Bob’s Java Jive joins national historic register

Staff writerJuly 16, 2014 

Up-and-coming rock stars once came and went from Bob’s Java Jive. Go-go dancers performed on a greased wooden stage, and macaque monkeys lived in the backroom.

The monkeys have left, and the shenanigans have mostly died down, but the 85-year-old bar still stands as a reminder of Tacoma’s rich history — one that’s now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Java Jive, or The Coffee Pot Restaurant as it was originally called, recently joined nearly 100 other Tacoma structures on the national list.

The listing recognizes the coffee-pot-shaped building’s architectural significance. It is one of Tacoma’s few examples of mimetic architecture, meaning the design reflects the original use within building, said Reuben McKnight, the city’s historic preservation officer.

Before Tacoma’s portion of Interstate 5 opened in 1960, motorists passed through the city on what was Highway 99 and is now South Tacoma Way. The coffee pot structure acted as a giant billboard to grab the attention of travelers, he said.

“It’s the perfect example of how this type of roadside architecture was popping up all over the United States, and it was a phenomenon,” McKnight said.

Danette Staatz, owner of the Jive for 19 years, applied for the registry. She said she welcomes the notoriety, as well as the protection against demolition that the building’s presence on the local historical register has provided since 2001.

But recognition has not translated into business success, at least not recently. Staatz said she has one goal: “Keep the Pot going,” so everyone can experience the Jive.

“The Jive is a funny place,” Staatz said. “You’re either a snoot and you’re going to walk in and hate it, but it’s so different that most people love it. It’s like its own entity. It wraps it arms around you when you walk in, and it loves you.”

Remnants of nine different eras are scattered throughout the dive bar. The red tattered bus seats at the bar have been there since the ’30s and the jukebox is from the ’40s.

The Tarzan-themed women’s bathroom masks the now boarded-up entryway to an old speakeasy. In the outdoor area, a large hand painted mural from the late ’90s depicts an African safari scene with a couple UFOs lingering in the skyline.

Staatz’s father bought the bar in 1955 when she was 7 years old and turned it into a bar and nightclub after it failed as a restaurant under previous owners, she said.

Staatz said she has memories of the hall-of-fame band, The Ventures, regularly performing at the Jive. The bar has also been featured in four films including “I Love You to Death” starring Keanu Reeves.

Duane “Duke” Roorda, 72, started patronizing the Jive 37 years ago when he lived in Tacoma. Now he drives an hour and a half from Hoodsport once a week to visit the bar.

Roorda has fond memories of Elvis and Buddy Holly songs pouring out of the jukebox and said the bar used to be a hot venue for dancing in the ’70s. These days, he can be found sitting at bar next to the hamburger lamp drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and eating a large order of fries.

“It’s just so unique that it gives you a feeling of the past for the time you’re there, while still living in the present,” he said. “It’s almost like taking a walk on the wild side.”

Staatz took over for her father in 1995 and said it’s been a roller coaster since the beginning.

The Jive lost a lot of business after voters banned smoking inside bars in 2005. The bar took another major hit in recent years as road construction hindered access to the parking lot, Staatz said.

The shape of the building also doesn’t help win over new customers, she said.

“The coffee pot is our biggest deficit because people don’t go in a coffee pot to party. It gives a false impression. But when people do come in, they come back,” she said.

Staatz said she’s doing everything she can to keep it open. On the weekends, the bar brings in 10 to 20 people a night, but Staatz hopes to see those numbers grow.

“It’s been my whole life,” she said. “(Selling or closing would) be like getting rid of part of the family. It’s part of me.”

Shelby Rowe: 253-597-8672 shelby.rowe@thenewstribune.com

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