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Rockin' the new Way

Remodeled clubs bring new life to South Tacoma Way

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The scene on South Tacoma Way is set for a music revolution. Now people just need to venture out and check it for themselves. I went last Saturday and was very excited by what I saw. No longer dark and scary, I saw actual foot traffic of happy laughing party-goers in between venues. Once inside, I didn’t see dirt and sleaze, I saw attractive people amongst shiny new furniture and trendy décor.

The new rock club, Club Vertigo, entered the scene with rock star swagger replacing the former Club 54 with a posh new red and black décor, a roped-off VIP room and several giant flat-screen TVs so that the action on stage can be seen from anywhere in the club (except the bathroom). With a state of the art sound system, comfortable booths where conversations can happen without strain, and an outdoor smoking area that you can actually carry your drink into, this club has a well thought-out design for both bands and patrons. Club owner Joey Gingerella has been booking shows since he was 15 years old so he has a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. He also understands the power of “the scene” versus the power of one club. In a very smart move, he is working with his neighbors at Station 56 booking shows at both clubs. They are currently working toward a joint cover for both venues and hope to include the other music clubs on the strip in this promotion as well.

Max Messmer, owner of Station 56 (formerly The Factory), decided to return to his original plan to have live music instead of hip-hop in his club. When I asked him about the sudden change in format, he said he was lured into the hip-hop scene by the promise of higher profit margins, but pretty soon the hidden costs came to light and he realized that a having a DJ is not necessarily cheaper than a live band. 

Since the room was designed with live music in mind, there isn’t a bad seat in the house — unless you’re upstairs where you can listen but not watch. The stage is wide and open on three sides with a shimmering metallic backdrop that allows the stage lighting to be twice as alluring.

The entire club has been transformed into a visibly cozier environment with softer lighting, pool tables, tall bistro tables and black leather couches. It has a similar vibe to The Swiss downtown Tacoma in that it feels like a big mountain lodge (it also has a similar line-up of cover bands). Unlike the Swiss, however, Station 56 is full of wood, not brick, so the music sounds great no matter how big or small the crowd is. They also have an outdoor smoking deck facing the railroad tracks.

One thing I really appreciate is that the parking at Station 56 is free and easy to find. Messmer said evening patrons are welcome to park along the side of the club, inside the lot surrounded by a chain-link fence across the street and also kitty-corner in the bank parking lot.

Also worth noting, when the sounder train is up and running, it will stop just yards away from Station 56 (between South 56th and South 60th streets, on Washington Street) making the location even more convenient. Since there are several nightclubs within walking distance, this district could become the hottest place in town to party — rivaling Sixth Avenue and all its parking woes. A new Sound Transit parking lot for commuters will be added nearby at South 60th and Adams Street.

Underage music venue, Viaduct, found a new home on South Tacoma Way. This time the club is situated in a space (formerly occupied by Club Sapphire) that has already been fitted to meet fire marshal codes so hopefully they are here to stay. They also have a large parking lot in the back.

In order to afford this more expensive space, it will be used as a retail outlet for CDs and other band merchandise about three hours prior to each show. They will also offer audio recording and screen-printing services, and the space will be rented out on a limited basis to rehearsing bands. Viaduct’s grand opening is Dec. 7 with Van Guard (CD Release Show), Stop at Nothing, Nothing to Prove, Whiskey Rebels, Sunset Riders and True Competition.

Even though it’s not new, I would be remiss not to remind you about Dawson’s Tavern, which has a steady line-up of live music and no cover charge.

Rumor has it that there are more new joints on the horizon. JJ’s Pub and Grub closed down leaving that space available. Stonegate will soon be offering live music, and according to my sources, there are a few more empty spaces that may soon become restaurants and/or nightclubs too.

[Club Vertigo, 5402 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma, 253.678.3593,]

[Station 56, 5602 S. Washington St., Tacoma, 253.474.2639,]

[Viaduct, 5412 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma,

[Dawson’s Tavern, 5443 South Tacoma Way, 253.476.1421]

[Stone Gate, 5421 South Tacoma Way, 253.472-7493]

My name is Angie and I’m just a shot away — If you can’t rock me, somebody will.

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