Gilman House coming to Tacoma’s Copper Door space
When Gilman House opens this summer in the Stadium neighborhood’s former Copper Door space, it’ll be a powerhouse cocktail and dining destination in a neighborhood full of solid eating and drinking. UPDATE AUGUST 2020: Gilman House is now open. Read more here.
And then there’s this:
A cocktail program heavy on gin.
A menu built for omnivores and vegetarians.
And 30 taps for local brews and an array of craft beverages.
Did I mention the champagne on tap for “every kind of mimosa you can imagine” served at Sunday brunch?
Gilman House resides just a few blocks from Moshi Moshi Izakaya + Bar, Indo Asian Street Eatery and Art House Cafe in one direction and Rhein Haus, Doyle’s and recently opened Odin Brewing and Pint & Pie a few blocks the other direction (read more about those openings here).
Gilman House also comes from two recognizable restaurateurs responsible for some of Tacoma’s best boozy experiences: Robyn and Jason Alexander.
The Alexanders are the owners of Devil’s Reef, the magical nautical-themed cocktail den in Tacoma’s Opera Alley. They’re the previous owners of the now closed tiki cocktail haven, Tacoma Cabana (which soon will open as Little Radio – read about that here).
Before Tacoma Cabana, and their short-lived Fern Room that operated in that space briefly, the Alexanders operated Villa Caffe & Imbibery in downtown Tacoma.
That’s where I was first introduced to Jason’s ambitious cocktails and Robyn’s beautifully-plated eats.
That was all the way back in 2010.
Gilman House is light-and-airy compared to two-year-old Devil’s Reef, which comes with a sense-of-place like no other cocktail lounge in all of Tacoma (or the entire region, really).
Think of Devil’s Reef as tiki on the darker side. Or, as I like to call it, “gothic tiki.”
The decor is out-of-this world imaginative. Slipping through the double doors, down the hall and into the windowless, cavernous space, feels like an entry into an underwater tiki refuge assembled by a slightly unhinged Disney set designer.
Crammed into all the nooks and crannies are ominous looking masks and statues, with moody lighting flickering across the ceiling. As I always tell first-time visitors, “be sure to look up.” Fetching discoveries extend up and deep into the corners of Devil’s Reef. Makeshift cannons jut out of the wall just below the ceiling. Fishing nets, glass floats, and what looks to be boat rigging dip downward from that high ceiling. Look closely, or you’ll miss something. Like the enormous marlin fish hangs in the kitchen, barely visible through the kitchen window.
Right now, Devil’s Reef is open for takeout on weekends, but definitely pay a visit when the bar reopens for dine-in service in one of the upcoming phases.
Jason Alexander, a national Iron TikiTender champion, steeped his Devil’s Reef cocktail program deeply in rum. He once sported 300 bottles at their Tacoma Cabana, but has refined that to 21 at Devil’s Reef (with plenty of top-shelf bottles still in reserve for special occasions or if you use just the right pleading tone).
Devil’s Reef has a micro focus on a specific sub genre of tiki cocktails that are entirely Jason’s creation. Lime and citrus boost the rum, punctuated by concentrated swirls of molasses, vanilla, cinnamon and allspice. The result is an unforgettable palate of deeply aromatic drinks that taste like a tiki master crashed your fancy Thanksgiving dinner with a bucket of rum.
The Devil’s Reef menu is heavy on cocktail nibbles with an accurate moniker from Robyn Alexander, who has called her ever-evolving menus at Devil’s Reef and Tacoma Cabana, “vacation fusion.” Basically, if you can eat it in a resort town or on a beach, it’s fair game for Robyn’s menu.
She’s the master of assembling pretty plates and that stretches all the way back to her previous work in floral design. That design work also contributed to her ability to layer stunning textures from floor-to-ceiling in their dark tiki playground.
But don’t expect gothic tiki or vacation fusion at Gilman House.
JOURNEY INTO GILMAN HOUSE
Gilman House comprises a left-turn detour, although it’ll be a companion to Devil’s Reef in one sense – if you know the work of H.P. Lovecraft.
Jason Alexander grew to be a fan of the sci-fi writer while opening Tacoma Cabana.
He had taken a liking to wearing fez hats (I feel this is how all good stories should start).
“I wanted to buy a fez to wear behind the bar there. When I was looking for a fez, I found a green monster on one with a face full of tentacles and bat wings. I thought that was cool, but I wanted to research what it was to understand what it was. That’s when I discovered what Cthulhu was and I started reading some of the stories. Then I found the ‘Shadow Over Innsmouth’ story. It instantly became my favorite from H.P. Lovecraft.”
He added, “I started becoming obsessed with opening a bar called Devil’s Reef and it slowly snowballed from there until Devil’s Reef happened. And the other pivotal place in that story is the Gilman House, so there’s a tie-in with Devil’s Reef in that story.”
And here we are.
Gilman House looks like a stylized hotel lobby with nooks and crannies for lounging and a makeshift elevator door currently hiding a storage space but someday might become a portal to a private dining area.
Flat blue, steel gray and powder blue build a hotel-esque palette that also harkens to the nautical undertones of the interior that Robyn has created, mostly using odds and ends she keeps in storage that she continually replenishes for “future projects.” (Jason calls it “the great hoard.”)
Devil’s Reef/Tacoma Cabana regular, Mark Martin, describes Robyn and Jason as “sharks who are never satisfied with being still for long.” That’s accurate. As one project comes to fruition, they already are conceptualizing the next.
Ask Jason about his next project. I dare you.
Like every good hotel lobby, greenery abounds at Gilman House with potted plants strategically tiered along the pathway into the dining area and spanning the wall behind the bar. A stately looking chair resides strategically adjacent to a cozy faux fireplace.
Nods and winks to the ancient Massachusetts seaport of Innsmouth reveal themselves throughout the space. Secret messages flicker in the artwork. If you look closely, you’ll find Cthulhu.
An L-shaped bar seats a dozen with plenty of belly-up space.
That bar will have a walk-up area for service, but they’ll also offer table service.
Seating includes a grandly built booth for a big party near the front door. The main dining room comes with bench seating and two-top tables along the windows. A side room comes with four-top tables and more built-in bench seating created by Jason, who flexed his carpentry skills in this project, just as he did at Devil’s Reef and Tacoma Cabana.
GILMAN HOUSE BOOZE
“We’re going to do a gin-heavy program,” said Jason. “I’m working on building out the collection right now. It’s not going to be large and crazy, more small and boutique. It’ll be stuff you can’t find at other spots.”
“There’s a little crossover to tie the spots together,” he added.
“I love a good Singapore sling and I’ll put the Sling from the menu at Devil’s Reef on the menu at Gilman House.” That drink, called the Serannian Sling, is Jason’s twist on a classic Sling that skips the cherry brandy and pineapple juice and instead is made with cassis for “a little extra darkness. It pairs really well with the gin.” He finishes that drink with allspice liqueur, gin, bitters and seltzer. ‘
Gin and Juice will be a tiki-inspired concoction with orange, lemon, almond and gin. “I love the lemon, orange and almond flavors together. They blend so well together. It’s a little nice upgrade from the usual orange juice and gin.”
He’s also working up a recipe for an aged gin old fashioned with pomegranate molasses, designed after an old sailor drink called a “mahogany.” Alexander described that concoction as a “celebration drink to celebrate victory. It was gin and treacle. I thought, ‘Let’s upgrade that to a gin old fashioned.’”
“I’ll have a neighborhood friendly gin and tonic on draft and a nice higher end gin and tonic for a more discerning palate,” he said.
With 30 taps, he’ll have plenty of room for local beers, a few additional draft cocktails, a tap for kombucha or cold brew coffee (or a few other non-alcoholic options still to be determined), wine, cider and, of course, tap champagne for their Sunday brunch service.
GILMAN HOUSE BRUNCH
Expect a farflung array of those mimosas at Sunday brunch service at Gilman House. Jason pledges to include a bloody Mary selection. Robyn’s breakfast dishes include light eating such as a yogurt parfait with housemade granola, bagels and lox, vegetarian or vegan biscuits and gravy made with mushroom gravy, souffles, scrambles, hash, pancakes, cinnamon rolls and elaborate breakfast sandwiches.
Robyn said she thinks about doing a breakfast-all-day menu every day because it’s her favorite food to eat and make, but it lacks the practicality she wants Gilman House to have. So Sundays will be the morning to brunch at Gilman House.
GILMAN HOUSE FOOD
Robyn and Jason categorize the Devil’s Reef menu as an accessory to the cocktails.
That’ll change at Gilman House, which will offer a much broader menu, thanks to a much more broadly equipped kitchen at Gilman House.
The menu is still in development, but a prototype menu combines bits and pieces of flavors that tickle Robyn’s fancy.
A chunk of the draft menu lists platters built for sharing and deep on salads. There’s a crudite platter, a Mediterranean platter, plus a handful of salads that include an heirloom carrot, nicoise and caprese-stuffed avocado. A few composed grain-based bowls are extensions of the power bowls available at Devil’s Reef. Sandwiches and wraps, pasta, soups and pre-dinner nibbles round out that menu.
If those items sound like they’re vegetarian friendly, that’s because they are by design. Their focus on plant-based food comes from the mostly vegetarian diet the Alexanders have shifted to eating.
There’s definitely going to be a “big, fat porterhouse” or juice steak of some kind on the menu, said Jason. What Robyn wants diners to know is that the menu is vegetarian-friendly, but omnivores can boost every dish with a protein add-on ranging from chicken, steak and tuna, but also Impossible burger patties and plant-based meat substitutes.
GILMAN HOUSE OPENING PARTICULARS
There’s seating for at least 60, they estimate in the dining room. There’ll be a service bar, but also table service. Hours will be 5-10 p.m. Thursdays and 5 p.m. to midnight Fridays-Saturdays. Brunch will start at 11 a.m. Sundays.
Diners younger than 21 are allowed in the dining room area, but not the bar.
Sara Bailly will be the restaurant’s chef and Amy Hiibel will be a familiar face behind the bar.
Where: 12 N Tacoma Ave, Tacoma
Order online for to-go: https://gilman-house.square.site/s/order
Where: 706 Court C, Tacoma
Currently serving: Take-out meals and cocktails on weekends (for now) during Phase 2, but keep an eye on social media for Phase 3 plans
Order online: https://devils-reef.square.site/
ODIN BREWING TACOMA AND PINT & PIE NOW OPEN
Nearby neighbors are newly opened Odin Brewing Tacoma and Pint & Pie. Read more about those openings here. Both restaurants opened Tuesday, June 23, 2020.