Tacoma’s craft cocktail lounge 1022 South has received a good deal of positive media coverage in the past two years, including pieces in the NY Times Magazine Blog , The Seattle Weekly, and most recently by Cult Tacoma.
1022 South excels in nationally recognized cocktail nerdery to the highest degree with an inventive menu comprised of infusions and botanicals, quality (and often house-made) ingredients, and thoughtful consideration of details down to the type of ice the bartenders use. It is no surprise that the bar is often packed with locals and out of towners alike who are seeking a well-crafted drink.
As Tacoma’s food and drink scene evolves, it brings with it an increasingly invested group of consumers who want something more than Major Label booze and soda, martinis that involve candy, or shots suggesting body parts. 1022 South doesn’t just appeal to this group, the bar actively cultivates this culture by raising patron expectations as to what a bar should be able to offer.
Others have articulated that Tacoma has strong, raw potential for becoming more widely renowned for innovative, forward thinking food and drink and I agree. Aided by national trends of eating and drinking locally, seasonally, and generally more thoughtfully, 1022 South and to a lesser extent, other bars and restaurants like Marrow and Maxwell’s have begun to cultivate a robust culinary and cocktail resurgence featuring the flavors of Tacoma.
Although this movement in still minor in scale in the face of Tacoma’s much loved greasy spoons, it is a dynamic, growing shift in the city’s culinary milieu.
1022 South releases their new Spring menu on March 29th, their third anniversary, and this event inspired me to visit several other favorite drinking establishments to get a sense of Tacoma’s current cocktail culture.
The results of my excursions included several hits and a couple of misses, but I remain optimistic that the demand for well-crafted drinks will continue to increase, forcing restaurants and bars to respond with unique and mindfully prepared cocktails.
Marrow is home to one of the best food menus in Tacoma and has filled a significant culinary gap with its use of wild game and diverse proteins. The restaurant also offers an entire menu of complex vegetable-based dishes that intrigue both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. I only wish Marrow’s cocktail menu took similar risks.
Marrow’s use of fresh squeezed juices and herbs should help to create a more flavorful, complex drink however the nuances in a couple of the cocktails I sampled were overpowered by sweet syrups which dominated the flavor profile.
The Juanita is tequila based drink with Campari, lime, and agave syrup served on the rocks. I was hopeful that the herbal, bitter Campari would help to accent the peppery notes of the Cazadores Blanco tequila but ultimately, the heavy handed pour of agave syrup overwhelmed the cocktail completely.
However, not all of Marrow’s cocktails suffer the same tooth-aching fate. At the suggestion of a friendly Marrow bartender, I found a hit with the Ruby. Inspired by Portland-based bartender/mixologist Lucy Brennan’s recipe of the same name, the Ruby is concocted with beet infused Monopolowa vodka, a touch of lemon, lime, and simple syrup. Marrow’s version of the cocktail is well balanced, with heavy earthy undertones and a beautiful deep red color from the beets. I’m hopeful that Marrow will experiment more with infusions like this when summer produce gets into full swing. For now, Marrow will keep me coming back because of the creative food and fantastic service, but I am excited to see how their cocktail menu develops.
Maxwell’s Speakeasy & Lounge is thankfully not, as the name suggests, an overdone novelty bar requiring a secret password or special knock for entry. Although refreshing that Maxwell’s doesn’t rely on kitschy tropes of the speakeasy found in many trendy bars throughout the country, I would like to see some of the contemporary themes of revisiting and refreshing historical prohibition-era cocktail recipes reflected in their bar menu. The lounge boasts only a small number of craft cocktails on the winter bar menu and has a focus on bourbon-based drinks.
On my visit I tried Maxwell’s Man in the Suit, a take on a Rusty Nail, (3 oz. scotch, ½ oz. Drambuie) with the addition of cardamom bitters and an orange twist. Scotch serves as the drink’s base, and I would prefer something a little less malty than the Johnnie Walker Red that Maxwell’s uses–a slight upgrade to Johnnie Walker Black would do the trick. The Drambuie provides a honey-sweet backdrop to the scotch and adds a more complex herbal note. I would have also liked to taste more of the cardamom bitters, however, the ice melted so fast in my drink that it was quickly watered down and the delicate flavor was unfortunately lost.
I was drawn to the Paris on a Shoestring cocktail because of the house infused Earl Grey vodka, but it also includes Stolichnaya vanilla vodka, and agave and lemon. The bartender used more vanilla vodka than Earl Grey, making for an overtly sweet cocktail when paired with the agave. The bergamot flavor of the tea-infused vodka was pleasantly prominent and added a deep complexity that played nicely with the vanilla. The experience was made better by serving the cocktail in a snifter that helped to trap the citrusy aroma of the Earl Grey vodka. Despite its sweetness, the creativity and playfulness of this cocktail made it a menu standout.
As 1022 South continues to raise the bar for cocktails in the Puget Sound region, other bars and restaurants in Tacoma should emulate this passion for producing innovative cocktails using high quality ingredients, as there is clearly an enthusiastic audience to support, sip, and savor such concoctions.
While craft cocktails are still a niche in the City of Destiny, bars and restaurants like 1022 South, Marrow, Maxwell’s, and others are helping to cultivate a culture of educated cocktail imbibers that is growing the demand for artfully curated drinks. As demand for quality increases with education about craft cocktails, it is my hope that it won’t be long before there is a public outcry against commercial sour mix and icky neon pink maraschino cherries that have for so long occupied space in Tacoma’s cocktail tradition.
In addition to some of the newer bars reviewed in this article, there are a number of classic Tacoma watering holes with storied traditions of stiff drinks and good eats. I look forward to trying out some of the city’s oldest imbiberies in the next edition of the Cocktail Roundup. Cheers!