Monthly Archives: April 2008

Jack Cameron's Tacoma: Pt. Defiance Part 1

Part of the idea of Jack Cameron’s Tacoma is to give you a tour of my hometown in a way that only I can. Everyone has their favorite places and I just feel like sharing some of mine. The other part of this is just to make it so this site has regular updates that aren’t always about homicides in Tacoma (which by the way, have been way down this year).


So I’ve told you about Pete Lira, the best barber in Tacoma. And I’ve told you about John Munn’s comic book shop, Comic Book Ink. And I’ve told you most recently about The Red Hot and the Parkway Tavern. What’s next? Well how about I tell you about my favorite place in Tacoma?


I’ve been going to Point Defiance Park as long as I can remember and though I’ve been known to go to church from time to time, it’s the only ground in Tacoma that I feel is holy. Point Defiance is a 702 acre oasis from the rest of the world. Growing up in South Tacoma, Point Defiance really was the opposite of my neighborhood and somehow the place I feel most at home.


My parents used to take me to the Point Defiance Zoo when I was a kid. And sometimes we’d go down to Owen Beach or play on the play ground or even play at the Japanese Gardens. I enjoyed all of this, but really Point Defiance didn’t come alive until I started going there on my own.


Though I lived on South 40th and had gone to Stewart Middle School, I had decided that I’d go to high school in the North End where I knew nobody. So I went to Wilson High School, which just happened to be only a couple miles from Point Defiance. Needless to say, I ended up there a lot, whether I was by myself or with friends, I enjoyed exploring trails throughout the park. I even found one trail that went down to a secluded area of the beach. Unfortunately, I found it when I was with my friend Charlie.


So the next chance I had, I took my girlfriend down this trail. I thought it’d be a great place to make out. Turned out we got into and argument and broke up. This pissed me off. Not so much because of the break up, but because up until that point I’d only ever had good memories of being at Point Defiance and she’d ruined that.


I decided the thing to do was flood my mind with memories of this place. Whenever I didn’t have any other plans, you could find me at Point Defiance, usually exploring trails or climbing the cliffs by the water. It got to the point that when my friends thought of me, they thought of Point Defiance. A few years ago when they put speed bumps throughout Five Mile Drive, four friends called me to let me know. I was their first phone call and they were genuinely concerned I’d be upset. I wasn’t. I’d already gone through Five Mile Drive at sixty miles an hour. I didn’t need to do it again.


I think the thing that makes Point Defiance such a wonderful place is that it has this amazing diversity to it. As you enter the park, there’s the Rose Garden where hundreds of people have their weddings every year. One late summer afternoon, I was walking with a friend of mine. She was just about to move back east. We’d never worked out romantically, but were good friends. We went by some maintenance guy who gave her a rose and we kept walking. It was one of the most romantic walks I’ve ever been on. We both said so and then said how we wished we were other people.


Just past the Rose Garden are the Japanese Gardens. It’s such a small part of Point Defiance but it has a lot of character. There is a red curved foot bridge over these little stone ponds and there are benches everywhere. There’s also this little stream that has a series of rocks you can step on to cross the stream. This may not seem like much but crossing those rocks when I was a little kid made me feel like Indiana Jones.


If you walk down from the Japanese Gardens, across a wooden overpass, you end up at the Point Defiance Boathouse. It’s primarily a place to rent little motorboats and fishing equipment, though you can pick up a few souveniers if that’s your thing. From time to time, Charlie and I used to rent a motorboat ($50/a day back then) and explore Commencement Bay. We didn’t really have any interest in fishing.


Walk to the right of the Boathouse and you’ll end up at Anthony’s, an okay seafood restaurant that showed up sometime in the late 90’s. Past that is the Vashon Ferry dock where you can take a Ferry to Vashon Island. In my entire life I think I’ve been to Vashon Island three times so I can’t really tell you anything about the place.

Walk to the left of the Boathouse and you’ll end up walking where I’ve walked over a thousand times. It’s Owen Beach and though there are bigger and better beaches, it’s still my favorite. At some point they decided to put a sidewalk in and when they did, they etched original poetry from local poets in some of the sidewalk sections. None of it is good. And really, I would have preferred it with no sidewalk at all. Still, with a forest on one side of you and the water on the other, it’s a great place to take a walk. And if you really can’t stand the sidewalk, you can always go into the forest and follow the trail that runs parallel to it, though it’s not always the most accessible trail.


Owen Beach really has two sections. There’s the Boathouse side and then there’s the other side. You’ll notice a clearing at the half way point and a trail with stairs that goes up to the playground. Also there’s an abandoned building that I think was a bathroom at some point. Now it’s just a place that the local kids occasionally try to break into. Also there are stone steps leading from the elevated sidewalk down to the rocky beach. At the top of these steps, there used to be a wooden bench. For many years, that bench was my favorite place in the entire world. I don’t know that I can fully explain why that bench meant so much to me. I think part of it was that it was the center point between the two parking lots so it was as far as I could easily get away from everything. Even now, I’ll stop right there just for a moment.


In fact, let’s pause until next week when I post Part Two.


Jack Cameron's Tacoma: The Red Hot

Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue is arguably the most representative street of Tacoma. It starts just up the hill from the waterfront at Antique Row, goes past The Hob Nob and Wright’s Park, then by It’s Greek To Me and Jason Lee Middle School, past that is one O’Malley’s, one of the best dive bars in Tacoma, a little past that is the best Indian Restaurant in that state, Gateway to India. About a block up from there is a Piano Bar called Chopsticks. Before that it was a place called Fenders and just across the street from there is a coffee shop called Shakabra Java. Just a few blocks up from that is a 7-11 near the campus for the University of Puget Sound, but before you get that far up the road, look to your left and you just might see a little bar called The Red Hot.


I first heard about The Red Hot from my friend Bridget. She told me it was a bar that sold gourmet hot dogs. I thought to myself ‘a bar called The Red Hot that sells hot dogs….how is this not a gay bar?’ Not that I have a problem with that. Hell gay bars are the only places where someone might buy me a drink. But Bridget insisted it wasn’t a gay bar and that their hot dogs were amazing. Personally I’m not one for hot dogs, but as much as I love the Parkway, sometimes a little variety is good.


So the other day when I was in the neighborhood with my friend Nate, we went to the Red Hot. Turns out, despite knowing about where it was and having Nate even point it out to me, I drove right by the place. This is not a bar that screams out its location (Unlike Hell’s Kitchen further up Sixth Ave.).I turned around, found a place to park and we walked into one of the smallest bars I’ve ever been to. The walls are red (which makes sense if you’re going to call a place The Red Hot). The first thing I noticed though was that a bartender named Anne worked there. I knew her from a couple of her previous jobs. One as a bartender at O’Malley’s. Another as the woman I paid my rent to at Williams’ Properties. At some point I will write more about Williams’ Properties and their recently deceased patriarch, Rex Williams, but right now the important thing is that a bartender I recognize poured us a pitcher of Cinder Cone. Cinder Cone is a great red ale and exactly the sort of beer Nate and I can agree on.


We selected a table near the front of the place. There’s a big window looking out on Sixth Avenue and from it we watched this pimp-looking guy on a bicycle repeatedly ride around then stop and use the pay phone across the street. I picked up their menu off the table, which is actually just a tall thin laminated card printed on both sides. The entire menu was hot dogs. Hot dogs with onions, mustard, chili, whatever. And most of them had Tacoma-centric names. Being a lifelong Tacoman, I could appreciate names like ‘The Hilltop Stranger’. Still, I’m not a hot dog guy. So I just order a hotdog with meat chili and no mustard. (They call it The Coney). It was good, but not amazing. But that’s just my opinion. Bridget feels entirely differently. Nate didn’t have one so I don’t know how he feels.


A short while later Bridget showed up and as we were talking, I realized this bar wasn’t half bad. It was Wednesday, which apparently means Movie Night. That night’s movie was Shaun Of The Dead. A good movie to watch in a bar; It’s damn funny and not something you have to pay complete attention to. Unfortunately it wasn’t on for another hour and a half and we weren’t going to be there that long.


The Red Hot is a good addition to Sixth Avenue and Tacoma. And if you’re someone who likes hot dogs, you’ll probably like it even better than I do. Here’s hoping it lasts longer than Fenders.


The Red Hot

2914 6th Ave
Tacoma, WA 98406
(253) 779-0229

Jack Cameron's Tacoma: The Parkway

A few years ago I lived in an apartment in a building called The Ivy House on North 3rd and Yakima in the Stadium District of Tacoma. Like any good Tacoman, one of the first things I did was find the nearest bar. As luck would have it, just around the corner was the Parkway Tavern.


With a bunch of microbrews on the tap and a set of hot and/or friendly bartenders, The Parkway Tavern quickly became my drinking spot of choice. Not only was it a great place but it was stumbling distance from my apartment. Suddenly the pricey rent was worth it.


When I first found the Parkway, it wasn’t much more than a neighborhood bar and anyone who hadn’t been inside would have just assumed that it was a dive bar. This kept the bar nicely quiet and I liked that so much that I rarely told anyone besides my friends about the place. It’s not often you find a bar with a good beer selection, reasonable atmosphere, and a great staff that isn’t packed any given night.


So why am I writing about it now? Because the secret is out. About a year and a half ago, the Parkway began a renovation that has turned the Parkway from a nice little neighborhood bar to one of the best taverns in the country. This isn’t just my opinion. They’ve been profiled in Esquire. Since I can’t keep it quiet, I figure I might as well put my two cents in.


Yes, the Parkway is significantly busier than it used to be. But part of their renovations included creating the Red Room. The Red Room is located directly behind the Parkway’s kitchen. There’s a big flat screen television, a fireplace, and various skins and maps on the red walls with Zebra-print seats. If this sounds nothing like the Parkway I’ve been describing, you’re right. The Red Room is almost like a bar within a bar in that it doesn’t feel like anything else there. Consequently, it makes the place feel bigger than it is.


On weekends, the Parkway serves breakfast and for the past couple years I’ve made it a semi-regular habit to show up on Sunday mornings with some friends, have some food and hang out with friends. My personal favorite is the breakfast burrito which is exactly what it sounds like. The best way to start off is with the Pear Cider. It’s a nice fruity concoction that fits with the morning and makes you not feel so bad about drinking before noon.


If it’s later in the day or if you’d just prefer to start off with a real beer, I suggest the Laganitas IPA. They almost always have it on tap and it goes well with just about anything. You’ll also want to ask what’s new on tap. Sometimes they get in kegs of limited microbrews that only last a few days. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, try whatever they have on cask.


The Parkway is such a great place that I still end up  meeting up with friends there despite the fact that I no longer live anywhere near it. If you’re near Tacoma and you prefer your alcohol in beer instead of hard alcohol The Parkway is the place to go.


Next week we’ll go to the opposite end of the spectrum and I’ll tell you about the best dive bar in Tacoma.


Pete Lira, The Best Barber In Tacoma

       Last summer my dad ended up in the hospital. For most of the summer he was unable to move most of his body. He had something called Gilliam-Barre Syndrome. Basically it makes your body stop moving and in most cases, it eventually goes away. In the meantime though, you need to be monitored in case it spreads to something important like your lungs. And then you have to go to physical therapy to learn to move again. It’s not fun.

I was explaining all of this to my barber, Pete Lira last summer. After making sure my dad’s prognosis wasn’t fatal, Pete’s first question was, “Who is cutting his hair?”  It was honestly something I hadn’t thought of. Sure, my dad had been in the hospital for a month and his hair and beard were getting very scruffy looking, but the only reason I’d brought it up to Pete was just to make conversation.

It turned out that my dad’s barber kept meaning to come up but hadn’t. This was no good to Pete. The following week, Pete came with me to the rehab section of St. Joseph’s hospital. He’d brought the tools of his trade and suddenly my dad was looking a lot better. The only payment Pete would accept for this gesture was a bottle of whiskey that I was more than happy to supply.

This wasn’t just a haircut for my dad. This was the turning point in my dad’s recovery. The haircut and shave made him feel better and as a result he was better. And the thing that made this most amazing to me was that when I’ve talked to Pete about it, he just says, “It needed to be done.”

Pete’s place is called Thee Barber Shop. I’ve never asked him why. ‘Thee’ sounds like something old and in a lot of ways, Thee Barber Shop is exactly that. It’s been my opinion for a while now that the best time to be a white American heterosexual male was in the early 50’s. There were Men’s Clubs and Men did what they wanted and the future looked so bright that it was almost easy to ignore the injustices that were being done to just about anyone who wasn’t a white heterosexual male in America. As times have moved on, things have become more equal, sure. And that’s great, but what’s been lost is the idea of something men do. Thee Barber Shop is a place for Men to get their hair cut.

            I’m not one for salons. I don’t want to walk into a place where fully half of the shop is a shampoo and hairspray store. I don’t want some twenty-year old blonde to flirt with me as she gives me the exact same haircut she gave the last five guys she flirted with. I don’t want someone to flirt with me while she cuts my hair. I want someone to flirt with me because of my hair cut.

            Pete Lira has been cutting hair for forty years and the last few of those years, have been in downtown Tacoma. He’s a national champion. And he’s a great guy whose hair cuts cost less than $25. And the most amazing thing about him is also the one thing I think needs to change: You can usually get a hair cut the same day you call. Personally, I don’t get it. A guy like Pete should be booked up for the next week or so, but he’s not.

I’ve sent a lot of people Pete’s way and every one of them has said that his haircuts were the best they’d ever had. A few weeks ago, Pete gave me something he’d written about being a barber and asked me to set up a quick website for him, so I did. He also asked me to put something on there telling you to tell him ‘Jack sent me’ if you end up calling him. Personally, I couldn’t care less about the credit. I just want him to get more business and be as successful as he should be. And if he ever asks me why, I’ll just say, “It needed to be done.”



Thee Barber Shop

Freighthouse Square

2501 East D Street, Tacoma WA 98421


 Pete’s page: