to be really connected to the art community,” Beth McRae said. “Art is important to all of us. That was a big part of our business plan.”

Part of that plan is rotate the art on the walls in conjunction with First Friday, a monthly event designed to showcase downtown’s art and retail scene. From time to time Berserk will also host shows. But, the owners said, their spot won’t primarily be a music hall.

“We all love music,” Hunt said.

However, “We’re not trying to compete with our friends or other venues,” such as the nearby Observatory or Bartlett or, of course, Baby Bar, Beth McRae said.

Instead, she said, they’re considering midnight shows, starting their performances after other ones let out. Hunt, who used to tend bar at the Observatory as well as the now-closed Jones Radiator, is also planning to spin records, similar to what he did during the Vinyl Meltdown nights he used to host.

“I would bring in records and play records and invite friends to bring records and if they were cool records I would play them,” he said.

Other ideas in the works: a pinball league, sales of vintage collectibles such as records and comic books, and the installation of a jukebox.

The jukebox at Baby Bar is widely considered the best in town. And Beth McRae, 40, is responsible for much of its music. She designed and managed Baby Bar when it reopened in 2002, working there for about eight months.

“When I left, Patty took over managing it. She bought it a year or two after it opened, which made me super happy. I love her dearly,” Beth McRae said, nothing that among their group of friends and in this bar they have a saying, a sort of unofficial motto: “What would Patty do?”

The entire Berserk Bar, not just the corner homage, is – admittedly – a lot like Baby Bar. But bigger. Much bigger.

Berserk Bar occupies an expansive first-floor space in an old brick building near the elevated train tracks that run through downtown Spokane.

It stretches about 2,500 square feet and holds more than 100 people, compared to compared to Baby Bar’s capacity of 25. (It’s 79 if you include Neato Burrito, the lounge’s attached eatery.)

Beth McRae met her husband there in 2003, and they married a year later. She went on to manage the Flying Goat and Downriver Grill. These days, she can be found behind the bar at Berserk, along with her husband, Lon McRae, 51, and Hunt, who turns 46 next week.

Hunt had approached her – three or four or five years ago – over drinks at the now-shuttered Swamp, another of their favorite local watering holes, wondering if she and her husband might want to open a bar. They’ve been working on a business plan, developing their design and searching for a spot on and off ever since.

Today, Berserk features eight taps and a full bar. Cocktails rotate. The menu is streamlined.

To start, consider the Dead Flower with Bainbridge Doug Fir gin, Royal Montaine Orange cognac, St. Germaine elderflower liqueur, Pernod, freshly squeezed lemon juice and a lemon peel garnish for $11.

Or, try the $9 Tiki Old-Fashioned, made with Bacoo rum, pineapple juice and Angostura bitters and garnished with an orange peel.

Look, also, for the $9 Blinker with Legacy whiskey, Chambord, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, Angostura bitters and an orange peel garnish. It’s one of Berserk’s top-sellers, Lon McRae said, along with a classic old-fashioned.

While he’s never worked as a bartender until now, he’s had plenty of customer service experience. Lon McRae owned and worked in Mountain Goat Outfitters in Spokane for 15 years before shuttering it three years ago.

“Maybe that’s why (bartending) is not as intimidating as it might be,” he said. “There have been nights when it’s been so busy I’ve felt the pressure of it. But I just tell myself to calm down and go as fast as I can while still making good drinks.”

Sunday, opt for the Asian-inspired bloody mary. It’s normally $10, but on Sundays it’s on special for $8. It features miso, soy, hoisin, garlic, chili paste, lime and ginger.

Happy hour features a dollar off wells and drafts. Beers are mostly regional. Always expect an offering from Seattle’s Pike Brewing, which has teamed up with Berserk to help support local charities. A dollar from each pint of Pike beer sold will go to a rotating local charity, such as Odyssey Youth Movement and Planned Parenthood.

Berserk doesn’t serve food. There’s no kitchen. But patrons are allowed to bring in take-out or order food for delivery. “If you order Neato Burrito, though, you have to bring me one,” Beth McRae said.

She and Tully are both friends with Webber, whose art was the first to be displayed at Berserk for First Friday. Webber also painted the portrait of Tully as Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“Having the patron saint of Patty on the wall was perfect for us,” Beth McRae said. “We call her Lady Patty.”

The first time Tully saw it, she cried.

“I still cry talking about it,” Tully said. “It’s so flattering.”

It was also a surprise.

“It’s even more special because Susan did it,” Tully said.

They’ve been friends for nearly 20 years. And these days, Tully said, “If I’m not at Baby Bar, I’m here. It is very much like a hidden gem.”

Like Baby Bar, there are no TVs at Berserk, and that’s on purpose. “There’ll never be any TVs in here,” Davis said. “We want people to focus on conversation rather than watching TV.”

Talk with him. Davis, 50, worked in the wholesale booze business for 26 years, recently selling his distributorship to become a partner in Berserk. He’s semi-retired, so he won’t be working behind the bar, just regularly hanging out and talking with patrons – “kind of like a host,” he said.

Berserk, Beth McRae said, is for “anybody that finds it comfortable.”

“We want to be one of those places where you always kind of know what you’re going to get,” she said. “What you see it what you get, with a little bit of surliness thrown in.”

Hunt’s hoping it attracts “independent thinkers, artists – those are our people,” he said. “The Patties of the world.”

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