If the walls at the Parkway Tavern could talk, perhaps they could describe the neighborhood bar’s “it factor” that patrons can’t put into words.
But people on both sides of the Stadium District bar agree that the Parkway epitomizes Tacoma.
Kelley Flamoe said people from all walks of life come together there.
Flamoe, a lifelong Tacoma resident and a Parkway regular since 2001, said the bar draws white- and blue-collar workers and everyone in between.
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“There’s always a good cross-section of people here,” Flamoe said.
Yet the element that makes the Parkway stand out from other iconic Tacoma hangouts remains a mystery shrouded in nostalgia.
“I can’t define it,” general manager Sean Jackson said. “I spend a lot of time thinking about it.”
Whatever it is, the Parkway is ready to celebrate it.
Beer lovers are invited to mark the tavern’s 80th anniversary Saturday with a party featuring music, games and commemorative merchandise.
And, of course, a special craft beer lineup.
But for many locals, a special occasion isn’t required to celebrate the Parkway.
Business was slow one afternoon last week, but the vibe was warm and welcoming.
Every customer was greeted by first name, often with a hug, by bartenders and fellow customers.
People sat in booths finishing the daily crossword puzzle or playing backgammon.
Regulars say there are always familiar faces at the Parkway. People often come separately but drink together.
Bartenders almost always know everyone’s name; if they don’t, they quickly learn and never forget.
The bar’s history hangs on the walls, in the form of dozens of old photographs and newspaper clippings. Tap handles adorn the rafters above.
During the holidays, people ring in the New Year with a champagne toast. Nomads who left Tacoma make the bar a stop on their homecoming tours.
“The night before Thanksgiving is my favorite night of the year because of that reason,” Jackson said.
The Parkway’s a home away from home for soldiers and college students, especially those at the University of Puget Sound.
“Transient folks develop an adoration for this place,” Jackson said.
And as with any old bar, there are many stories people can’t repeat.
“All my work in the industry, I’ve never seen a place like this,” Jackson said. “You can’t just open a place like this.”
CORNER STORE TURNED CRAFT BEER HUB
All the regulars — and there are a lot of them — consider the Parkway “their bar.”
And once it’s yours, it always is, Jackson said.
The actual owners are Jeff and Helen Fraychineaud, since 1995, the most recent in a string of about six throughout the decades.
The bar is one of the oldest in Tacoma in a class along with The Spar and The Defiant Goldfish, formerly the Goldfish Tavern.
The Parkway originally started in 1935 as Rawlings Market, a corner store that sold beer. Jackson described it as “a little more beer-centric Walgreens,” owned by Al and Etta Moody.
It’s unclear where the Parkway’s name came from or what led to the name change, which occurred sometime in the 1950s, he added.
Jackson said every so often an original Rawlings customer will stop in, but many regulars have been coming to the Parkway for 10 or 20 years.
Many apartment buildings pepper the Stadium District, all within walking distance of the bar. Renters and college students often start families or careers before moving away.
But regardless of why they leave, regulars all make it back, Jackson said.
Festivals and events are relatively new to the bar’s history. The 75th anniversary celebration was the first of its kind.
Other events include the IPA festival, marking its 10th year next month, and the springtime barleywine fest that launched in 2006.
The bar bursts at the seams for its anniversary party.
“Everybody comes back to hang out that day,” Jackson said.
The transition to a craft beer destination that offers 31 (mostly rotating) taps was in large part thanks to John O’Gara, a longtime manager who died last spring.
The death in the family was rough on the staff, Jackson said. But because regulars are part of that family, the Parkway stayed open so everyone could grieve together.
Just the way O’Gara would’ve wanted it.
“This place had been a great tavern for so long,” Jackson said. “He made it the great craft beer bar that it is.”
EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYONE
Jackson, 39, started coming to the Parkway when he was 22.
He’s worked there since January 2009, a month after beloved bartender Mathew Broaddus died.
People still come in asking for Broaddus and O’Gara. Jackson doesn’t think that will ever stop.
The bartender has a hard time picking his fondest Parkway memories.
“I don’t know if it’s anything you can print,” Jackson quipped.
Flamoe, the longtime resident and regular, said her love for the staff keeps her coming back.
“You know that you’re going to come in and see a friend,” she said.
Dion Olson, sitting next to her at the bar, agreed.
“There’s never any yelling,” he said. “It’s a very friendly place.”
That’s not to say people don’t get into heated debates, Olson said, but it’s a safe space to share ideas.
Bartender Jamie Stratton, who’s worked at the Parkway for about seven years, said everyone knows everyone there.
Stratton said the bar’s “magical quality” makes everyone feel comfortable.
“It’s more than coming to get a quick pint,” she said.
Gary Coyne brought coffee to the Parkway’s bartenders one day last week. He grew up down North I Street near Magoo’s Annex, another popular drinking destination.
Back when he worked at the now-defunct Asarco smelter, the 63-year-old said he’d back his motorcycle up to Magoo’s sidewalk and a beer would be waiting for him inside.
That’s how the Parkway is today, he said.
“I drive past six bars to come here,” said Coyne, who hangs out at the Parkway three or more times a week.
“When I back my bike up, Jamie’s pouring me a pounder of beer,” he said. “There are good people on both sides of the bar.”
Eight decades of drinking and serving beer generates a lot of local lore.
Jackson said it’s believed that the joint was once owned by a local professional boxer during an unknown period of time, and gambling was common.
It’s rumored that Viola Chihuly, late mother to world-renowned glass artist and Tacoma native Dale Chihuly, served patrons around then.
It’s also believed that a quorum of past Tacoma City Council members may have held private meetings at the bar, before angry residents blew the lid off the gatherings.
(Calls and research attempting to confirm the rumors came up short, but the stories are still fun to tell, Jackson said.)
The bar’s history includes at least one unhappy guest.
The first remodeling work happened more than 20 years ago, after a disgruntled customer drove through the front of the tavern, backed up and did it again — about six or seven times — around closing time Oct. 8, 1993. That was eventually followed by a major remodel after the Fraychineauds took ownership.
No matter the ups and downs, the Parkway always stayed open. That includes holidays, thanks to staff who prefer to work.
One night in March the bar closed early, one of the only times it has by Jackson’s calculation, due to an unexpectedly unsuccessful barleywine fest. Late-night regulars either left or were turned away in a daze.
“It was weird,” Jackson said.
The crew then went up the hill for drinks at nearby Hank’s, which shares the Parkway’s owners, to shake it off.
But it was back to business the next morning, another day in the books at the neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name.
“There are no words to describe it, it’s just a feeling,” Stratton said, before pouring another pint. “It’s a community within these walls.”
IF YOU GO
What: Parkway Tavern’s 80th Anniversary party
Where: 313 N. I St., Tacoma
When: 11 a.m. Saturday-2 a.m. Sunday
EVENT’S FEATURED BEERS
Fremont Brother (imperial)
Stone Dry Hopped Ruination (imperial)
Sierra Nevada Hoptimum (imperial)
Bear Republic Hop Shovel
21st Amendment Hop Crisis (imperial)
Green Flash Citra Session (session)
Backwoods Anniversary IPA3
Epic 2014 Big Bad Baptist (imperial)
Perennial Artisan Sump (coffee)
Green Flash Silva Stout
Ballast Point Indra Kunindra (curry)
Harmon 2014 Old John (brewed in honor of the late John O’Gara)
He’brew 2014 Funky Jewbelation
Stillwater Artisinal Debutante
Logsdon Farms Oaked Seizon Bretta
Alpine Hoppy Birthday
New Belgium Eric’s Sour Ale
Firestone Walker Sour Opal
COFFEE CREAM ALE
Ballast Point Calm Before the Storm