Consider this the summer of new nightclubs and bars in South Sound: Several new clubs have opened and more are on the way. Entertainment in the form of live music never looked better in the city.
What's opened: Triple Play opened in June, a sports bar and live music venue on Sixth Avenue. The revamped 1022 South J also opened in June, in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood. The martini bar 502 Downtown has had a soft opening the past three weekends with live blues and jazz, and nearby Keys on Main has just opened its dueling piano lounge.
What's next: Hilltop Kitchen, the lounge from cocktail mastermind Chris Keil, who got his start at 1022 South and Monsoon Room. Also, check back for a report on new places to swill brew. Narrows Brewing just opened its taproom, and the Bonney Lake taproom and bottle shop NW Caps N Taps just opened. Additionally, The Forum in Puyallup opened a week ago. Read on for brief reviews.
Triple Play3829 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-752-2800, tripleplaytacoma.com
It's probably not a good idea to wear purple and gold to the Triple Play, Sixth Avenue's newest bar and live music venue. Owner and Washington State University graduate Kevin Brown, who operates the bar with his wife, Kim, and business partner Richard Langhorn, pays homage to his alma mater with crimson and gray throughout the club.
Consider it a Cougars den of the highest order, although other sports teams do appear on the club's several flat panel televisions. It might seem strange that a sports-themed bar would move in across the street from another popular sports bar - the West End Pub & Grill - but consider Triple Play more of a live-music venue than a sports pub. Weekends feature live blues and rock on a new stage. There's also a karaoke room, plus a pool table in the cavernous space that's been remodeled since its former life as Hell's Kitchen (and Gruv Lounge for a short time).
When I visited, the menu was pure bar food with coronary-inducing items of the deep-fried variety. A hot dog wrapped in a hamburger patty slapped into a toasted bun and served with bacon ($8.99) was surprisingly tasty and I'm ashamed I liked it as much as I did. The restaurant goes deep on the spice, a brilliant business plan for a restaurant that serves cold beer from local brewers like 7 Seas. Sriracha chicken tenders ($7.99) were tangy-hot. Skewers of diablo shrimp ($8.99) were laced with spicy habanero-mango sauce. Sandwiches, burger and pizza rounded out the menu. Bargain alert: The bar offers a daily $5 lunch special.
1022 South J1022 South J St., Tacoma; 253-627-8588, ten22southj.com
The corner near South 11th and J streets in Tacoma's Hilltop no longer is cocktail dormant. 1022 South J opened in June after a two-month closure. It's the retooled lounge sprung from 1022 South, a bar that received national attention for its apothecary cocktails and housemade tinctures. In April, the partnership dissolved between the owners of 1022 South J and Keil, who soon will open his Hilltop Kitchen where Tempest Lounge once operated.
Keil put 1022 South on the national cocktail map, but it's the newly hired manager Rose Peterson who is trying to keep 1022 South J there. Locals will recognize Peterson from her years tending bar at Sixth Avenue's Dirty Oscar's Annex. She also managed Jazzbones and Paddy Coyne's.
A first-sip visit found a cocktail menu listing spirits spun deep with flavor and unusual tones, heavy on botanicals and flavor-drenched bitters and digestifs with occasional craft spins of house-made syrups and add-ins. It's pricey. Specialty drinks are $10-$14.
The rye whiskey Dicey Proposal ($12) was stiffly nutty-spicy. Allspice bitters and absinthe added heft, and macadamia nut liqueur toned the drink warm. Charming Little Secrets ($12) combined the ginger liqueur Domaine de Canton, muddled lime, mint, Fernet Branca and chartreuse, a combination I found too perfumed for my palate. The Dream That Never Ends ($12), a grapefruit-tinged concoction of gin and peche de vigne also was heavily perfumed with a splash of lavender syrup.
Menu execution was uneven. Prices seemed high for the cocktail portions and the menu limited, most likely because of the size and setup of the tiny space that is not a full kitchen. Go for the drinks instead.
502 Downtown100 S. Ninth St., Tacoma; 253-572-9074
This may be the longest, softest opening I've seen for a new nightclub. 502 Downtown is open only on weekends for the time being.
Consider the bar's self description as a "martini bar" a bit of a misnomer. It's a cocktail lounge, for sure, with stellar live blues and jazz, but classic martinis were missing from the drinks menu. The premium gin and vodka selection was limited, but our bartender talked us through a few of his favorites and served up a bone dry vodka martini that hit the spot.
The rest of the menu looked like a sorority exploded on it: cloying concoctions made with Malibu rum and vanilla vodka that didn't hold my interest and most certainly aren't conventional martinis. The bar also wasn't properly stocked for martinis - no onions for a gibson, for instance - but the bartender was knowledgeable and assured us the selection and barware would soon improve.
I was impressed with the layout of the long, narrow space (the most difficult of spaces for nightclubs). A lounge area with couches flanked the front entrance, tables lined the dance floor where - gasp! - there were dancers outfitted in professional dancing shoes tapping time to a live jazz and blues ensemble. The clientele was eclectically composed of everything from younger club goers to silver-haired dancers.
There's a comedy club operating on site. The food menu is limited to cocktail nibbles, mostly priced around $5-$8.
Keys on Main1003 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-627-7555, keysonmain.com
Live piano music is Pacific Avenue's newest form of entertainment. Keys on Main is a piano bar featuring dueling pianists. Co-owner Jordan Stoneman said there won't be a cover charge or a drink minimum. While the nightclub serves cocktails, it doesn't serve food.
Stoneman and his business partner bought the piano bar Chopstix, which formerly operated on Tacoma's Sixth Avenue, before it closed in 2012. Keys on Main also has a location in Seattle.