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Here’s what’s opening in the Bonney Lake Tavern space (it’s really cool)

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Bonney Lake diners have watched the East Pierce restaurant scene grow in recent years, but those restaurants in Bonney Lake mostly fall under the same category: chain corporate restaurants. 

Think: Red Robin, Applebee’s, Sonic and Chick-fil-A (new to Bonney Lake this month). 

While diners there have seen the opening of Glow Martini Lounge, the recent expansion of Trapper’s and the conversion of the old Trapper’s space to the excellent Burche, those independent operators still are too rare in East Pierce.

When a locally-owned operation closes in Bonney Lake, the hand wringing starts over the loss of a locally grown spot with its own character and charm.

Like the Bonney Lake Tavern, or the BLT as the locals call it. 

That longtime gritty tavern operated at the gateway to Bonney Lake off SR 410 for 23 years before owner Gary Wofford closed it in September. 

That bar, open only to diners 21-and-older, was known for its pressure fried chicken, karaoke and its allegiance to University of Washington sports teams (Wofford was formerly affiliated with the Huskies football program). 

GREAT NEWS – THERE’S SOMETHING NEW OPENING IN THE BLT SPOT

And now I have two pieces of great news: In a community that can’t afford to lose a locally-grown eatery, diners are getting a new restaurant and bar in that old BLT spot. And the other great piece of news is that it comes from a restaurant owner plenty of locals already know and support – George Filiss of Al Lago and Island Lodge by Al Lago, both popular Lake Tapps restaurants. 

“I’m calling it George’s BLT,” said Filiss when I checked in with him on his plans this month.

“It’ll be a modern version of the BLT, something that will appeal to locals who want a restaurant that’s part of the fabric of the community,” he said.

Indeed.  

GEORGE’S BLT, A BACKGROUND STORY 

This isn’t the first time that Filiss has had an eye on expanding his restaurant group beyond his Al Lago restaurants (his father-in-law owns the Cliff House and Verrazano’s and Filiss also helps operate those). 

Back up several years ago to where Filiss had an idea to expand to another sports bar location in Bonney Lake. Gary Wofford also operated in that spot. It was called Midtown Grill, a restaurant Wofford took over from Zato Grill owner Maximo Ansola III. Wofford closed Midtown Grill in 2015. Before the spot was slated to become its current incarnation of a Dollar Tree, Filiss tried to secure that space, but to no avail.

And that brings us back to the BLT space. When Filiss heard the building was for sale, he had his eyes on not just becoming the owner of a new restaurant, he also wanted to invest in Bonney Lake by buying and developing the property. 

He’s now the proud owner of a building and a restaurant. 

And that space is spectacularly out of compliance with current codes.

And that means the timeline for the opening of George’s BLT is impossible to predict. We’re talking months of construction and improvements.

“I’m not putting myself under so much pressure that I have to open right away. When it happens, it happens. I’m going to enjoy the process,” said Filiss, who has felt the rush of opening restaurants all too often. 

Because he’s the building owner, that means he gets the luxury (and burden) of planning every detail of the reimagined space. It also means he sets his own timeline. 

So don’t ask about an opening date. Check back here for updates because I’ll surely be following his progress in the months ahead. 

BLT CHANGES: WHAT’S AHEAD? 

“I have great ideas but it’s an old building and nothing’s up to code,” said Filiss, laughing.

Filiss has multitudes of meetings ahead of him. 

He’s meeting with city officials this month to discuss what’s possible in the space. 

He’s also meeting with Bargreen Ellingson, the Tacoma restaurant design firm, to discuss what’s possible in the space.

What he envisions is a plan in progress, but here’s what he’s thinking the space will look like.

“I’m going to move the kitchen back into the kitchen,” explained Filiss. “What I always thought was the kitchen was in back. They did most of their cooking up front. It didn’t look like it was big enough to me, but that was the only hood vent, so they did their cooking there. They did dishwashing and prep in back, but I’m going to put the line and kitchen back behind the door so you won’t see it. It’ll be all bar up front.” 

He’ll also upgrade and enlarge the bathrooms, which will shift some of the floor plan on that end of the restaurant. 

Next to go, if he can, is the drop ceiling. “‘The bar will follow about the same footprint, but I’m going to try and take out the drop ceilings and have some more space up there so it looks better and fit some bigger TVs there.”

So TVs? Does that mean the sports bar concept stays? 

“Absolutely,” said Filiss. “I want to nod toward local sports teams, ranging from high school to professional.” 

He added, “We’re going to keep some of the elements intact, it’s just going to be an updated BLT, a more modern version.” 

The character of the exterior will change significantly. “I want to replace the windows with garage-style doors that can roll up,” he said. “It’s not even going to look like the same building after I’m done with it,” he said, if he can execute what he has planned. 

He’s a restaurant owner who has created tremendous outdoor spaces at his Al Lago restaurants. Will he do that here, as well? 

 “I definitely want to do a large garage door out the back and make it a nice patio area, a comfortable space. Before it was just the smoker’s spot, but it’ll be way more than that,” he said. 

“It’ll be a comfortable area for people to dine and drink. I’ll probably have a fire pit. I want to make it a nice urban feel with good landscaping and shrubbery,” he said.  

He still needs guidance from city officials for how he can accomplish that, but that’s his goal.  

GEORGE’S BLT WILL BE FAMILY FRIENDLY 

And here’s a big change for a gritty bar that always was for grownups: The rebooted George’s BLT will be family friendly. Kids will be welcomed up until a certain time at night (8 or 9 p.m.), when the atmosphere will shift to 21-and-older diners only. “It’s such a great spot for breakfast and lunch, I don’t want to limit my diners,” he said. He’s also cognizant that the entire area is woefully short on restaurants, and especially broad concept restaurants such as the one he’s planning. 

For locals who need an analog for this transition, I’d point you to Cooper’s. That restaurant took an old, gritty space, the Westgate Bar & Grill/Barb’s, and turned it into a modernized eatery and family-friendly spot, but also a place to meet friends for cocktails. The concept sounds similar at George’s BLT. 

THE MENU AT GEORGE’S BLT 

Filiss is pondering keeping the popular chicken and jojo potatoes on the menu, but his concept for food leans toward the upscale side of pub fare with a twist of comfort eating. “That space lends itself to good comfort food,” said Filiss. He described fresh pub fare that’s made from scratch. 

“The trend is bar food that’s made healthier and good, and that has a cleaner flavor than dumping a bag of pre-breaded wings into a fryer and calling it good. I’m not into pre-packaged cheese sticks. For example, if I offer jalapeno peppers, I’ll hollow out fresh jalapeno and I’ll use real cream cheese and good bacon. It’ll be delicious, not premade,” he said.

Will there be cross-over from his Al Lago restaurants? Maybe. Some of the classic Italian pastas from Al Lago might find a home on the menu, but Filiss said his philosophy is to let his restaurants stand alone with not much crossover so that each offers its own distinct flavor and appeal. 

WHAT’S NEXT? 

Several weeks (and months) of planning and construction are ahead for Filiss, but check back here often for updates. 

GEORGE’S BLT

Location: 18212 SR Hwy 410 E., Bonney Lake

NEW RESTAURANT COMING TO OLD GRASSI’S SPACE IN UNIVERSITY PLACE

Fusion Bistro
Photo courtesy of Fusion Bistro in University Place.

Read more here about Fusion Cafe’s opening in University Place.

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