Arts & Entertainment: The Swiss turns 20, plans three-day party

// Vicci Martinez to headline kick-off

  • IN CONCERT. The Swiss kicks off its anniversary shows on April 26 with a 7 p.m. concert headlined by the great Vicci Martinez.

  • Steve Stefanowicz will perform on April 28 with his early '90s band Smilin' Jack, the first musical act to ever play the Tacoma nightclub back in 1993. Photo courtesy of

Downtown Tacoma has experienced a full-blown renaissance over the last decade, with the additions of the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, Museum of Glass and light rail, among other fixtures. And heralding the area's makeover 20 years ago was the opening of the Swiss Tavern, at 1904 Jefferson Ave.

One of Tacoma's most popular nightclubs will celebrate its 20th anniversary with three big days of music, food and libation, from April 26 to 28. But owner Jack McQuade remembers a time when the block was a lot seedier than it is now and, at times, it seemed doubtful he and his partners would last as long as they did.

“That area was notoriously known for black tar heroin,” recalled McQuade, who opened the business in 1993 with Bob Hill, Gayl Bertagni and Marty Kling.

“Before we got in and remodeled, the Tacoma Police Department was just about ready to put the padlock on the door and board up the building because of the drug activity,” he said. “So we were lucky to get in there, close it up for six months, remodel it and then started cleaning up the neighborhood. I'd work the days and stay out front, and Bob worked the nights, and I would write down license plate numbers. We'd escort women to their cars. It was a rough area.”

McQuade is the last remaining partner at the Swiss. Kling was bought out years ago. Hill retired on Jan. 1, but will be back to perform with the Twang Junkies on April 28.

Bertagni is commemorated by a portrait that hangs in the showroom. She died in 2009, the victim of an accident near Packwood. She ran the kitchen, and several of her specialties will be brought back next weekend in her honor.

“She was the heart and soul of the place,” McQuade said, “and we're just going to keep things going in her memory.”

The Swiss will kick off its anniversary shows on April 26 with a 7 p.m. concert headlined by Vicci Martinez, the Tacoma singer-songwriter whose career has taken off since she appeared on Fox-TV's “The Voice” in 2011.

Martinez's Universal Records debut album, “Vicci,” is in stores, and the video for “Come Along,” her song with pop mentor Cee Lo Green, is in rotation on VH-1. But local fans could see her honing her chops at the Swiss a decade ago, before she was famous. Tickets to see Martinez are $15 and available through Brown Paper Tickets,

Popular Tacoma cover band Kry will headline its usual ladies night gig on April 27. And then the birthday celebration will kick into overdrive on Sunday with a 2 p.m. show that will feature the 40-Grit Ceiling Sanders, Insuburban Avenue, I For Eye, the Junior Hill Band, Nolan Garrett and the Twang Junkies, featuring Bob Hill. The show will be capped off by Steve Stefanowicz & Smilin' Jack, the first band to play the venue in 1993.

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