Blake (Loos) Preston (’14 Wine Busi. Mgmt.) never intended to run a restaurant.
She broke into the hospitality business as a bartender, working night shifts during college, and ended up falling in love with the job and her future husband. Cory Preston was a regular who would drop by after his own shifts. In 2015, a year before they wed, the couple opened their first establishment.
Etsi Bravo is Pullman’s premier nightclub and lounge, popular with Washington State University alumni as well as current students, faculty, and staff. It quickly became known for its craft cocktails, comedy shows, live music, and theme nights—from tiki to disco. Football coaches and other athletic staff would gather on the mezzanine after home games. College students celebrated their twenty-first birthdays on the dance floor.
When Washington state went into its initial pandemic-related lockdown, Blake says, “we went into survival mode.” Not only did they add a kitchen at Etsi Bravo, they started two new establishments on College Hill. “We’ve always admired the businesses up here and how they seem rooted in the Cougar spirit,” Cory says. “It feels like you’re part of something.”
Before the pandemic, Etsi Bravo, located on the second floor of a downtown historical building, served a limited selection of dishes from Black Cypress, the upscale Greek restaurant downstairs. Etsi Bravo is a Greek expression meaning, “That’s the way, well done.” Says Cory, “We wanted to create some synergy between the restaurant downstairs and give a nod to the entertainers, the deejays, musicians, and comedians who perform at Etsi Bravo.”
The night spot is known for its eclectic vinyl album collection and vintage, artsy vibe. Pullman artist Gracie Brown (’19 Fine Arts) created the mural in the stairwell. Exposed brick, Art Deco-inspired wallpaper, and five crystal chandeliers—including one that came from Burt Reynolds’s estate—add to the ambiance. “We wanted it to feel timeless,” Blake says, “like it had always been there.”
She does the books. Her husband, with a background in graphic design, does the marketing. Both work behind the bar.
During Etsi Bravo’s pandemic-related closure, they missed their patrons most. “I would usually have the opening shifts, and I would see the same people very day,” Blake says. “It was really nice growing those relationships. Sometimes, alumni would come in and look at everything before they sat down and say, hi, I remember when this was whatever it was. It’s always fun to hear their stories.”
Online sales of house-made, nonalcoholic mixers and discounted gift cards helped the Prestons, then parents of a newborn daughter, get through spring 2020. Their first child, Cameron, was born about two months before the pandemic. “The silver lining is getting to spend more time with her,” says Blake, who transferred to WSU her senior year. Her dad, John Loos (’85 Ag.), encouraged her to become a Coug.
In summer 2020, things worsened when restrictions loosened and people started going back to restaurants. Etsi Bravo, operating under a nightclub license, wasn’t eligible for reopening. With online sales dropping, the Prestons worked out another pandemic pivot: in-house food preparation and service. The move required buying new equipment, adding a kitchen, switching their license, and investing most of their nest egg back into the business.
At the end of August 2020, with its new restaurant status, Etsi Bravo was finally able to sell its specialty cocktails again—only now in bottles and cans for pickup—as well as items from a new food menu. By the end of February, the lounge was able to open at limited capacity for drinks and in-person dining. Comedy nights resumed in March, also at limited capacity.
By the time Washington state fully reopened June 30, renovation on their two new establishments was already underway. The Prestons partnered with Etsi Bravo patron and former WSU student Raustin Memon on both. Crybaby Café, a coffee shop and bar on the first level of Adams Mall, opened in August, the same month the Prestons’ second child, a boy named Oliver, was born. Memon and the Prestons are also slated to open a restaurant and nightclub in autumn in the basement of Adams Mall.
Pandemic or no pandemic, downtown or on College Hill, Blake says, “We always want to provide a safe and fun place for everyone.”
Bravo for this spiced apple cocktail: Sample a recipe from Etsi Bravo