The Fish might go belly-up.
The Goldfish Tavern, the iconic bar near the entrance to Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, could be closing by the end of this year.
And the South Sound could lose one of its oldest bars – an establishment that survived the Great Depression and waves of gentrification but could fall victim to further development in the Ruston/West Tacoma neighborhood.
The land upon which the 75-year-old bar sits is for sale. The business owner, who is battling health conditions and said the bar hasn’t made much money since she took it over 15 years ago. She would like to sell the business and is likely to opt out of the last five years of her lease if she can’t find a buyer.
"And, with the land for sale, it’s not likely we’re going to find a buyer," for the bar, 58-year-old Sandie Stevens said. According to the Pierce County Assessor’s Web site, the land upon which the tavern sits is valued at $248,100. The property’s owner, Carol Gore, did not return messages left at her Tacoma home.
If the bar closes, Tacoma loses an establishment steeped in the region’s history. The building was erected in 1930 and served as a gas station, trolley stop and ice cream parlor. When the Eighteenth Amendment ended Prohibition in December 1933, the Goldfish Tavern opened later that month.
Over the decades, it became a haunt for local residents, construction workers and, later, motorcycle enthusiasts. Today, it retains its blue-collar charm: If there’s a large construction project nearby, Stevens said, many workers will have lunch at the Goldfish and drop by for a drink when they’re done.
Lines of Harley-Davidsons were often seen in the parking lot in recent years – during the 1980s, regulars recall how some would drive their hogs into the bar itself – but the ambiance has since mellowed.
The clientele now is often an eclectic mix of North End and Ruston residents, college students and others who want to continue the party after wedding receptions and other events in Point Defiance Park ended.
Inside, the heat during the winter still comes from a fireplace and it’s the patrons’ job to stoke it during the day. When the fire begins to dwindle, some customers will split logs feet away from the bar before throwing it in.
The tavern has been named the Goldfish since it opened, Stevens said, but tables with small inlaid aquariums disappeared about 20 years ago. The lone remaining aquarium is the one behind the bar that houses goldfish.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the bar’s drink menu that only includes beer and wine. Stevens said serving hard liquor would cause too rowdy of a scene and ruin the bar’s laid-back atmosphere.
"There aren’t too many bars still around that are only beer-and-wine places," she said. "And I probably could have served hard liquor, but I didn’t want to do that. That’s not what we’re about."
Regulars sitting at the bar Wednesday said they keep coming back because the place hasn’t changed much and everyone still knows each other’s names. One customer sat at a back table sipping a beer and working through stacks of paperwork. Four others sat at the bar and talked sports and the goings-on of the area.
"I used to tell people that I own a bar," Stevens said. "But, really, I don’t own it. They own it. I just pay the bills."