Sunday, June 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

New venues give downtown nightlife a boost

Several Tacoma nightclubs went dark this year: Hell’s Kitchen, Tempest Lounge, Mandolin Cafe, Chopstix. But after hours business is booming down on Pacific Avenue. Encore, Big Whisky and Dorky’s Barcade were already popular P.M. destinations. And now, with the addition of several new venues, Pac Ave is looking more like it did a decade ago, when Drake’s Pub and the Loft anchored the city’s busiest club zone. “I think it’s coming back,” said Encore co-owner Jon Tartaglia, who opened the now defunct Loft in late 2000. “I don’t know that it’s turned around, but I think it’s encouraging that people are investing down here.”

Jason Alexander is one of those investors. (No, not that Jason Alexander.) This month, he and wife Robin Murphy opened Tacoma Cabana, a tiki-themed bar and grill that has taken over part of the space, at 728 Pacific Ave., that formerly housed Surreal Ultralounge. “My dad has a condo on the Big Island of Hawaii, and me and Robin went out to see him last September,” Alexander said, explaining the catalyst of their idea. “That’s the first time I had an actual Mai Tai and a real zombie. And when we came back here, I tried to search for (a Mai Tai) and we couldn’t find it anywhere.” Armed with a unique theme and their experiences running the Villa Cafe, they plotted their new island-themed establishment. At first, they were attracted to the idea of opening on Sixth Avenue, where there is lots of late-night foot traffic on weekends.

“But our deal fell through there,” Alexander said. They noticed the Surreal space was for lease one night while sitting across the street at the Matador. “Once we walked through there, it seemed like the right fit.” It has been choppier sailing for Lonnie Reed, who has set up shop a couple of blocks over at 928 Pacific Ave., a space that still displays the marquee of Hell’s Kitchen. Reed was the rock venue’s booking agent when it shut down last summer. He and Hell’s Kitchen co-owner Pat Dawson began plotting a new venture, called the Lochs, weeks later. “I was completely scared out of my mind, to tell you the truth,” Reed admitted. “Is attendance going to be there? Are the bar sales going to be there? I had every apprehension you could possibly think of.”

Several setbacks did little to assuage those fears. He and Dawson soon parted ways. Reed said another of Hell’s Kitchen’s former owners hired most of his staff, just days before the Lochs was scheduled to open. And delays in obtaining a liquor license forced him to halt shows for two weeks. But the Lochs is up and running now with an emphasis on all-ages shows. “I don’t really care about bar sales,” Reed said. “To me, it’s just a headache. I just care about the music. I just care about bands having shows. When Hell’s Kitchen left, there was no place to play metal and hardcore in Tacoma.” Recently, Club NRG and the Deltan Club have also opened within walking distance. And a new dueling piano bar, Keys on Main, is under construction at 1003 Pacific Ave., next door to Vinum Coffee & Wine Lounge. Check the sidebar to this story for more info on the newest kids on the block.

New faces on Pacific Avenue:

Keys on Main

1003 Pacific Ave.

Chopstix may have closed on Sixth Avenue, but that piano bar’s successor is coming soon. Owner George Hasenohrl did not return calls seeking info, but expect something similar to the Keys on Main located at 11 Roy St., in Seattle. And the name is not the result of some Mapquest mishap; it stems from the Main Street address of the original Keys in Salt Lake City.

The Deltan Club

734 Pacific Ave.

A new, multi-tiered dance club has taken over the building that housed Drake’s Pub until 2005 and, more recently, the short-lived Firwood Rock Lounge. On Oct. 26, a drag show went on upstairs while popular Tacoma DJ Omar spun high-octane dance cuts at ground level.

The Lochs

928 Pacific Ave.

The old Hell’s Kitchen sign and décor remain, and that should tell you what to expect from the high-decibel live entertainment. Early on, there has been an emphasis on all-ages hardcore and metal shows as ownership has assembled its staff and the necessary liquor permits.

Tacoma Cabana

728 Pacific Ave.

This new tiki-themed bar occupies half of what was previously Surreal Lounge. Owners Jason Alexander and Robin Lynn provide island-themed cocktails and tasty pu pu platters to help maintain a sunny outlook even as drizzle pours relentlessly from the heavens.

Club NRG

728 Pacific Ave.

The other half of the Surreal Lounge space presents an alcohol-free club environment where the 18-and-up set can dance to block-rockin’ beats. Cover was $15 on a recent weekend.