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Top Dive Bars in Pierce County

I pull my head off the bar and give you my favorites

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In Texas we called ’em “icehouses.” And it meant you didn’t care if your hair was done or if your makeup looked purdy. They served the greasiest of caloric delicacies and the coldest, cheapest beer around. The fanciest of icehouses served Shiner Bock, which was a little pricier because it was considered an import, coming from the distant breweries of Shiner, Texas. All your neighbors and best friends could be found belly up bar top at any given time, and we didn’t consider anything about these places to be trashy or low class. They were simply our local hangouts.

Here in the Pacific Northwest they’re called “dives.”

Unfortunately, most Washingtonians probably can’t fathom the beer-buzzed icehouse experiences that have shaped me — and made me a fan of dive bars for life. It’s not always the poor décor or lack of cleanliness that makes a bar a dive. Sometimes it’s the feel of home and belonging that these icehouses offer.

With that said, I’d like to take a moment to pass on my expertise and grant you this gift of somewhat useless icehouse knowledge. For the past year I’ve been the official Weekly Volcano dive bar correspondent, and right now I’d like to present my top nine dive bars of 2008 — in no particular order — taken from the reports I logged throughout the year. 
It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Prepare to saddle up.

The Beach Tavern

8612 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.564.9984
Somewhat recently reconfigured, the bar at the Beach Tavern is well-kept and fully padded. Not only is it comfortable to lean on, but the barstools are just the perfect width for some pleasant ass time while belly up. But wait! The padding doesn’t stop at just the bar area. The walls are padded; the booths are padded, and the posts running down the aisles are padded too. A fellow barfly quickly announced that at The Beach everyone was pure, unadulterated crazy — hence the padded walls.

Alongside the bar top beer nuts, beef jerky, and cashews for sale comes a special bottled sauce that intrigued me to no end. It was called The Sauce Enhancer. What the hell? I had to try it. After pouring some of this special sauce into my Bloody Mary, I concluded that yes, this locally made, not-found-in-stores Sauce Enhancer does in fact enhance your sauce. Go figure.


116 E. Main Ave., Puyallup, 253.841.2931
It’s 3 p.m. on a Friday, and Bumpy’s is a-bumpin’ all right. It’s a mixture of white-collar, blue-collar, and no-collar men and women. They’re coming in by the busloads as if they had been waiting for three o’clock all day.

The lower the building capacity the better the dive’s grade. A rough estimate of the capacity at Bumpy’s is 50 or 60 drunks — at least by the math of this drunk. What’s crazy about Bumpy’s is within this small space lies the kitchen (a 6-foot-by-6-foot box), two dart machines (huge, floor standing models), a 10-foot-by-10-foot dance floor (that the dart machines are on), a fully loaded wall of pull tabs, and some bartenders who could kick my ass with smiles on their faces.

Captain Jack’s

13501 Valley Ave. E., Sumner, 253.826.0679
Captain Jack’s is a definite dive bar, and a dilapidated hole — to say the least. Each wall is not only a different color, but a different texture as well. Some are shingles; some are puttied, and some are flat painted. The carpet is atrocious, and the bar tables look like they were pieced together by someone who was blind in one eye. Tacky beer signage, rope lights and buckets collecting rain from a leaky roof give Captain Jack’s a beyond-passing dive bar score. But you know what? Given the worn-in appeal, the place is friendly, cozy, and gave us everything we needed. It gave us chowder. It gave us good service. And oh yeah, it gave us ice cold beeeeeeeeeeer.

Dock Street Landing

535 Dock St., Tacoma, 253.272.5004
The Dock has always been a place for late-night antics and drunken memories for me. It wasn’t until I started to be all grown-up-like that I noticed just how much of a borderline dive this joint could be.

I decided to take my cold Blue Moon brew outside and enjoy the sun one midsummer day. It was there that I noticed a lone gentleman in the corner, wearing all black, sitting spread-eagle — one leg propped up on a table and the other on a bench — straddling nothing but a heaping helping of Tacoma waterfront air. He glared at me in the weirdest and most wonderful way possible as he silently pulled out his harmonica and began to play me his tune.

Galloping Gertie's

15417 Union Ave. S.W., Tillicum 253.584.4848
I know Tillicum is primarily an off-base military town filled with young, crew cut men, but TWELVE barber shops along a 1-mile strip of Union Ave.? I’m thinking 12 dive bars would be more appropriate for a street just off a military installation. Don’t you?
More important than any haircut, I was jonesin’ for a liquid lunch, so into Galloping Gertie’s side door lounge I went. Right away Arlette the bartender greeted me like an old friend, and old friends are what we quickly became. As I bellied up to the bar, I noticed why Arlette was so hospitable. A handwritten sign below the TV read: “Be nice or go away.” Now that’s a motto I can respect.

One more thing: The staff isn’t afraid to call orders across the room.  The customers aren’t afraid to yell back.

The Harvester

29 N. Tacoma Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.1193
I tried to blend in and simply people watch, but a nearby table caught onto me. A gentleman at the table gave me googly eyes and flirted with a smile. I glared at him and whispered a warning, “I’m watching you. Be good.” He immediately picked up his boring newspaper (obviously not a Weekly Volcano) and began reading. That’s right, be afraid, mister. Be very, very afraid.

With the amount of alcohol inside the Harvester’s fiery and flavorful Bloody Mary, it was easy to forget I had anything to do. The Harvester lounge is a great place to get going on your afternoon drunk, I guarantee.

The Haven

12510 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma, 253.537.5150
Music blared from the jukebox; people chatted away, and not one but two bartenders greeted me with fervor and friendship. I sipped a tall, cool one bar side and enjoyed the hot, young college locals and sexy biker-dudes alike.

There was no bad carpet, and The Haven was tastefully tacky with a wonderfully obscene amount of holiday decorations — fake spray snow and all. I could’ve stayed all day, and I almost did. Once I reached a point of hunger, it was the pizza I was told to eat. Rumor has it that even Farelli’s Pizza down the street sends its employees to grub on the pies here.

O’Malley’s Irish Pub

2403 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.383.3144
I had been to O’Malley’s a few times in my old Femme Fianna Dockyard Derby Dames days. It was always late at night, and the joint was always dark, crowded and reeked of beer and sweat. I loved it. The best throwdowns, punk bands and bartenders have graced O’Malley’s soil during the after-dinner hours. I returned during daylight hours and saw the place for what it really was.

Patrons filled up every seat next to me, and I quickly discovered that I was invading someone’s territory. They let it be known both verbally and physically. I received notice of my invasiveness as people literally came up to me and glared at me as if to say “What the f*** are you doing in my seat?” It was awesome.

Valley Pub

1206 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.572.8321
The minute I walked into Valley Pub Roxy introduced herself, called me cute, and we took off as friends from there. The manager checked my ID while complimenting me the whole while. Soon, I was being told of local bums and prostitutes, the city completing a sting on said prostitutes, the death of a former bar patron, a potluck celebration of his life, how Roxy isn’t a prostitute because she “can’t even give the shit away,” and how incredibly sweet the old manager was — apparently she was everyone’s best friend. This information came from these people completely voluntarily. They had no idea I string words for the Weekly Volcano.

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