Tacoma, Washington, has played host to a handful of highlights: it’s the setting of the ‘90s flick “10 Things I Hate About You” (hello, Heath Ledger dancing down the Stadium High School staircase); the birthplace of acclaimed glass sculptor Dale Chihuly and, heck, even Mars candy was founded in Tacoma. Yet somehow, the city has coasted under the radar and lived comfortably in the shadow of Seattle, known newcomer-magnet 30 miles north.
While the city’s uninterrupted views of Mt. Rainier may have stayed secret for an unbelievably long time (you didn’t hear it from me), other things apparently require proclamation: like Tacoma’s vibrant, budding cocktail scene that’s in a class of its own, for one. From beehives to bitters to tabletop bonfires, the following stops embody the small-town-big-city feel of Tacoma.
Start with light bites at Bar 960 at Hotel Murano.
Begin your Tacoma tasting experience at Hotel Murano’s newest addition, Bar 960, dubbed for the temperature of glass cooling ovens and styled after the hotel’s glass art collection. The King Bee cocktail made with pear vodka, champagne and rosemary-infused honey syrup – from the hotel’s resident hives – is a bubbly must-try. Pair it with a colorful Panzanella Salad or the 960 Burger, a wagyu beef patty on Macrina Bakery ciabatta. Digest with a docent-led tour of the hotel’s artwork, which hails from 45 international glass artists including Chihuly.
Wade through oceans of rum at Devil’s Reef.
Staking claim as Tacoma’s only tiki bar, Devil’s Reef is a dimly lit, jewel-toned Polynesian escape within Opera Alley. Rum bottles gleam along the wall behind co-owner Jason Alexander, who will present you with an original creation, many of which feature fresh-squeezed juices and homemade coconut cream. Looking for a tropical concoction, whipped smooth, topped with an orchid and served a la coconut? Request a Voodoo Summoning. Prefer something moody and spiced to match the ambiance? Try aged dark rum-focused Captain Obed’s Grog. The takeaways: no two rums are created equally; and yes, perpetual island time exists.
Hit En Rama for sherry and tapas.
If you thought it couldn’t get more niche than tiki, think again. Chris Keil’s En Rama offers Spanish-style tapas and all the sherry you can comprehend by stop number three. Right on par with the unpretentiousness of a Tacoma native, Keil says inspiration struck when he was camping with friends and ended up pairing hot Cheetos with sherry. While you won’t find cheese puffs on the menu, the owner’s adventurous spirit shines through in dishes featuring ingredients like housemade pimento cheese, pickled shellfish and merguez sausage, and of course, in the cocktails. Sip a sherry, absinthe and cacao nib- and star anise-infused whiskey “de la Lousiane.”
Get cozy with locals at The Camp Bar.
Grab a beanie and aspire to a T-Loc’s level of chill at The Camp Bar, where wilderness-themed digs – think deer mounts and mountainous art – meet dive-y late-night karaoke and pool. Order a draft beer or perhaps the One-Eyed Squirrel, a transparent yet complex mix of sparkling wine, vodka, lime and aloe vera juice (you know, to help that sunburn you got while camping…). Not necessary during your time at the Camp Bar: captivating the room with a Johnny Cash classic. Necessary: indulging in Tableside S’mores, a mini roasting station of graham crackers, chocolate squares and marshmallows to share with your table.
Sip a nightcap at Alma Mater’s Matriarch Lounge.
Let your final stop be the Matriarch Lounge, just a few blocks up from Hotel Murano. By day, Alma Mater is an artists’ hub with a performance venue, café and outdoor space, with recording studios and shared work spaces on the way. By night, the contemporary lounge opens its doors for happy hour and seasonally rotating cocktails. Before she’s gone, catch the Gold Dust Woman: a mix of brown butter-washed bourbon, Belgian Candi syrup and cherry bark vanilla bitters.