Make a Scene: New kids on the block: 502 Martini Bar & Lounge and Grit City Comedy Club

A long list of nightclubs has paraded through 100 S. 9th St., the tiered structure that has been home to Seven Cities, Taboo, Cans, Big Whisky and Comedy Underground in recent years. And now there are two new tenants: The 502 Martini Bar & Lounge and Grit City Comedy Club.

The 502 had its soft opening on July 19. Owner Chuck Haines took over the lease from Big Whisky as that club's owners took their country and western theme to another downtown holding, the Varsity Grill, which was rebranded Steel Creek.

Haines' plan is to create an upscale lounge that specializes in craft cocktails and live music, the latter skewing toward jazz, blues and other rootsy styles. (Popular Tacoma singer-songwriter Kim Archer was on premises ironing out the details for a weekly happy hour gig when Tacoma Weekly visited.)

The 502 is also positioned to capitalize on the influx of new workers headed downtown. “I want more daytime traffic,” Haines said. “I think Big Whisky and Cans and Taboo, all of them, were oriented toward night activity, maybe a lot of alcohol, not too much entertainment per se. And I want to do just the opposite.

“I want more of an upscale menu, and I want different types of music. From 6:00 and on we want to create some type of daytime activity. We have a lot of business, including State Farm insurance moving in across the street. So we kind of want to step up, in a sense.”

Haines was joined opening weekend by Grit City Comedy Club owners Aaron Flett and Vince Miller, who took over the basement space that was occupied by the floundering Comedy Underground. Flett and Miller have been running Grit City out of Malarkey's, 445 Tacoma Ave. S., since 2011.

“We're actually going to be running both clubs for a while,” said Flett, who also does standup comedy under the alias Riggs. “Our plan is to keep Grit City where it's at for a little and then put some comics in at the 502 to give them a chance to get their legs under them. It'll be Grit City East and Grit City Stadium – I don't know.”

“Not that Malarkey's was a bad place, but this will be a better place for our demographics,” said Miller. “Our average person is between 30 and 50 and female; and they're gonna want to come to a nice martini-jazz bar much more than they're gonna want to go to a pool hall.”

Grit City Comedy will remain in the basement until the duo finish renovating a spacious, second floor space that overlooks Commencement Bay.

Also possibly on the horizon at the 502 is a cannabis club. The venue's name is a reference to Initiative 502, which passed last November legalizing recreation use of marijuana in Washington; and Haines has an extensive background with medical marijuana.

He said he has used it for years to alleviate symptoms he's suffered from an arthritic condition called Reiter Syndrome. And, in 2010, he founded CannaHealth, a company with clinics in Tacoma, Seattle and Olympia that provides authorizations for medical marijuana cards.

Initiative 502 prohibits the use of marijuana and marijuana-infused products in the view of the general public. And the Washington Liquor Control Board recently instructed Tacoma's Stonegate Pizza to shut down its Vape Club, which allowed members to vaporize cannabis-infused oil in the bar's upstairs lounge.

But, as rules for marijuana licensing are being finalized, Haines speculates that the private clubs could return.

“I don't know what's gonna happen; but I know by the end of January they're going to start issuing licenses,” he said. “I'm going to be looking real close at the attitude of the Liquor Board, because compliance is so important to me. I think whatever the rules are you play within the rules. So I'm really waiting for the Liquor Board to say how they're going to handle this so I can design some kind of model around it.”

The 502 is open Tuesday through Saturdays, and will eventually open Sundays for football. The venue has yet to launch it's web site, but updates can be found on its Facebook page, which can be found by searching for “502 Downtown.”

The latest schedule for Grit City Comedy Club can be found online at http://gritcitycomedy.com/.

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