Cultural Review: At Saranac

by Alyssa Saari

“Saranac. Saranac? What is that?” That is the question most Whitworth students ask when their “What’s up?” text is responded with “I’m at Saranac!” Saranac Public House is a well known and highly respected local piece of Spokane history, but is almost unknown by the college communities of Spokane.

The building was constructed by Hiram “Harry” Hutton in 1910, during Spokane’s booming growth period, as a single room occupancy facility. Saranac became home for many working class members; nationalities ranging from Japanese, Swedish, Italian, French and Polish, who were often new to Spokane. Eventually businesses occupied the building: City Hand Laundry, Background Music Services, the Glass Hospital, Johnny Carpet Cleaners the Longhorn Trading Post amongst others.

Ownership of the building changed hands numerous times and in 2005 it fell into the hands of Jim Sheehan, the current owner. Sheehan commenced a $4 million renovation of the building, creating today’s Saranac Public House. It was designed according to U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum standards. Saranac was equipped with extensive energy and resource-saving technology, making it one of the greenest buildings in Washington. One significant building structure is the large solar panels on the building’s roof.

The building is now comprised of a restaurant, art gallery, movie theater, an upstairs rooftop venue area and a community building to tie them all together. Each area has its own unique and individual feel, but perfectly complements the others.

The restaurant, owned by Brandon Blanchat and business partner Eric Johnson, serves exceptional food on a small scale menu but with a variety of options. Their menu is seasonal-consisting of a fall-winter and spring-summer menu and is constantly changing. They serve everything from appetizers to salads, pasta and seafood-and don’t forget about dessert.

The dishes are created using the most locally-grown or produced products and as organic as possible. The egg and dairy products they receive are cage-free and pasture -raised and are free of hormones and antibiotics. Most of the dishes are vegetarian or vegan. Their coffee is fair trade and locally roasted and their teas are organic. Even their carry out containers are compostable, made completely out of recycled materials.

Some of the most popular menu items include the pretzels and macaroni and cheese, one waitress said, when asked what she recommended.

The atmosphere is very relaxing with its dim lighting, partial brick walls and earth tone colors. The side wall is completely made up of large glass windows with a door leading to an outside patio, giving a very open and spacious feel to the cozy room. The decor is very modern and the music boasts a mix of indie songs.

The restaurant also has a family-friendly background. When Blanchat decided to open the restaurant, he asked a few of his friends to work for him. Blanchat and his friends all worked together at another place for several years, so when he asked for their help to work at his restaurant, it was a no brainer. They all left their jobs to continue their life journey together, a waitress at the restaurant said.

The restaurant is definitely one of the places to be, but the theater and art gallery are also must-see destinations. The Magic Lantern theater has been a part of Spokane history since 1931 and has a constant flow of independent and foreign films. For more information on movie selections, times and film festivals, visit

The art gallery, Saranac Art Projects, also has a constant change of exhibits and numerous showings. To learn more about the Saranac Art Projects mission, view previous art samples and check out upcoming exhibits, visit

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