Arts & Entertainment

Tacoma bar review

From craft cocktails to dive bars.

Photo by Josephine Trueblood | The Java Jive’s eclectic decor

Tacoma is known for its bars, and in particular, its magnificent, gritty dive bar scene. While there are nearly too many good ones to count – Top of Tacoma, Zodiac Supper Club, The Valley – here is an incomplete guide to some of my personal favorite Tacoma jaunts. 

Bob’s Java Jive:

The world-famous Bob’s Java Jive is currently in its Renaissance – after nearly 70 years, the Jive recently obtained a liquor license. The 1927 teapot building is responsible for some of the most fabulous Tacoma lore, from live monkeys to countless iconic shows to serving as a filming location, the Java Jive is a South Tacoma must-see. The slightly-tiki dive bar vibe lives up to the Jive’s storied reputation; the music is always good, you will consistently leave with at least four pictures of odd knick-knacks in your phone (my personal favorite is the beautiful old jukebox in the corner) and you somehow manage to run into at least two people you know. Stop by for karaoke or jazz night and stay because you got too tipsy and had to sit in the outside seating area for a little while.

The Mule:

Black tuck & roll booths and gorgeous swag lamps: The Mule embraces dive-bar-chic and raises you house-made tonics, syrups and ginger beer. With arguably some of the best cocktails in Tacoma, The Mule has taken the classic South Tacoma Way bar to the next level. With a consistently good playlist, pool, wonderful bartenders, an outdoor patio and drag queen bingo, The Mule really has it all. Personal favorite spot: the sad clown corner, covered in hilarious and mildly-offputting vintage clown paintings, perfect for any outing with friends.

Photo by Lesley McLam | Some bar food.

The Church Cantina:

It just so happens that you can get the best Cuban-inspired food in town at the local goth bar. The Church Cantina exemplifies all things dark with an impressive collection of Addams Family and goth pinball machines, gorgeous blood red lighting along with horror-themed decor and drinks. For such a spooky bar, be warned, their cocktails are definitely on the sweeter side. With amazing ‘80s song title references, including the impressive “Like A Vegan” menu, The Church always has a good mix, whether it be metal, industrial or darkwave. Hosting regular post-punk, goth and synthpop DJ nights, The Church has been consistently providing Tacoma with a killer dance floor, which is a rare find. Check out the South Tacoma Way bar, and make sure you dress for the occasion! 

The 1111:

Winning the best bar food award by a landslide, the Peterson Bros. “Eleven Eleven” is a Hilltop staple. Adorned with eclectic Tacoma memorabilia and hand-built, reclaimed wood fixtures, this Tacoma dive bar has quickly become a classic since their opening in 2012. At first glance, the 1111 is a total dude bar, covered in vintage Olympic and Rainier Brewery iconography. Don’t be fooled – 1111 is the hip spot to take all your vegan friends. Their extensive vegan menu is superb, and their regular menu is filled with delicious, elevated staples like their bacon mac + cheese – I have literally never had a subpar meal here. Stop by the Peterson Bros.’ other venture, The Valley, where they often host live bands and yet another fantastic menu.