One of Tacoma’s beloved cocktail lounges got an impressive nod in the New York Times Jan. 4, but regulars to the bar are already privy to all of the wonderful things the article touted.
1022 South opened in March 2009 as one of Tacoma’s only craft cocktail spots and has since become a stop for both locals and visitors alike. With an emphasis on all things literary (which infuses the locale in everything from the books lining shelves to the drink names), an inviting atmosphere gets even warmer with candles and perfect lighting that bounces off the wooden tables. The genuinely friendly, knowledgeable bartenders would make 1022 South a success even if it were just another bar.
But with its emphasis on techniques that favor the apothecary, a wide array of herbal liqueurs and handcrafted infusions and mixers all made in house, 1022 South is far from being a blip on the radar – it’s the cocktail destination in Tacoma.
Owner and operator Chris Keil, along with his charming bartenders Corey Lund and John Star Gilmer are the faces regulars have come to know and deeply appreciate as their cocktail artisans of the neighborhood.
Keil had no intent to ever open a bar if you’d have asked him about the prospect a few years ago. After studying philosophy at The Evergreen State College, Keil imagined he’d go to graduate school and inevitably teach, but everything eventually fell into place for a different plan.
“I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 18,” Keil said. “I’ve worked every possible job you could in a restaurant, and for that reason I didn’t want to open one. It’s lots of work. This place just happened.”
New York Times writer Jordan Michelman came into 1022 South when the bar first opened and built a rapport with Keil based on their mutual loves and appreciation for rum. “He came in not long ago and I remembered him. He was writing in a notebook, knew he was up to something. Then he told me he was writing a piece to send to his editor. I was really flattered when I read it,” Keil said.
A few examples of what Michelman raved about come through in the apothecary favorite, the Echinacea Cocktail, which contains Echinacea and cayenne infused gin, a hit of orange, and lavender and chamomile infused honey. The Bleu utilizes an infusion of Earl Grey tea leaves, amaretto, Grand Marnier, lemon honey and an egg white to create a foamy top to a rich, decadent delight.
Two of 1022 South’s newest and most popular drinks, the Beatrice and the Lavender cocktail are made for those who aren’t yet acclimated to craft cocktails, but still enjoy fine beverages that are not just for sipping. The Beatrice is composed of vodka, amaro, lemon and sweet fig balsamic vinegar, and the Lavender is simply made from vodka, sweet lavender, smooth coconut and a hint of lemon.
Keil affirmed that the craft cocktail bar craze is one that has taken over the country, with the bigger U.S. cities having the most well-known and notable bars such as Death & Co. and Milk & Honey in New York, and Tavern Law and Vessel closer Seattle. Yet despite this, Hilltop is still able to offer the same in our neck of the woods, with excellent service to boot.
“People go to a lot of craft cocktail bars in New York and I haven’t been to them, but I have been to the ones in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle I try to bring aspects of these places to Hilltop,” Keil noted. “The drinks are great in San Francisco and Seattle, but we’re in the hospitality industry and we have to treat people well first and foremost.”
When 1022 South opened, Keil’s main goal was to survive to see another year in the weathered economy. But more than that, he wanted to build a sense of community in the area he, too, calls home. “I wanted a neighborhood spot that could put out bangin’ drinks, and provide an environment where people in the LGBT community and women feel safe. We’re laying the groundwork for a place where everyone feels safe going to.”
With such high praise coming from one of the country’s most respected existing newspapers, 1022 South is seeing a lot more people coming in to find out what all the talk is about for themselves. Despite this surge in customers and interest, Keil affirms there are no immediate plans for expansion on the intimately-sized bar.
“We do already get busy, but there is still plenty of room to expand in the future. I have an idea for what our upper threshold is for what we can do, and we’re nowhere near that now,” Keil stated.
The location of 1022 South on Hilltop was integral and important to Keil, as that is his home and he couldn’t see the sense in putting this bar anywhere else in Tacoma.
“I have an affinity for this neighborhood. It’s essentially Tacoma – working class, still has grit and is full of families who have been here for years,” he said. “There’s a sense of unity and love here, people rally around it and wear ‘Tacoma’ like a badge of pride.
“The original plan was for a Hilltop bar that was centrally-located, in the middle of this area with these beautiful houses,” Keil added. “I’ve lived here, moved out and then moved back, and it was always my intention to do something here. Imagine if there were two or three more bars here, so that people could hop from here to the Tempest and other bars. It would be good for the neighborhood and the community.”
Though 1022 South has already achieved a great deal in terms of creating solid beverages, adding paninis and plates to their menu in addition to a great selection of snack items, Keil wants to do more this year in terms of expanding his food options.
Keil is strongly considering adding in breakfast and brunch options to Saturdays and Sundays, as well as developing more menu items to entice customers just as much as his beverages do. In addition, he aims to add more options for his vegetarian and vegan clientele, an area where he has already worked with care to ensure these patrons are taken care of and fed just as well as the omnivorous customers. A new addition to the bar – Lauren Ballweber, formerly of Enoteca Wine Bar – will play an important role in helping Keil develop standout food menus.
For 1022 South’s 2-year anniversary in late March, Keil affirms there will be a large party similar to their 1-year anniversary and their new seasonal menu parties. “We’ll be rolling out our spring and summer menu, all cocktails will be $6 each, and it will get crazy in here,” Keil laughed.
More than anything else he’s accomplished with 1022 South, Keil affirms that the community that has arisen from his edifice’s door is what he has learned to appreciate the most.
“When new people come in as strangers and then start sharing drinks with each other, it’s just bizarre. That fostering of community, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
1022 South is located at 1022 S. ‘J’ St. between 10th and 11th avenues. 1022 South’s regular hours are Sunday through Monday, 4-11 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. and Thursday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Happy hour takes place from 4–8 p.m. everyday and features $3 wells, $3 draft beers and $4 glasses of wine. In addition to daily happy hours, every Monday is Industry Night, which offers happy hour all night to service industry professionals, Wine Night Tuesday features half off all bottles of wine and every Thursday is Ladies Night, when happy hour lasts all night for ladies.
For more information, call (253) 627-8588, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.1022south.com. Find 1022 South on Twitter and Facebook.