The comments in my post about what type of retail and entertainment amenities local diners would like to see and patronize in downtown Tacoma got a little off track. That's cool. I'm about to go off on a tangent myself.
Here's a snippet of one comment, which I agree with to a certain point:
Show me the advantage of opening in Downtown vs Sixth Ave, Proctor, UP, or Lakewood. Go ahead. It's still an industrial city. And fine dining is a tough go here. Most people want cold beer, fun food, loud conversation. They want Anthony's, Katie Downs, The Ram, and the West End. The fine diners (the vast minority) get the rest, and there is more of that than the market can handle.
From my outsider's perspective, Tacoma and Tacomans seem to pride itself and themselves on not being Seattle or any other city. That often leaves us outsiders -- and there are more of us coming as every condo rises -- feeling awkward at best.
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Pine as I might for my dream breakfast -- eggs, cured meat, fresh fruit, some yogurt, hash browns that are actually browned, and the perfect bagel -- I get an earful every time I bash places like Pine Cone Cafe or Old Milwaukee, local institutions that apparently provide better memories than breakfasts.
Do you know where I see the most foot traffic downtown? By the jail-county-building-library-crack-and-heroin marketplace on Tacoma Avenue. McDonald's is packed everyday at lunch. There's one remaining deli up there. A decent teriyaki joint was turned into lawyers' offices. Siren continues to under-utilize its space. The Grub Cage make me groan.
A year ago, I stopped near the library and offered a street person some extra sandwiches. (Do you think I eat all the food I review? Some of it gets dumped or donated.)
She asked for a ride. I obliged. When I drove past the Merlino Arts Center, she got nervous and fidgety.
"Lock the doors," she said. "This is a bad neighborhood."
Maybe 6th and Fawcett was a bad neighborhood when she acquired her smack habit 15 years ago, but it looked pretty good to me one year ago, and it's looking better now.
What's my point? Time and perception. I get the feeling that long-time locals live in time warps of Idyll and Evil: they'll tell you how neat downtown was in the '50s or they'll tell you how skeezed out it was in the '80s.
Some of us haven't lived here that long; we haven't had our sense of city wonder bred out of us yet. Some of us see downtown Tacoma for what it is and what it can be.
Back to the reader's point about fine dining: "Downtown" dining does not necessarily equal fine dining. (We've got a Spaghetti Factory, after all.) "Downtown" is the stomping grounds of the great demimonde: the teeming, seething heart of culture, commerce and cuisines.
I moved to Tacoma from San Francisco. My favorite meal in downtown San Francisco? Certainly not La Foilie's la cage a foie gras folly. It was the barbecued-pork-imperial-roll combo at Tu Lan, the dirtiest hole in the wall one can imagine.
Every downtown -- and that means downtown Tacoma, too -- needs diversity: the mom-and-pop sandwich shops; the immigrant holes in the walls; the diners where families gather; the pubs and the bars; and the over-priced steaks and frilly fish of fine-dining restaurants.
You know how bicycle activists created Critical Mass and raised awareness about the dangers they faced on the streets? They took over downtown streets on their bicycles en mass at rush hour as if to say, "I'm riding here."
I've got a modest proposal: How about once a week -- say, every Friday afternoon at 5:45 -- anyone interested in the cultural and culinary life of downtown Tacoma gathers at the plaza at Pacific and 17th. From there, we fan out and do what people with appetites and spending money do.
Say it with me:
I'm eating here.
I'm shopping here.
Or there's always the B&I. Plenty of parking there.