More than a year after its closure, a long-standing watering hole on East Sprague Avenue has reopened under owners who pledge to keep elements of the bar’s history alive while ushering it into a modern era.
The Goodwin Group founder Matt Goodwin and Jordan Tampien, co-founder of 4 Degrees Real Estate, opened the Checkerboard Taproom last week at 1716 E. Sprague Ave. in the former location of the Checkerboard Bar, which shuttered last year.
Goodwin and Tampien purchased the Checkerboard Bar in March, in part, because of the Sprague Union District’s revitalization and emerging vibrancy.
“That part of town is up and coming,” Goodwin said, adding Bennidito’s Brewpub, the Union Tavern and other businesses have contributed to the area’s revitalization. “We wanted to jump on board and do our part to make the neighborhood a fun destination.”
Goodwin describes the Checkerboard Taproom as a “five-star dive bar” that offers elevated pub fare, including tacos, a Cajun chicken sandwich, lemon pepper chicken wrap and smoked bratwurst, among other dishes. The bar has 10 craft beers on tap and also offers craft cocktails.
Goodwin and Tampien, who have partnered on projects such as Brick West Brewing Co., spent months transforming the former Checkerboard Bar into the new taproom.
While the space has an updated interior with a new bar area, remnants of the building’s past remain, such as its original brick wall and a neon Checkerboard sign that hangs above the front entrance.
“The biggest renovation we did was cleaning up the back patio area to make it conducive for people to eat and drink,” Goodwin said. “It still has its old character, but it’s cleaned up and feels like a nice place to be.”
The Checkerboard Bar has been in operation since the end of Prohibition in 1933 and is rumored to have the oldest continuous liquor license in the state, although the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board was unable to substantiate that claim.
The Checkerboard Bar closed last November and went for sale in January.
The building’s listing agent, Elizabeth Bendinelli, told The Spokesman-Review in January the bar’s former owner fell on tough times following construction of East Sprague Avenue that reduced foot traffic to the bar.
Checkerboard Taproom is the latest business to open in the Sprague Union District, which has experienced revitalization over the past few years following partial reconstruction of East Sprague Avenue, addition of new sidewalks, lighting and landscaping, and creation of a business improvement district.
In a business improvement district, assessments are collected from commercial and multifamily property owners within its boundary to fund revitalization and management.
In 2016, SDS Commercial owner Steve Schmautz purchased the Quality Garage and Pilastro buildings on Sprague Avenue.
Those buildings were renovated and are home to Blue Cat Vintage and Two Women Vintage Goods.
Last year, Schmautz purchased the Framingham Building, which was renovated and now houses Bide & Burgeon that opened last month as a sister showroom to Tin Roof Furniture .
East Sprague Business Improvement District board president Jim Hanley said he’s pleased Tampien and Goodwin decided to open the Checkerboard Taproom.
“I’m certainly glad to see it brought back to life. They’ve done a nice job,” said Hanley, who is also chief financial officer of Tin Roof Furniture in the Sprague Union District.
“I’ve taken some of my staff over there the night it opened,” he continued. “They were running the tavern pretty efficiently. The repertoire of on tap drinks was good. It’s nice to have the space reopened and have a really well-run tavern in there.”
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