Matt Driscoll: To reopen Goldfish Tavern, city of Tacoma helps out

By: Matt Driscoll - Apr 27, 2015
Source: The News Tribune

The saga of the Goldfish Tavern lives on.

This may come as a mild surprise to anyone who has meandered past the fenced-off iconic Tacoma watering hole recently, or, even more so if you’ve peeked inside the door to see a fabled bar in a state of disrepair. Closed in 2012, after a long beer-soaked run that began in 1933, the Goldfish is, if nothing else, defiant. Don’t count it out.

It’s now officially known as The Defiant Goldfish, a nod to its location at the gates of Point Defiance Park, and to the stubborn resilience of its two business owners now eying a summer opening. If the permits come through in time, they hope to be serving customers by June, just in time for the annual Taste of Tacoma. After leasing the building with an eventual option to buy, the business plan envisions a family friendly bistro with pizza, wine, coffee and — yes — beer.

I’ve written about a few historic buildings during my time at The News Tribune, but I’ve never consumed more adult beverages inside one than I have at The Goldfish. I harbor warmly fuzzy memories of barstools, beer, darts and the fireplace in the corner.

What becomes immediately apparent when discussing the tavern is, in Tacoma, I’m not alone. This is a place people love and want to rally around.

The city included.

It’s a fact Adam Dopps discovered firsthand when he and his business partner, Corey Webb, embarked on the process of trying to reopen the bar. A self-described “bar guy,” Dopps arrived in Tacoma last year with his wife and, by chance, discovered what he calls an opportunity that he “would have kicked himself forever” had he not pursued.

“In my entire life, I never would have expected to be able to get a location like this — ever,” Dopps said last week from inside the bar, surrounded by years of accumulated dust and history.

Like many would-be business owners in Tacoma, Dopps explains that he’s not a rich man. A grassroots Facebook onslaught and a Kickstarter campaign late last year got the ball rolling, with an impressive 337 backers quickly coughing up more than $25,000 altogether — proof of the place the Goldfish holds in this city’s heart. So far, with the help of his wife’s paychecks, Dopps says they’re roughly $50,000 into the project.

But it’s going to take more. Dopps says the price tag of getting the building up to snuff has exceeded initial expectations, with electrical and plumbing issues largely to blame. It’s a familiar tale. There have been times, he admits, when he thought the endeavor was doomed.

Now the city of Tacoma’s Community and Economic Development Department has stepped up to help get the Defiant Goldfish’s doors open. While I’ve devoted columns to the city’s inaction, this is an example of the opposite.

Shari Hart, an economic development specialist with the city, described it as an example of “proactive outreach.”

I just call it kind of cool.

“That location has been an asset for the business district and the neighborhood,” Hart said. “That project I think has high value.”

The plight of the Goldfish is a unique one. Thanks to two abandoned fuel tanks under the property from its days as a gas station, traditional financing has proved impossible to secure. Because of this, Dopps and Webb are currently gathering microloans through the Seattle-based “social purpose corporation” Community Sourced Capital, which helps connect small business owners with what they call “mission-aligned funders.”

In the case of the Defiant Goldfish, that’s people who want to see the beloved bar’s doors swing open once again. Loans can be as small as $50, and so far the effort has raised just over $8,000. They’ll need $18,000 by May 15 to succeed.

Where the city really steps in — and steps up — is through a connection with Craft3, a nonprofit community development financing institution that has pledged to match the $18,000, if the Defiant Goldfish can raise it, with a no-interest loan. The relationship with Craft3 is one the city has worked to foster over the last six months; the Northwest nonprofit has closed two other loans within city boundaries during that time, according to Community and Economic Development officials.

Right now, Dopps says $36,000 is what stands between Tacoma and the return of a legendary bar.

If the Defiant Goldfish comes up with it and opens as promised, we should toast the city for doing its part to make it happen.