Home. Friendship. Lifelong connections.
That’s how patrons described what Charley’s Grill & Spirits meant to them throughout its 43 years of operation, owner Shirley Williams said.
Williams made the difficult decision to close Charley’s, a week after the sudden passing of her husband, Jack, on Aug. 3.
“Jack was the people person behind the scenes,” Shirley Williams said. “He tended bar in our early years and people loved him. He had a gift of gab. He had a boisterous laugh. He was genuinely friendly to everybody. And plus, he was also sarcastic.”
The pandemic, in part, had also accelerated the decision to close as Williams struggled to staff the restaurant.
“I had been thinking about closing and turning the facility into an event facility, and then continuing using the kitchen for my catering business,” Shirley Williams said, “because my catering business is thriving.”
The establishment opened in 1973 at 1011 W. Broadway Ave. as Charley My Boys: A Tavern, which paid homage to an expression from the late comedian and actor W.C. Fields.
It was Jack Williams’ dream to own a bar.
He served drinks at various places in Spokane, including Charley My Boys: A Tavern. When the bar’s owner at the time, Steve McCray, mentioned it was for sale, the Williamses jumped at the opportunity to purchase it in 1978.
“We were at the right place at the right time for the right reason,” Williams said. “We were very young. We were both in our 20s when we bought Charley’s, and the neighborhood embraced us.”
The bar became a gathering spot for public workers, actors and neighborhood residents. It hosted company and holiday parties and various other events.
“We had a very diverse customer base – county employees, the sheriff’s department, the theater, the neighborhood, friends of Jack’s and mine,” she said.
“At any given time, you could look at the room and there were different groups of people. But they all embraced each other and got to know each other.”
“I just remember the camaraderie. The environment of the restaurant and bar industry was different 40 years ago,” Williams added. “We became known to a lot of our customers as their living room because they felt comfortable.”
When the lease expired at the bar’s Broadway Avenue location, the Williamses purchased the existing building on Monroe Street in 1993 and renamed the business Charley’s Grill & Spirits. It opened in January 1994.
“My husband convinced us that bigger was better and being on the corner was better than being in the building that we were. It was a huge step for us,” Williams said. “We took early possession of the building in October, then we started from scratch. We got new plumbing, new electrical, new walls. We redesigned everything.”
Spokane actress and singer Abbey Crawford said Charley’s became the “home bar” for the local theater community.
“Shirley always took really good care of us,” Crawford said. “I always appreciated the fact that she accepted all and every kind and that was a huge thing to the community.
“We have all walks of life within the community and (the Williamses) were always welcoming.”
Although bar and restaurant have closed, Shirley Williams is keeping the establishment’s legacy alive.
She will operate her catering business, Charley’s Catering Co., in the building and is planning to host private events in the space.
“I am happy with what we’ve done in the last 43 years, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter,” Williams said.
“I think we can offer a casual, comfortable, affordable facility for people to rent to have family celebrations, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and corporate events.”