YAKIMA, Wash. -- Remember 2018? I know it’s been a while, but we here at SCENE figured revisiting that bygone year one more time might be fun.
It was, after all, an eventful year. We saw the rise and demise of the (overly?) ambitious Restaurant Wahluke, replaced after four months by the new E.Z Tiger. We saw the continued evolution of local bands like Gloom and CobraHawk. We saw one of our most important regional cultural institutions, Gallery One in Ellensburg, celebrate a half-century of existence. And we saw a much newer one, The Seasons Performance Hall, founded in 2005, get a new lease on life thanks to a $215,000 anonymous donation.
As is always the case, it was a year with plenty of ups and downs on the local arts scene. But, as is also always the case, the ups outweighed the downs. We celebrate that this week with our annual “best of” issue of SCENE. What follows is a list of what I loved most about arts and entertainment in the Yakima Valley in 2018. Recognizing that opinions and tastes may vary, I nevertheless feel confident in saying all of this year’s honorees are worthwhile and worthy of your attention.
Best local band
A case could be made for previous winners Planes on Paper (Yakima folk) and CobraHawk (Ellensburg rock), and the punk in me wants to say Probably Drunk (mostly because of their name). But Gloom is the pick.
That won’t surprise regular readers, who’ve watched me laud the Yakima four-piece since they formed last year under the name Kanye Twitty.
In the year since, they’ve become this area’s most reliably enjoyable live performers while releasing a grand total of a half-dozen songs (plus one Built to Spill cover on a tribute album). Their mix of absurdist humor and open-vein emotional vulnerability is as unnerving as it is compelling. These are life-of-the-party guys who go home afterward and cry. I feel that.
The best meal I’ve had in Yakima — and one of the best I’ve had anywhere — was in February at Restaurant Wahluke, 222 E. Chestnut Ave. So here I am in the awkward position of naming a restaurant that no longer exists as the best of 2018. I suppose some of my affection for the place, opened by Cowiche Canyon Kitchen owner Graham Snyder and helmed by mastermind chef Cameron Slaugh, could stem from its ephemerality. But not much. Mostly it was the food. The monkfish, the parsnips with “apple snow,” the bread service, the cheese, all of it. Every bite.
It’s gone now, replaced by the also-very-good E.Z Tiger, a dim sum and dumpling kind of place. But I’ll always remember Wahluke.
Best restaurant (still in existence division)
The ever-changing menu and reliance on local food pushes Crafted, 22 N. First St., to the top of a list full of solid contenders. A case could be made for E.Z Tiger, Provisions, Tacos El Rey, Los Hernandez Tamales, Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and a few other joints. But if I want to impress someone visiting Yakima, Crafted is where I take them.
I’ve had cauliflower there that made me think I never wanted to eat anything other than cauliflower again. And I’ve had pork there that made me forget cauliflower even existed. I’ve never left Crafted without at least one dish sticking in my mind for a few days.
This is a stacked category. Was it the return of Yakima expats Indigo Kidd, who played Yakima Maker Space last month with Gloom? Was it the mix of hip-hop, rock and soul that Dirty Revival brought to Gilbert Cellars’ bucolic Hackett Ranch Amphitheater? Was it the latest edition of the always-outstanding songwriters showcase at the Yakima Folklife Festival? Little Spirits at Franklin Park? Nikki Lane playing the Roots & Vines Festival downtown? The triumphant homecoming of Ellensburg-raised, capital-R Rock star Mark Lanegan, supported by fellow Ellensburg rock star and Screaming Trees bandmate Mark Pickerel?
Any of them could reasonably be called the year’s best. But I’m going with the Pedro the Lion show at The Seasons in November. The place wasn’t even full, which blew my mind, but Pedro frontman David Bazan was on his game. He was engaging and charismatic and the songs sounded great. Plus he sat out in the crowd during the opening set, and he was seen mingling with fans before and after. Just very cool.
This one’s a little easier. It’s Planes on Paper’s debut full-length release, “Edge Markings,” released in June. The album, which followed a couple of EPs and singles and included reworked versions of some of those songs alongside new ones, represented the Yakima folk duo of Navid Eliot and Jen Borst at their pinnacle. The songs are sad and smart, and the harmonies are beautiful.
It’s gotta be something from Wahluke or E.Z Tiger. I was particularly fond of the bittersweet Amaro Amaro on the menu at the former. But it didn’t survive the rebranding. E.Z Tiger’s redone menu includes a very nice mai tai to make up for that. But the best two — the Jiro and the St. Anjou — were on the Wahluke menu and are still on the list at Tiger. The Jiro, Japanese whiskey with a house shrub, lemon and basil, gets the nod over the St. Anjou, a mixture of gin, lemon, honey, ginger and pear. (Also: You can trust the staff there, especially Buck Girard and Christian Durham, to make your Manhattan just how you like it.)
The Seasons is a perennial contender here. And the new Perham Hall at the Old Warehouse in Zillah has come on very strong lately, with standout sets from the likes of Parker Millsap and Jeffrey Foucalt. But this honor has to go to Brewminatti, the tiny little spot in the tiny little town of Prosser.
A place like this has no business scoring the kind of consistently high-level bookings it has with acts like John Doe, Dori Freeman and Slaid Cleaves. Those are just the first ones that come to mind. There’s someone good there virtually every week. I hope the estimated 6,264 residents of Prosser appreciate that most cities that size don’t get shows like that.
This is an odd category, because it could go to Bale Breaker Brewing Co. every year. It’s the biggest brewery, the most consistent, the flagship. I’ve liked every single beer they’ve made over there. But it’s no longer the only brewery I can say that about. Some of the newer ones — in particular Varietal in Sunnyside, Cowiche Creek in Cowiche and Single Hill and Valley Brewing in Yakima — are doing great work. There are more local taprooms all the time, and the quality just seems to be improving. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that, yeah, it’s Bale Breaker again. But the competition is getting stiffer.
Best uncategorizable event
I couldn’t figure out where to put Hop Nation Brewing Co.’s annual beer carnival. It’s a beer event, but it’s also family friendly. It’s a concert, but it’s also a circus. There are lucha libre wrestlers, hoop-and-light dancers and an old-timey freak show. And that’s not even the full list of attractions. So I made up this category. I had to recognize the beer carnival; there’s nothing else like it.
Bests in brief
• Best film event: Sagebrush Hills Film Festival, with honorable mentions for the Ellensburg Film Festival and the monthly classic movies at Orion Cinema.
• Best lecture: Henry Rollins’ “Travel Slideshow Tour” at The Capitol Theatre in October. There aren’t many punk-rock legends I’d pay to see do something other than punk rock. But Rollins is one of them.
• Best takeout: Fire-grilled chicken from El Parrillon Loco de Tom y Jerry. It’s a hole-in-the-wall spot, but it does chicken right.
• Best thing that was kind of a grassroots thing when it started but is now an officially sanctioned thing: the Downtown Association of Yakima’s Chalk Art Festival.
• Best children’s entertainment event: Caspar Babypants at The Seasons in October. If you’d ever like to see a room full of kids aged 2 to 10 absolutely lose their minds, get Babypants tickets.
• Best national recognition: The James Beard American Classics award won by Los Hernandez Tamales in Union Gap. The Yakima Valley has known about these tamales for years; now the whole country does.
• Best well-earned retirement: Doug O’Leary, the former owner of Doug’s Records. After the shop closed at the end of 2016, O’Leary kept making monthly trips to Yakima from his home in Wapato so he could sell records out of his van to music geeks like me. He stopped doing that last January. I think of him fondly and wish him well. My record collection wouldn’t be the same without him.
• Best deus ex machina: The anonymous donation that paid off the loan owed to the city by The Seasons Performance Hall. A couple of hundred thousand bucks doesn’t mean it’s all champagne and cookies from here on out — margins are always thin for performance venues — but it sure takes the pressure off one of Yakima’s most important cultural centers.