By Halley Griffin
Walk into 1022 South on any given night and you might find a corner table full of professors, strangers trading sips of exotic drinks at the bar or bartenders mixing craft cocktails that are making a name for Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood from Commencement Bay to the Atlantic Ocean.
The bar – simply called 1022 by regulars – is dimly lit and cozy, with just one row of tables, four bartenders and a back bar stocked with obscure ingredients waiting to make their way into an adventurous guest’s drink. It’s been patronized by a devoted group of Tacomans since its opening in 2009 but recently has begun to generate buzz in much wider circles. For example, 1022 South and owner/manager Chris Keil were featured in January in an article in The New York Times Style Magazine blog and later, reprinted in the Sunday New York Times.
Keil says he’s seen a lot of new faces since the January article.
“I can’t believe how many people saw it. It’s showing up on a lot of people’s radars, puts Tacoma on the map, lets people know that Hilltop’s not what it used to be,” he said.
1022 South opened March 29, 2009, in the space formerly occupied by the Monsoon Room. Keil managed the Monsoon Room for a year, but was working at the New Frontier – also owned by 1022 South co-owner Neil Harris – when the building’s owners approached him about opening a new bar.
Keil had been kicking around a business plan for a neighborhood bar with a unique vibe and agreed to transform the space. After a light remodel and some heavy research at established Seattle bars such as Spur Gastropub, Zig Zag Café, Rob Roy and Sam Bar, 1022 was ready to open.
Keil, who has been tending bar on and off for about 12 years, said the idea to feature craft cocktails came to him as he sat at the bar at Spur about a month before 1022’s opening. But the 1022 South of 2009 is vastly different from the 1022 South of today.
“When we first started we only had about 10 cocktails on the menu and we weren’t doing anything that we’re doing now,” Keil said. Bartenders used store-bought mixers until Keil got the idea to try making his own tonic water.
“That’s kind of what led me down the rabbit hole,” he said. Three months later, everything was being made from scratch, Keil writing the cocktail recipes himself. “And next thing I know we went from having 10 cocktails and being kind of a normal bar, and going to having about 60 cocktails and using really, really weird ingredients.”