TNT Diner

First look at The Camp Bar, the intentional dive with really bad art, cheap food and drinks

A bloody Mary cocktail from The Camp Bar in Tacoma.
A bloody Mary cocktail from The Camp Bar in Tacoma. skidd@thenewstribune.com

The transition was so fast, you might have missed it. Longtime downtown Tacoma bar the Acme Tavern closed Aug. 5 and reopened Aug. 10 as The Camp Bar.

Owner Patrick Haight is synonymous with Seattle’s cocktail culture. He was a longtime bartender at Tini Bigs, the legendary martini bar that closed.

Don’t go to The Camp Bar expecting fancy martini lists. It’s not that kind of bar. It’s a neighborhood joint with inexpensive bar eats, a stiff pour by the barkeeps and really, really bad art (on purpose). The identity Haight has created at The Camp Bar blends tongue-in-cheek humor and an “intentional” dive bar atmosphere.

Why open in Tacoma and not Seattle, where Haight had a longtime career as a cocktail slinger? He moved to Pierce County and fell in love with its gritty spirit. Tacoma seemed the right place and time for a neighborhood bar, Haight said.

Becoming a fussy cocktail lounge was not his aim.

“I’ve always loved dive bars,” he said. “I’ve worked all over in fine dining and with martinis and tiki drinks, but ... dive bars are so much more interesting.”

Here’s a first-bite report. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.

Camp art 2
The lodge and camping theme plays out in the “terrible” art Patrick Haight has collected for his The Camp Bar. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

The scene: The camping theme is as nutty as you think it will be. In lieu of pitchers, a server will leave a canteen filled with water on the table. There’s the obligatory deer head, an old fake fireplace straight out of a vintage Sears Roebuck catalogue and lodge “art” that looks as if it was ripped out of your Aunt Gloria’s rec room — in 1972. It doesn’t take itself seriously. You shouldn’t either.

The food: Cheap bar food. Six burgers served a la carte ($5-$10.45). Add crispy tots for $1.25. Five pizza choices, including one for vegans ($8.75). Chicken bacon wrap or chicken sandwich ($6.95-$7.95). Fried cod and tots ($9.95-$12.95). Nachos ($6.99-$11.45). Assorted appetizers, soups or salads ($2.45-$7.45).

Camp mojito
A mojito from The Camp Bar. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Booze menu: No specialty cocktail menu yet, but one is coming soon. Full cocktail bar with 10 beer taps. Happy hour is 12-6 daily for now.

Try the: $5 burger with cheese, a kaiser roll swiped with ketchup and mustard and the burger basics all represented: juicy patty, melted cheddar, red onion, leaf lettuce and tomato. Nachos came with a blanket of cheddar, plus diced tomatoes, onions, black olives and lots of jalapenos ($6.99).

A baked grinder sandwich was the best of the bunch, with double layers of ham and pepperoni, melted mozzarella, sauteed onions, spicy pickled peppers (from Seattle’s Mama Lil’s), black olives, a drizzle of tangy house sauce and topped with shredded lettuce ($8.95), with well-seasoned tots ($1.25).

Camp burger
A $5 burger with cheese from The Camp Bar in Tacoma. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

For drinking: The barkeep’s special of the day was a mojita ($5.50) with fresh mint and a pleasant seesaw between tart and sweet. A handmade bloody Mary was outstanding with a slow-moving kick of heat and a tasty garnish of sliced pepperoni, olives and pickles ($6).

The Camp Bar

Where: 1310 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma.

Hours: Open at noon daily.

Contact info: 253-503-6712; facebook.com/trick.camp.

Note: 21 and older only.

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