Thursday, September 23, 2010

Drinking happens here

"Drawn by warm nostalgic feelings for the place and by two sweet little words: 'Open Bar.'" -- William E. Geist

Tacoma natives have a hard time understanding why I thought this icon was a coffee shop. My point is this: It's called Java Jive and the building is shaped like a coffee pot. Who would have ever guessed it was a bar?? Turns out, everyone.

A vet designed it as a roadside restaurant when mimetic architecture (buildings that imitate life) was all the rage. It opened in 1927 but switched to a local watering hole where famous folks stopped by for brews after a new owner bought the 25-foot-tall coffee pot in 1955. It's history is spectacular. Yes, it's listed on the registry of historical places but the fun stuff comes from urban legends and myths that old-timers still love to repeat.

It was once a speakeasy, featured a back room accessed through the ladies restroom during Prohibition and graduated to having go-go dancers. For quite a while, two monkeys named Java and Jive beat on drums while the owners' son played the organ. This is no joke. The monkeys lived in a double-paned glass cage in the bar until sometime in the 60s.

Around the same time, late owner Bob Radonich declared that everybody should drink under the stars. So he began handing out paper and plastic stars for patrons to scrawl their name and a personal message and affix to the ceiling. Many folks still come in on their anniversary, looking for the star they put up the night they met their loved one.

It was named after a popular Ink Spots song and music has always played a large role. This is a place that crooner Bing Crosby and film stars Clara Bow and Harold Lloyd once hung out, that was huge on the punk scene in the 90s and attracted Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. Two movies have been filmed there - "I Love You to Death," starring Kevin Kline, Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, and Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything."

During a recent visit to the bar, the owner showed me the pool table where Keanu Reeves leaned against and told me stories of how the actor wanted to buy the Jive and move it to Hawaii. Then there were the framed photos hanging on the wall of Alec Baldwin and a local man, Teddy, who is an on-screen double for Baldwin and painted the gorilla mural on the side of Java Jive.

Yes, the place is worn-down and dirty but it's full of fascinating tidbits. You bet I'll be back.

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