Gilman House now open in Tacoma’s Stadium neighborhood with must-eat brunch and epic cocktails
Step 1: Clear your schedule for Sunday brunch.
Step 2: Secure a designated driver.
Step 3: Reach into the back of your closet for your Thanksgiving pants.
Step 4: Head to Gilman House, Tacoma’s newest restaurant with a three-part focus on dinner, high-end gin cocktails and outstanding Sunday brunch.
The Stadium neighborhood restaurant officially opened for dinner service on Friday (August 14).
The restaurant, for now, will operate from 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays for dinner service and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday for brunch. As is true for all restaurants right now, those hours are subject to change, so keep an eye on the restaurant’s Instagram account for changes.
Owners Robyn and Jason Alexander opened the restaurant on Sunday (August 9) to give a soft opening preview of the Sunday brunch menu. Included here are notes on the drinks and brunch menu from a preview visit. You’re going to want to make reservations.
But first, some background.
Gilman House is a companion restaurant to Devil’s Reef, the nautical-themed cocktail destination the Alexanders opened in Tacoma’s Opera Alley in February 2018. (Cocktail PSA: That restaurant is open for take-out only on Fridays and Saturdays and the to-go cocktails are outstanding).
The two spaces could not look more different. Devil’s Reef looks like it was dropped into Opera Alley by a rogue Disney set designer who built a slightly demented pirate’s cavern. Moody lighting bounces across the cavernous space decorated with “flotsam and jetsam,” as Jason Alexander calls it. Sunk deep into the corners and climbing the walls are quirky odds and ends they’ve collected for years. There are hanging floats, old ropes, tackle, macabre masks and statues, faux canons jutting out of the wall and all kinds of things you might find in a shipwreck on a freaky island.
To the contrary, Gilman House looks like an airy hotel lobby in a New England town, with layers of potted plants climbing from floor to ceiling and a cozy fireplace flanked by a stately chair. Dome lamps cast a soft glow across the long wood-wrapped bar. Take a gander at the “out-of-order” elevator door on the way to the bathrooms. For now, it hides a storage area, but someday might become a portal to a private dining space.
TWO PLACES, CONNECTED BY A SINGLE THEME
That Devil’s Reef and Gilman House are themed companion bars makes little sense until one considers that they’re both loosely connected to an H.P. Lovecraft story called “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”
Devil’s Reef and Gilman House are two notable locations detailed in the story. Both explore the creepy depths of a fictional New England port town.
Look deep into the corners and first-time visitors will see a little bit of Lovecraft tucked into unexpected places, such as the tentacled custom beer tap handles designed by Tacoma artist and mathematician Jenny Quinn. Cthulhu also makes guest appearances here and there. You’ll have to explore the dining room to find the mythical Lovecraft creature.
EXPLORING THE COCKTAILS OF GILMAN HOUSE
Devil’s Reef tops the list for every Tacoma cocktail enthusiast. Jason Alexander, a national Iron Tikitender champion, slings tiki and Polynesian cocktails with a dark edge. The rum-based cocktails provide heady swirls of allspice, molasses, vanilla, cinnamon and almond. That combination of flavors always makes me think of a Thanksgiving party crashed by a tiki master armed with a bucket of rum.
The drinks are Jason Alexander’s unique creations and unlike anything you’ve likely tasted. They feature hand-mixed syrups and liqueurs heavy on aromatics and citrus. Plus, a list of high-end and coveted rums you won’t find at any bar in the area.
Now take that high-end cocktail concept, subtract the rum and tiki, and add gin, citrus, botanicals and tonics that taste like they were created by chefs. That’s the cocktail program at Gilman House.
GILMAN HOUSE GIN PROGRAM
Tacoma finally has a gin bar and it’s unlike anything else in Tacoma. The bar menu is heavy on upscale and unusual gins not often found here, such as Navy-strength gin, barrel-aged gin and gunpowder Irish gin.
The menu lists 25 gin specialty cocktails and it has every gin cocktail an aficionado would expect: A gin-themed mule and buck, gin-themed old fashioned, a sling, gimlet, negroni, a Collins, fruit cup, rickey, Corpse Reviver, French 75 and gin bloody Marys.
If you’re a lover of all of the gin cocktails like I am, this place is going to become your go-to spot.
Explore the gin drinks made with unusual tonics first, especially those with Thomas Henry tonics. The Thomas Henry cherry blossom tonic fuels the G&T No. 3, with gunpowder Irish gin, grapefruit liqueur and lime ($12). A first sip unfolds like a summer beach sipper, but then the more complicated, bitter notes bubble up. A little darker on the flavor wheel and just as delicious is a coffee-and-gin brunch drink called the Cafe G&T, combining barrel-aged gin, creme de cacao, Trinity bitters and coffee tonic ($12). It pairs perfectly with the coffee-rubbed steak on the brunch menu (more on that below).
Bitters get as much play here as they do at Devil’s Reef, which has its own blend of branded bitters developed by bitters company Bittercube. Delve into the chocolate-cherry elixir called Olmstead’s Jitters ($10), which combines cherry bark vanilla bitters, grenadine, lime, creme de cacao and Citadelle gin. It tastes like a boozy Valentine’s Day.
Another palate pleaser is the equally dark-and-delicious Escape From Room 428 ($12). That one combines bitters with a pomegranate molasses syrup and barrel-aged gin served over a chunky ice cube.
You’ll forget everything you know about Pimm’s Cups when you try the Gilman House Fruit Cup ($12). Fruit cups are a category of British summer cocktails often made with botanical-heavy gin and flavored with fruit and aromatics. The most famous fruit cup is a Pimm’s Cup. At Gilman House, Alexander has built his own Gilman Fruit Cup from scratch with gin, sweet vermouth, curacao, vanilla syrup, spicy ginger beer, and citrused up with fresh slices of oranges and limes, served in a tall wine glass ($12).
If you are a newcomer to gin cocktails, try the house gin gimlet, which is lush, with a slap-you-in-the-face citrus finish from the lime cordial ($10). Shambler at the Threshold is another citrus-heavy gin elixir made with lime cordial, plus grapefruit, dry curacao and a splash of Jamaican bitters ($12).
“There’s a little crossover to tie the spots together,” Alexander told me of the companionship between the bars at Devil’s Reef and Gilman House. “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.” The Serannian Sling skips cherry brandy and pineapple juice in favor of cassis, allspice, bitters and seltzer ($12). The result is magical. He’s also imported four Devil’s Reef rum cocktails on the menu at Gilman House.
BRUNCH AND DINNER MENUS
While Jason Alexander runs the bar program, Robyn Alexander powers the kitchen. Devil’s Reef always has been focused on cocktail nibbles built to pair with Alexander’s rum elixirs (and the same was true at their Tacoma Cabana they run from 2012 to 2018 in Tacoma). Think of her palate as “vacation fusion.” If you can find it in a beach resort town or if it pairs well with tropical drinks, you’ll find it on Alexander’s menu.
On the dinner menu, Gilman House takes a wide detour from vacation fusion to pub food with chef touches and a focus on plant-based ingredients.
While the restaurant is exceptionally vegetarian and vegan friendly, meat eaters will find plenty to like on the menu, such as the coffee-rubbed New York steak with a green salad and a choice of spinach souffle or mac and cheese ($24).
The House Burger comes with a thick beefy patty, but also can be turned plant-based with the substitution (at no extra cost) of an Impossible patty ($16). The burger comes with a choice of Tillamook cheddar or vegan Chao cheese, with butter lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles and house barbecue sauce.
The opening dinner menu is smaller than what eventually will be served, but includes classic pub dishes such as plant-based Shepherd’s Pie, made with vegetarian Impossible crumbles, plus a mushroom gravy with onion, carrot, English peas and mashed potatoes ($15).
That plant-based Spinach Souffle is fortified with eggs, broccoli and mushrooms and served with a salad ($14). Three entree salads round out the dinner menu with the Bada Bing Salad made with a Washington cherry vinaigrette, candied pecans, mango, jicama, vegan goat cheese and blueberries ($14); a Heirloom Tomato Caprese with mozzarella, arugula, olive oil and a balsamic reduction ($12) and Summer Nicoise with butter lettuce, eggs, potatoes, haricots vert, radishes, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, avocado, Italian butter beans, olives, smoked sardines and a lemon tarragon vinaigrette ($18).
The appetizer menu includes a snack portion of toasted nuts and seeds ($5), deviled eggs ($6) and grilled coconut curry tofu skewers with peanut dipping sauce ($10).
Want chicken with any of the above? It’s listed as an add-on for $6.
I predict their brunch service will be quite popular and here’s a good reason why: house-made buttermilk biscuits served with butter and raspberry jam ($4). Those biscuits are ultra buttery and one nudge of the biscuit gave me the best preview of why they’re so outstanding. The buttermilk biscuits broke off into flaky layer after layer with the tiniest nudge of the fork. If you’re doing it right, you’ll slather each layer with butter and jam like a biscuit hasselback. That’s what I did.
Whatever you order, be sure to add the $4 biscuit as a brunch appetizer.
The brunch menu is much more broad than Gilman House’s dinner offerings – at least for now- and a must order is that coffee rubbed New York steak, which is served with breakfast hash and two eggs ($22).
Substantial breakfast items include the house burger with a beef or Impossible patty and Tillamook or vegan Chao cheese ($16), plus vegetarian-friendly biscuits and gravy made with Impossible sausage gravy and veggie hash ($14).
The brunch souffle is the same as the dinner menu, the veggie hash comes topped with two eggs ($14) and there’s a killer sounding Bed and Breakfast Biscuit made with those outstanding buttermilk biscuits, Impossible plant-based sausage, an egg and Tillamook or vegan cheese.
The same three entree dinner salads listed above are on the brunch menu – the Nicoise, caprese and Bada Bing cherry salad.
House granola is vegan friendly and gluten-free (see below for the full list of gluten-free items), made with dairy-free yogurt, banana brulee and fresh fruit ($12). The avocado toast comes with a pretty avocado rosette that’s built for Instagram ($10).
From the griddle, there’s Berry Brioche French Toast with blueberry compote and Chantilly cream ($12) and buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup and chocolate hazelnut sauce ($12).
I predict the oversized cinnamon rolls will further secure the restaurant’s place as the best brunch destination in that end of town ($10).
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW
VEGETARIAN: Practically everything is vegetarian friendly or can be made vegetarian friendly, except the steak. Many items can be turned vegan.
MEAT EATERS: don’t worry. You have steak, chicken and burgers on the menu.
GLUTEN-FREE: Gluten-free dinner items include nuts and seeds, deviled eggs, coconut curry skewers, Bada Bing salad, Nicoise salad, Caprese salad, spinach soufflé, The Innkeeper’s Steak with soufflé and salad. Gluten-free at brunch is the veggie hash and the house granola entree, called Deep One’s Gold Cup.
KID-FRIENDLY: Children are welcome and there’s plenty of kid-friendly eats listed.
STAFF: Behind the bar is Amy Hiibel, longtime local barkeep who has worked for the Alexanders at their other restaurants and bars. Working with Robyn in the kitchen is Chef Sara Bailly. Longtime staffers Cholada, Victor and Gamaliel will be familiar faces to fans of Devil’s Reef and Tacoma Cabana.
COUNTER SERVICE: With the bar operating at half capacity, per state regulations, and the extra sanitation between customers, they’re controlling their labor by offering only counter order service. Order and pay at the service counter (look for the sign) and your drinks and food will be shuttled to your table.
RESERVATIONS: Reservations are highly recommended due to current half-capacity restrictions. Walk-in diners will be seated only if they’re below capacity, the Alexanders said. To make reservations, visit this site They’ll add other methods for reservations later. For now, they’re trying to keep all reservations on one platform.
HOURS: For now, dinner service is 5-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.
TAKE-OUT: Now available online! https://gilman-house.square.site/
DEVIL’S REEF TAKEOUT: you can find here.
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY: This restaurant is a Surfrider Foundation restaurant that uses ocean-friendly products.
LOW CARB: Ask Alexander about his low-carb friendly gin and tonics with no added sugar. LOW ABV: There are also low alcohol cocktails listed, such as Fortunato’s Bloody Mary ($10) and Sloe Gin Rickey ($10).
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: Cocktails and food to-go only right now, but that might change. Check social media and website for updates.
Order take-out online: https://devils-reef.square.site/
DID YOU HEAR? LITTLE RADIO IS OPEN
Have you tried the Smashburger at Little Radio yet? The new downtown Tacoma restaurant and bar is from the same owners as Wingman Brewers. Check out my story here.