It’s been 7 long years, but this German beer hall is opening in downtown Tacoma
The Berliner Beerhall is opening in downtown Tacoma this month. It’s not a wild hoax seven years in the making. It’s actually happening this month, as in March 2020. Seriously. I’m not making this up. I know I’ve written eleventy articles about the German beer hall over the course of seven years, but it really is happening. Pinky swear.
The 150-seat restaurant and bar is a modern take on a German beer hall and it will open at 2401 Pacific Ave in the Historic Brewery District. Expect an opening before the end of March. The menu will intersect American and German cuisine and 20 taps will be devoted to German beer.
Follow The Berliner Beerhall’s Facebook page to track the opening, and I’ll also update this post with the opening timeline.
Dial back to February 2013 for the beginning of this story. I picked up the phone to talk to Lydia Mascarinas seven years ago last month. She and husband Dennis had applied for permitting for a 3,500 square feet dilapidated building in downtown Tacoma that had been red tagged (as in, it was completely uninhabitable).
At the time, they had grand plans to open a beer hall within a year. And then the timeline came and went. Then another timeline came and went. And on and on. To her credit, Mascarinas never once snapped after my many, many emails and messages asking about progress on the building. I never gave up on them. I knew this was going to happen and here’s why: They bought the building, which means they believed in and invested in that neighborhood when so many didn’t.
“My husband was an urban geography major, so he’s very good at looking at real estate and communities and kind of picking where the next big thing is going to happen,” said Lydia. “He wanted to buy half of Tacoma when we first bought the building. We knew then that Tacoma’s going to explode, and now look at it in the last seven years. Tacoma is drastically changing. We’re excited for that change.”
A priority for the couple was restoring an old building back to its original charm. They did the same in 2011 in downtown Renton when they opened their Berliner Pub, which was in a building that had a troubling history.
The home of Berliner Beerhall originally opened as the Richaven Building in 1927. Built by Tacoma architect Frederick Heath along with local outfit, Gove & Bell, it housed multiple businesses. In more recent years, it was a sketchy bar called Neener’s, but the building once was home to the Kellywood Cafe, the MacKenzie Pharmacy and the 24th Street Tavern.
Heath is the famous local architect responsible for a number of historically significant Tacoma buildings, including the National Realty Building (now the Key Bank Center building and home to Heritage Bank at 1119 Pacific Ave.). Heath also was behind the redesign of Stadium High School. The Richaven building today looks much closer to what it looked like when Heath unveiled his creation.
Long story short: It was an incredibly difficult buildout for the Mascarinas. A red tagged building in itself would be enough to scare away most restaurant owners, but they saw potential, just as Tacoma city officials did. “The city had a grand plan for the Brewery District,” said Mascarinas. “We bought into that.” She said the development popping up around them has been reassuring they made the right decision.
“Now the hotel is being renovated. There’s an apartment building down the street. There are big plans for big developments not far from us. I can’t help but think we helped start it? That might be a bit vain, but I’ll take it,” she said with a laugh (she has a wicked sense of humor).
“Hopefully people will recognize the potential here and businesses will follow. The more choices people have, the better it is for everyone. We don’t think of the next restaurant as competition. We believe more is better. I’m hoping that more will open up and the whole area will come into the vision the city had for it. It seems to be heading that way.”
That vision didn’t necessarily include blacked-out windows and a failing building with guts that were beyond repair, but that’s what they got. “The building was a mess,” Mascarinas said.
“When we first bought the building, we thought, ‘We’ll do what we did with the other business. We’ll clear it out and put some lights in and it’ll be great.’ And we dug deeper and we realized we can’t do that because the electrical wasn’t up to code and the plumbing was all over the place and there were these odd rooms attached to the ceiling that needed to go. Whichever way we looked at it, it was not ideal, so we changed it to make it ideal for us. We made the space. We used every inch of the space that we could, and we twisted and turned and modified it.”
That meant gutting the building and shifting the footprint. The bar is essentially in the same place it was as Neener’s, but the rest of the footprint changed and the building’s interior is all brand new, all the way down to the kitchen equipment.
So many problems persisted. They had to go back and redesign after discovering problem after problem. They were acting as the project’s general contractors, mostly because they couldn’t afford to hire a big firm to take on the enormous job.
“We didn’t have the funds to secure a contracting company and those kinds of companies, they do it all because you’re paying top dollar,” she said. Because they managed the project, “things move so slowly because you’re waiting a few weeks before they come back to do the work. Then the inspection happens.You’ve got to just fit it all in. We are just the two of us and we’re battling away at it all,” she explained.
She added, “To have a trained general contractor would have been beneficial because they know what the plan is. They know what happens next. They’re a month ahead. We get to the end of one part and we figure it out. There’s a whole art and science to general contracting that we are not privy to. This was on-the-job training in general contracting. We basically just paid for a very expensive college course on general renovation,” she said, laughing. “Instead of going to school for it, we decided on the life training route. You have to keep a sense of humor, or I would have broken down three or four years ago.”
She hopes when diners walk in, they’ll appreciate the labor. “It’s amazing. It’s so beautiful. It really turned out even more beautiful than I can imagine. The design is all my husband. My husband when he walked into that building, his eyes lit up and he thought it was going to be amazing and now his vision is coming to fruition,” she said.
“It is lovely,” she described. “It has a warm, industrial feel. It’s exposed brick and wooden beams, with wooden tables and benches. We’re trying to make it look like a modern German bar or beer hall. We’re not making it very Bavarian looking because that’s what everybody associates Germany with,” she said. “Berlin is just an amazing, vibrant and modern city. We wanted to model it more towards a modern German destination.”
While there will be German eats, there will be offerings beyond German fare that include modern American pub fare. The menu will replicate that of the Berliner Pub, at least in the beginning.
The Berliner Pub menu traditionally has been eclectic. What that looks like is a menu with burgers sharing space with bratwurst, yet there’s also chicken Andouille sausage, house-made corn dogs and fried pickles. And then there’s fresh-baked pretzels, schweinshaxe, schnitzel and spaetzle.
“It was my vision at first in Renton to have only German food, but your customers dictate your direction. Very soon we realized people came in because the food was good, and now the food sales are approaching the alcohol sales. People come there to eat. It’s an actual restaurant now rather than just a pub. We added more American and German things. I think the menu is small enough to be manageable, but large enough to have a variety for everybody to find something they would like.”
There will be options for gluten-free diners, vegans and vegetarians, she said.
In Tacoma, they’ll be able to expand that menu if the demand is there. The Tacoma kitchen is double the size of the Renton kitchen.
The restaurant will also serve wine and a full cocktail bar, but also beer, of course.
AND NOW FOR THE BEER AT BERLINER BEERHALL
The 20 taps will be devoted only to German beer. “They’ve been making beer since like 1200 and they’re pretty good at it,” she said, joking.
In her travels to Germany to meet with beer suppliers for their Berliner Pub in Renton, she’s made many connections with family-owned breweries and she said they work hard to get a wide variety of small German breweries on tap. Expect to see beers you won’t find anywhere else in Tacoma.
“We’ll have pilsners, lagers and a Kolsch,” she said. “We’ll have an Oktoberfest beer the whole year because it’s in such demand and it’s such a great beer, so why not?”
She added, “We’ll have hefeweizens and weissbier. Then, the dark beers. We’ll have the dunkels and other dark beers. Black beer in Germany is not bitter. It’s more malty with coffee notes.”
“It’s all from Germany and it will change a lot,” she said.
Veltins beer will be a given on the beer menu. In fact, the beer hall originally was going to be called Veltins, named after the German brewery, but liquor laws here made that difficult. “We have such a close relationship with that brewery, we wanted to name it after them. But because of the liquor laws in Washington, breweries aren’t allowed to support pubs.”
That’s the opposite in Germany. “Pubs there are sponsored, or connected to breweries. That’s how bar owners operate in Germany,” she explained.
Eventually, they thought it made more sense to keep the Berliner name as a companion to the sibling pub in Renton, she said.
As for the atmosphere, expect a fun place to gather with a crowd at the 150-seat restaurant that will have a seasonal beer garden out back and a sidewalk dining area along 24th. There won’t be separate party spaces, but the beer hall has a mezzanine that’s open and available for events.
And kids? They’re encouraged. “Kids are welcome. It’s family friendly until 10 p.m. the whole restaurant is family friendly. There are so few cool restaurants that you can go to and have a beer where you can take the kids with you. We wanted a place to hang out. When we opened (Renton), our kids were really young, so that was always part of our plan.” There will be a kids menu, of course.
The restaurant will open with dinner service, but lunch will be later. “The plan is dinner only for now until we get everything up and running. We most likely will open for lunch in the near future, that is the plan anyway. It might take seven years, but we’ll do it.”
Downtown Tacoma: 2401 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. Opening soon.
Berliner Pub in Renton: 221 Main Ave. S., Renton; 425-277-1111
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