Cooper’s Food & Drink is coming to Tacoma’s Westgate neighborhood
Cooper’s Food & Drink is about to happen – about two years after co-owners and longtime restaurant owners Greg and Tanya Troger bought the building and land that was home to one of Tacoma’s diviest bars, the Westgate Bar & Grill. Or, as the old timers still call it: Barb’s Westgate Inn.
As Greg Troger says, “we thought it would be three months and it turned into 18.” It took longer than they thought to secure the financing to gut the tired kitchen and redesign the interior completely. The overhaul is well underway. The Trogers explained with excitement what they’ve got planned and you’re going to want to add this to your to-dine list.
Seating for 110 spans the dining area and bar with 50 more seats out on the patio.
The footprint shifted completely and everything is new in the building. They took it all the way down to the studs. The transformation is shocking. The entry has shifted to the front of the building, the dining room is flanked by a private bar with a patio and the kitchen equipment is all brand new.
Expect a spring opening for the Westgate neighborhood restaurant and bar at 5928 N. 26th St.
The surface differences between Cooper’s and Westgate could not be more different.
Cooper’s will sport a cushy reception area, a dining room with deep, high-backed booths and a swanky bar area with roll-up garage doors that will spill diners out onto a nicely landscaped patio. They tore out the dining room’s oddly configured arches and put up brick tile. Pendant lighting drops down over the dining room decorated in tones of honey and mocha. It’s an attractive looking place built to appeal to a broad section of diners.
Westgate Bar & Grill, and I say this in the most loving way, was shabby, with the scariest bathroom I’ve been assaulted with in Tacoma and a smell throughout the building that was a blend of fryer grease and urinal cake. The decor looked like a frat party exploded. It was fun, but it was far from fancy.
BARB’S WESTGATE INN: A TACOMA LEGACY
People didn’t go to the Westgate for the food or the (sometimes surly) service. They went for cheap booze and loud karaoke. I joined my fellow News Tribune staffers more than a few times at the Westgate following mass newsroom layoffs. We desperately tried to dull the ache of loss through the shared experience of horrible singing. (I might or might not have photos of TNT staffers singing on the Westgate stage.) We all loved the spot for its sense of community, but it badly needed a remodel.
Despite the vast food and aesthetic differences between Cooper’s and the Westgate, I have to point out the equal footing of their missions: Be a neighborhood beacon to people who live in Westgate and want a comfortable place for dinner. Fetch a bar crowd looking for a good time. Focus on the experience and make it a destination worth revisiting.
“We’re hoping the regulars of the old place will come back in here and we think they will because they keep coming by and checking in,” said Troger as he and Tanya stood in the unfinished dining room in January. “Big Mike is one of the regulars who drops by. After we took over this restaurant, he was one of the regulars who convinced the other regulars to come back and give us a shot,” said Tanya.
The regulars of the bar still call it Barb’s Westgate Inn, even though it hasn’t been Barb’s since forever ago. The Trogers purchased the building and land from Janine Zaspel, who had operated the bar since 2002 with husband Jarry, who died in 2016. It has a long history in Tacoma before that. It was as crusty a bar as they come.
Regulars and Jarry Zaspel pushed back against the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department’s mission to turn all restaurants smoke free in the early 2000s. The health department prevailed of course, but you could still smell the stale smoke in the walls until the Trogers mercifully gutted the interior.
In addition to appealing to the old timers, the Trogers are also hoping to fetch new neighbors, especially the families with kids in the surrounding area. It will be a family-friendly destination with a menu affordable enough to make it a once-or-twice-a-week venture. Four kids meal choices come with a modest $7 pricetag.
A LOOK AT THE DRINKS AND EATS AT COOPER’S
Plenty of the concept will appeal to mom and dad. They’ll offer a cocktail program with fresh-squeezed juices and premium mixers and spirits several notches above the bar at the Westgate. The four old fashioneds listed include the typical bourbon applications, but also a tequila-themed old fashioned and one heavy on grapefruit. The attention on bourbon makes sense because the restaurant’s name is a nod to coopers, the professionals who make aging barrels for whiskey and wine. Cooper’s will always have a barrel-aged cocktail on hand.
Four sparkling wine cocktails look like a ladies-who-brunch collection (get the French 75). The mai tai made with macadamia-nut orgeat and a lilikoi foam topper is calling my name. There’s a cocktail with a nod to the old Barb’s that’s flavored with cranberry, orange and vodka (it probably should be a double, and served with a chaser of sass). A basil gimlet, a Northwest-themed Sazerac made with apple and a lush sounding Hemingway daiquiri round out the eclectic booze list. A preliminary menu listed most cocktails around $8 to $11.
THE MENU AT COOPER’S
Entrees will be under $20 with the bulk of the menu in the $12 to $15 range. The Trogers know a little something about good food. They’re co-owners of The Forum, the bar with delicious pub fare and solid cocktails with locations in downtown Puyallup and Tacoma.
Cooper’s menu reads as if somebody took The Forum, Crockett’s Public House, Cooks Tavern and the long gone Smoke + Cedar, shook it up in a jar and out popped Cooper’s.
Diners will graze on appetizers of pimento cheese dip, deviled eggs, cauliflower bites and wings (the preliminary menu lists them at $10 to $14, and all prices here are from a model menu). A half dozen entrees include plates of pasta, a pub steak, fried chicken and fish and chips ($12 to $16).
Four soups and six salads make this a better-than-average stop for the lighter fare crowd ($6 to $8/$10 to $14). I spotted French onion soup, lobster bisque, plus Cobb, Caesar and taco salads. There are several choices for vegetarians and a few for vegans.
The six burgers go well beyond beef with a lamb burger with goat cheese and chimichurri, a chorizo burger with jalapeno aioli and pepperjack and a vegan Impossible burger with house-made roasted corn salsa and more chimichurri ($12 to $15). There’s also four kinds of pizza and I have my eye on the truffle and brie pie ($14 to $16). Seven sandwiches cover delicious terrain with a fried chicken thigh sandwich, a meatball sub, Cuban sandwich, and a po’ boy that sounds every bit as good as the one at The Forum ($12 to $14).
There’s one sandwich I have never seen in Pierce County: The Beef on Weck, a Western New York sandwich you never see around here (I’ve had readers ask me about it, though). It’ll be served on a caraway roll dipped in au jus and piled with roast beef and a smear of horseradish.
“We want to be the place with good food and great drinks,” said Greg Troger. “We won’t be pretentious and it will be the place where everyone is welcome.”
“We want to have a nod to the history of this place and we’ll do that throughout the restaurant and the menu. We want to honor that history,” said Tanya Troger.
Sorry TNT staffers. There won’t be karaoke, but I’ll meet you guys there for a paloma and pimento dip on the back patio.
If all goes as they hope it will, the opening will be a month-plus away, but that’s subject to change with permitting and construction still underway. Keep an eye on the restaurant’s social media for updates.
COOPER’S FOOD & DRINK
5928 N. 26th St., Tacoma; 253-756-7072
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