When you’ve got three kids you don’t date as often as you should. And when you get a whole evening, you want to make it count. So…dinner and a show?
I know, terribly predictable, isn’t it?
In Tacoma…not so much.
What spirit animal would you pick to hover over your right shoulder while you ate a goat-cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped, grilled jalapeño?
If you said,“A Jesuit bull that sailed with Cortez and was later reincarnated as the lead singer of a death metal band,” then I have good news. His skull now hangs over the bar at a restaurant in downtown Tacoma.
But this is no bleached Texas longhorn, and this is no steakhouse.
The hand-painted skull is but one of many artistic expressions that include an array of local metalworks, as well as table tops and a bar carved by the hands of restaurant co-founder, Zak Melang.
A neighbor recommended it to my wife and me. And, having a night to ourselves, we thought we’d check it out. But let’s be honest – it wasn’t due to the Matador’s reputation for happy hour appetizers. And it wasn’t its selection of 300 tequilas. It was one simple phrase – “No Kids Allowed.”
Kinda mean, isn’t it?
Not if you’ve got three kids of your own and want to be spared a few hours of other people’s public parenting, which usually has more to do with impressing an audience than actually raising respectable citizens. No kids? Yes, please!
Actually, the website reads “21+ Guests Only,” which probably has something to do with tequila, but The Matador is much more than a bar. Google Maps calls it a “stylish bar with elevated Mexican food.”
Yes, elevated. Dishes are prepared from scratch, using local and regional ingredients, and everything we ordered bestowed its own unique flavor. We started with the grilled, stuffed jalapeños, plowed through the street tacos, and couldn’t stop dipping from some of the freshest guacamole I’ve ever tasted. Nichole ordered a Horchata, a smooth hand-crafted blend of milk, vanilla, and cinnamon over ice. And even after we’d cleaned our plates, I kept alternating between the salsa, tomatillos, and the remaining guacamole until the check came.
The check that reflected happy hour prices, since we arrived before 5pm!
A good thing too, since the line was growing as we left. The Matador takes no reservations, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Downtown Tacoma hums with happy diners on a Saturday night.
Whom we noticed as we headed toward…
We left The Matador, climbed 9th to St. Helens and continued walking uphill the six-ish blocks to Division Ave. The show started at 7:30, so we had time to explore. We turned up 6th Ave. to step inside Corina Bakery, and if I hadn’t been so full from dinner, I would have tried their fresh baked brownies infused with locally-roasted Valhalla coffee. Gotta come back here.
And I’ve got to come back to King’s Books, a beloved local bookstore. Think of it as Tacoma’s version of Portland’s Powell’s. We snooped around here for a few minutes before heading back up St. Helens to 1st Ave. and dropping down to peek at North America’s version of Hogwarts, Stadium High School. It reminded me of my Australian public school, with a slightly different football field.
Back up 1st, we ducked into Tully’s right before closing and grabbed a couple Americanos to sip as we ambled onto Division at the entrance to Wright Park, turned right on N I St., and entered Tacoma Little’s Theatre’s lobby.
I was still sipping when I walked up to the Will Call window and got our tickets for TLT’s closing performance of Alfred Uhry’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo. With a half-hour and half a cup of coffee to go before curtain, we sat at one of the round tables scattered about the room. I saw that we might’ve skipped Tully’s and ordered coffee at the snack bar opposite the entrance. Coffee, cocktails, candies, and popcorn too – all were enjoyed by the patrons glancing from the modern art exhibits to promotional posters from previous shows to photos and press clippings from Ballyhoo. A couple of season ticket holders sat and talked with us until showtime.
The theatre felt intimate but not cramped, the seating wider than deep. Black walls, ceiling, and rigging focused our attention forward, where the stage extended past the curtain, which would not be used in this production. Instead, a living room scene invited us into the home of a Jewish family living in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1939. Upstage center: a Christmas tree.
We watched as an upper-class German-Jewish family acculturated itself to its Christian neighborhood. As they showed more concern for the premiere of Gone with the Wind than for Hitler’s Polish blitzkrieg. As their matrons played matchmaker and prepared their daughters for the social event of the year. As they wrestled against Southern anti-Semitism by practicing their own brand of bigotry against “the other kind” of Jew, specifically a young Russian from New York, who served as a foil for their cultural betrayal.
As my wife and I retraced our steps back to our car, we talked about the show. No complaints about the production quality – completely free from distractions. The acting was excellent, excepting one of the younger characters, whose dialect sounded a little artificial. But everything else served the story, which…though a little heavy for a date night, deserved further reflection.
Which would have to wait. Our walk back took us past bars, clubs, restaurants, theatres, and cafes. We walked through partiers, concert-goers, and even a nighttime bike ride. We came home amazed at the life that fills downtown Tacoma on a Saturday night and all the different ways to spend one.
Next time we go out – dinner and a show.