Air Force veteran Chris Wallis is a rookie when it comes to operating nightclubs and restaurants. He was stationed at McChord for 10 years. He's owned a Spanaway contracting company for eight. He has no experience for what he's embarked upon in downtown Tacoma, "except drinking in about 10,000 bars."
"I've been to about every bar and restaurant across the world," Wallis declared when I called him to inquire about The South Sound Garage Steakhouse and Grill.
Wallis has been working on a restaurant/nightclub/bar for three years in a vintage building behind a boarded-up art deco facade at 933 Market Street. Wallis said he hopes to open Dec. 15, if inspectors sign off by then.
I got a brief peek behind the boards this week. I saw a large, open room with a lot of black and metal, including a ceiling fan that looked like a monster rotor blade, and banks of red and blue stage lights.
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Wallis called his place a 9,000-square-foot "industrial-garage-style" three-story nightclub and restaurant. He said he's got an 18,000-watt sound system in the club ("plus a regular one for "digestive-type sound" in the dining room), a stage with all the lights, and a full bar with room for about 30 tap handles. Wallissays he'll book live local bands, techno DJs and Southern rock nights. Wallis said capacity is 500 people, including 250 in the steakhouse.
The steakhouse part of the venture is premature, Wallis said. When he opens, he said he'll only be serving "garage food," the kind of bar menu that's served in baskets (and sounds like it was pitched to him by giant suppliers like Food Services of America): steak subs, hamburgers, fried calamari and the like.
Wallis said he'll fire up the beefhouse side of the business in February. He promised "extremely manly cuts" -– 16 to 24-ounce New Yorks, tenderloins and prime rib.
"I wanted a bar but I had to serve food," Wallis said, by way of explaining how his idea for The South Sound Garage Steakhouse and Grill began and grew three years ago. "I do a really awesome steak so I said let's do a steakhouse."
Wallis said he's spent "probably a couple of million" of his own money on seismic, electric and other renovations of the 85-year-old building, which formerly housed a Nash automobile dealership, a service station, two supermarkets and a clothing store.
"I started out wanting to open tavern-type thing," Wallis said. "It's gone from an alley-way-type bar to just a mega monster. With that goes additional cost."
He said he's hired a chef (whom he wouldn't identify because he hasn't come on board yet) and a general manager that he poached from a downtown restaurant that opened in September.