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Bars where Pete has had a drink

Saturday, October 06, 2012

#1788 - Opal, Tacoma, WA - 5/20/2012

The Opal Lounge, Tacoma, WA - 2020
Update June 2020: It's been a while since I've spent some time on South Tacoma Way, and many of the spaces along this stretch have been given substantial upgrades and/or host some cool new businesses. This includes the Opal Lounge, which was purchased about three years ago by Eric and Suvantha Dickerson, owners of Southbay Dickerson's Barbecue in Olympia, who stripped it down to its bones and refurbished it, while maintaining the name, the neon sign, the unique facade, and preserving the history. Eric showed me around on the visit, including the basement entry behind the bar, where barrels of beer were once received on rails. It's a shame I had other lunch arrangements, but I will definitely come back to try some great looking BBQ and spend a bit more time in one of the oldest bars in the state.

The Opal Lounge, Tacoma, WA - 2012
I have found quite inconsistent dates attributed to the opening of the Opal Saloon, including 1906 and 1912 and there is an old photo of the saloon behind the bar that was subsequently labeled "1902," but this shows the Opal in the building just north of the old Edison Soft Drink Parlor (constructed c. 1900), an address that is now 5220. The "Opal" name is not listed in any Tacoma Polk guides from pre-prohibition years. Nevertheless, I am fairly confident the Opal Saloon was established in its current location by 1901. Various documents associate the ownership in the early years with the Yorkheimer brothers, and Polk Guides list a saloon owned by "Yorkheimer Bros" and later just Frank Yorkheimer from 1901 through 1915. The Dec 31 1915 issue of the Tacoma Times, which includes comments from virtually all bar owners in town on what they planned to do when statewide prohibition went into effect Jan 1, 2016 also puts the Opal Saloon at the current 5226 address, and quotes owner Frank Yorkheimer saying, "I am going to put in a pool table and will sell near beer and lunches." Thus, at least in terms of a bar that maintains the basic name and has existed in the same building, the Opal is the oldest bar in Tacoma and one of the 5 to 10 oldest in the state of Washington.

Nowadays, the bar is a classic little dive, the senior citizen of stretch of dives along the old abandoned highway that is South Tacoma Way. Years ago, the place was known more for its pizza, which it served out through the window of what is now a karaoke stage. The place was purchased by Richard & Carol Charette in 2002.  Richard passed away about a year ago, and Carol put a For Sale sign in the window, but folks at the bar say that she's not willing to part with it for a price that anyone else would be willing to pay.

 Sometime in the last few years the outer facade was painted red, white and blue. The super patriotic theme continues inside with American flag after American flag hanging from the ceiling, and various military and patriotic stickers and tchotchkes lining the walls. The patriotism takes mostly positive, upbeat forms -- including posters for benefits and tributes; but in a few places it takes a more embittered form -- a urinal lined with "Hanoi Jane" stickers, another sticker telling people if they can't speak English they don't belong here. For better or worse, this stretch is lined with old drinking holes and some old ideas.

Read more here:

5226 South Tacoma Way Tacoma, WA 98409 - (253) 473-2600
Est. 1901 or earlier

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That entire stretch of bars on south tacoma has changed DRASTICALLY since the 80s and 90s. Nowhere shows that more than the Opal. A lot of bars on this page are mentioned as "dive bars" but that term doesn't come close to encompassing what the Opal was in the 1990s. At that time the customer base was shaky handed old winos and bag ladies with bloodshot eyes. No one under 50 or 60 seemed to ever be inside and it was a dimly lit, dusty, depressing and forbidding place that seemed to be hell's waiting room for the terminal alcoholic. Photos of the depression era Bowery in NYC would give you more an idea of the ambiance and crowd than any of the yuppie hipster "dive bars" in T-Town now.

They've completely changed it and it has great food and atmosphere now. It is a jarring difference for the few who remember it from 25 years ago.