Larry LaRue

Regulars say goodbye to The Goldfish, Point Defiance's landmark bar

One could buy ice cream there in the early 1930s, pump gasoline before heading into the adjacent Point Defiance Park. But from the time Prohibition ended, the Goldfish was most often a tavern.

At one point, folks bought buckets of cold beer and (legally) took them into the park, down to the surrounding beaches. At another, the Goldfish was taken over by a rough biker crowd, which in turn became a more genteel group of motorcyclists who raised money for abused children.

The Goldfish once sold burgers and drew quite a group of regulars, hosted the occasional barbecue with an outdoor grill and, more recently, produced “Taco Tuesday.”

Whatever else it served over the decades, the establishment on the edge of Ruston and Tacoma was one of those rare bars that sold only beer and wine.

“That always gave it a different atmosphere,” regular Dave Slosar said. “You had couples come in, neighbors from the area, regulars who just wanted to sit down with friends and talk.”

Tonight, dozens of those regulars – men and women who’ve been stopping by the Goldfish Tavern for much of their adult lives – will come in for a farewell.

Nearly 80 years old, The Goldfish is about to go through another of its many transitions. When it comes out the other side, it almost certainly will have a new look, a new menu and likely a new name.

The Fish, as patrons call it, is closing. Whatever opens on the lot at 5310 North Pearl St., it won’t be the tavern with the aquarium behind the bar, the wood-burning fireplace or the same crowd.

“What everyone has been asking is, ‘Where will we go?’ ” Laura Collins said. “No one has a good answer.”

Like many at the Goldfish this week, Collins first visited out of curiosity, returned for the pleasure of the feel and company it provided. She met her husband there seven years ago, worked behind the bar, and most recently helped run the place for owner Sandie Stevens.

“Sandie was awarded the Goldfish in a divorce settlement,” Collins said. “She was a nurse, and she never really wanted to run a bar, so she let the people who were here take care of business for her.”

Stevens could not be reached to comment for this column, and Collins said she’s having medical issues. But 4½ years ago, when the Goldfish was threatened with closing another time, Stevens told The News Tribune this about her customers: “I used to tell people that I own a bar. But, really, I don’t own it. They own it. I just pay the bills.”

Collins said the landlord and the property owner have reached an impasse, and the Fish will close sometime early in November. Because no one is certain exactly when, the send-off will be tonight.

Who figures to show up?

Pat Hall, the one-night-a-week bartender, for one. He not only met his wife, Nicolette, at the Goldfish, they were married there. Next week, they’re expecting their first child, a son.

“It’s a comfortable place, and people start coming in about 6:30 p.m. or so. Everyone knows everyone else,” he said. “Regulars just run a tab, pay up when they leave after saying good night to everybody in the place.”

Wes Tyler will be there. He’s been coming in for more than 20 years and, since he’s among the over-50 set, he takes verbal abuse from those who haven’t yet joined that club.

On Thursday, for instance, when he mentioned he’d been coming to the Fish for a couple of decades, the fellow next to him laughed out loud.

“You’ve been coming here since you knew God’s dog,” the fellow said.

“What was God’s dog named,” someone else asked.

“‘Mutt,’” Tyler said.

“That’s what happens when you come in here,” Tyler said later, smiling. “You meet good people you didn’t used to know, they become friends, and you like sitting down with them, watching a game.

“You argue, you tease each other, you talk about the day.”

A World Series game was on the television – muted – and the juke box played quietly. At one of end of a bar, four men sat watching the game. At the other end, their wives sat talking.

“You don’t need the sound on to follow baseball,” said Della Slosar, Dave’s wife. “Seahawks football, sometimes you need the sound on.”

Patrons have met at the Goldfish and become fast friends, friends who then get together beyond the walls of the old tavern.

“The Goldfish has sponsored softball teams we’ve all played for,” Laura Hackell said.

There have been soccer teams, pool teams, rowing teams. And the Goldfish always was a must-stop on the Taste of Tacoma circuit.

It used to be that families would visit the Fish, and while mom or dad had a beverage at the bar, the kids would sit in a booth along one wall and be served fresh-made ice cream.

You used to see tables spread throughout the place with fish bowls built into them.

“Some people would eat the fish, drink a beer and go throw up outside,” Dave Slosar said. “So the fish bowls went.”

What kind of place is the Fish?

Collins lost her mother a year ago and was devastated. She stopped working for more than a month. Patrons got meals to her and her family, made sure she took time to deal with her grief without worrying about the small things, and checked in with her often.

It’s the people, Collins said, who make the Goldfish more than a Ruston landmark.

“It’s a place where you know everyone,” Tom Schiesz said. “And you know everyone is going to get home safe.”

If you’re in the neighborhood tonight, stop by and say hello to new friends and goodbye to an old tavern. One guarantee: You won’t leave a stranger.

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638