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Blast from the past

Many of our favorite Tacoma nightlife spots from the past are still around.

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Once upon a time in a gritty land, there was nightlife.

Sure, there’s more nightlife now, but just because there has been a Tacoma nightlife awakening, doesn’t mean there weren’t things to do in T-Town back in the day.

Turns out, the best things about the ’80s and ’90s nightlife are still around, and with the help of some good friends who are die-hard Tacomans from “the day,” I explored what the best of times used to be, and how that hasn’t really changed too much over time.

Back in the day, clubs were springing up out of bizarre little restaurants. These clubs would be hopping, with lines out the door, for a while, and then fade into oblivion.

Kate Shanaman, co-owner of Turning Point Integrative Therapies, remembers those clubs, too, and adds her own memories. “Back in the day, people went to Cheers West, Shenanigan’s and Barbecue Pete’s.”

Shenanigan’s upstairs club, Club Rio and Barbecue Pete’s in the ’80s were Tacoma hot spots for dancing. Cheers West began as a Washington State University sports bar hangout, which morphed into a dance club.

Shanaman, who use to live in the Heidelberg Brewery with many people who were responsible for bringing live music to Tacoma in the early ’90s, recalls the pre-day, all-ages fun that she used to have, going to places like the Pacific Breeze on Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma and Maxim’s, a relatively short-lived all-ages dance club in University Place, currently a coffee shop. But one of her Maxim’s memories remains. “My friend Erin ended up marrying a bouncer there,” Shanaman laughs.

For live music, Shanaman remembers going to the Central (now Hell’s Kitchen), Victory Club (now Jazzbones) and the Red Roof Pub in Ponders Corner, in what was the seamier side of Lakewood.

More warehousey-fun was orchestrated by Shanaman and her Heidelberg roommates with the turkey-bike races. 

“We’d start at the Heidelberg and ride vintage bikes. Bands would play, it was just a big freaking party.”

She recalls, “The place of all places, Magoo’s. It was huge back then. They had the best jukebox in town … that’s where the night always ended, because many could just walk home.”

Renee Seamount of Renee’s Hair Shop recalls the old-school Magoo’s as the place to hang out, especially the magic of the booths. 

Skinheads on Dock Street (now Dock Street Landing), Bob’s Java Jive, and The Swiss were also places Seamount and her friends would go to hang.  Bob’s Java Jive was the unofficial home of long-time Tacoma garage band Girl Trouble in the ’80s (still playing today). The Swiss has hosted many famous Tacoma rock bands including The Wailers, Strypes, Seaweed, Running with Scissors, My Name, Rhino Humpers, and Katie’s Dimples.

“Definitely The Swiss,” adds Shanaman. It was walking distance to the Heildelberg.

Also in agreement, Kris Blondin of Vin Grotto Café and Wine Bar remembers the Swiss fondly, as well as others.

“We started calling it the Holy Trifecta — The Spar, E-9 and The Swiss. There was that perception that you had to have dance music and hard alcohol to meet people — hanging out at a beer pub was our thing, it was all about the beer … Give me a chair and a beer and I was happy,” Blondin recalls.

As a club hopper, I wasn’t the beer in chair type, I was the meet-market uump-che uump-che club, dancing in tight clothes type. Shenanigans’ Club Rio was my primary home away from home, though depending on the day of the week, it might have been Cheers West; it might have been Barbecue Pete’s; it may even have been the Polo Lounge, the short-lived club that sprang out of the Lakewood Bar and Grill, which is now home to Cookies By Design and a real estate office.  This might have been short-lived because of the oddity-factor: you had a ’50s-looking building, pop music, and a crew of barfolk who would stop working every now and again to do a choreographed “Stroke it” dance. 

Since this was also the dawning of the line-dancing age, where the Electric Slide came about and girls squealed and hit the dance floor like a mutated high-school drill team, the Stroke-it dance sort of made sense, in a pre-Coyote Ugly way, but in hindsight, it all seems sort of bizarre.

What’s not bizarre is the longevity of many of the spots we used to frequent.  While Barbecue Pete’s is history, with Grandy’s Restaurant and Lounge in its place, many of the other hangouts we used to go to are still around, even if not in their original form.

Cheers West, The Swiss, the Engine House No. 9 (under new ownership in 2002), Magoo’s (also under new ownership, and with a modified name: Magoo’s Annex), The Spar, and Shenanigan’s still serve up the goods they had back in the day, though Shenanigans has focused on up-scale dining and Club Rio is no longer. 

Providing that type of DJ dance-club action in downtown Tacoma are the Loft, Club Silverstone and Syren Lounge, farther inland, bringing the hot-bodied young people in to shimmy and shake, while the club/restaurant combo can be found at the Factory on South Tacoma Way.

There were good times to be had in the City of Destiny back in the day, but the beauty of it is, those times and places aren’t dead.

Go visit them, and let the good times roll!

[Bob’s Java Jive, 2102 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma, 253.475.9843]

[Cheers West, 7102 27th St. W., University Place, 253.565.6665]

[C.I. Shenanigan’s, 3017 Ruston Way, Tacoma, 253.752.8811]

[Magoo’s Annex, 2710 N. 21st St., Tacoma, 253.759.046]

[The Spar, 2123 N. 30th St., Tacoma, 253.272.2122]

[Engine House No. 9, 611 N. Pine St., Tacoma, 253.272.3435]

[The Swiss, 1904 Jefferson Ave., Tacoma, 253.572.2821]

[Grandy’s Restaurant and Lounge, 1602 S. Mildred St., Tacoma, 253.460.2997]

[The Loft, 2106 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.227.2582]

[Syren Lounge, 1117 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma, 253.383.7135]

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