For a century, The Spar has served as a popular gathering place — respected for its history and revered for its good food, drinks, and live music. We sat down with owner Kathy Manke, who has been at the helm of the The Spar for 30 years, to reflect on the Tacoma institution’s historic roots.
Building a Foundation
Before there was The Spar, there was the Old Tacoma Saloon, a wood-framed bar made popular in the early 1900s by rambunctious men notorious for lawless nights of drinking and gambling. However, as Prohibition loomed, the Old Tacoma Saloon shuttered and eventually was torn down. In 1917, a new structure, the David Building, took its place. Owned by the Radonich brothers, the David Building operated as a men’s furnishing store, billiards parlor, and soda parlor until 1926, when the brothers added a lunch counter and renamed it The Spar.
Having outlasted Prohibition, it didn’t take long for The Spar to become a popular Old Town hangout. For roughly 40 years, the Radonich brothers worked hard to keep the tavern’s seats filled, attracting a mixed clientele consisting of Old Town residents, fisherman, and other visitors to the area, all who appreciated the establishment for its hearty food and tasty libations.
In the 1950s, however, the Radonich brothers sold the business, and ownership of The Spar changed hands several times in the decades that followed before current owner Manke took the reins in 1987.
In the mid-1980s, Manke was managing the bar at Engine House No. 9 but wanted to go into business for herself. “I knew I wanted to be my own boss,” she said.
Having previously owned and managed the Cloverleaf Tavern with her ex-husband, Manke was no stranger to running her own business. “Being in the tavern business, I always loved The Spar,” she said. “It was a little dive, but it had so much potential.”
When the wife of Bob Bacon, the then-owner of The Spar fell ill, he was in and out of the hospital caring for her.
Manke asked the meet Bacon. It wasn’t long after Manke’s meeting with him that she found herself holding the keys to the tavern. Manke, who purchased The Spar with a friend who is no longer involved with the business, was eager to breathe new life into the historic Tacoma establishment.
Continuing the Legacy
In the first three years, Manke and her then-partner worked to rejuvenate the tavern, which, over the past 60 years, had seen its fair share of neglect. They ripped plaster off brick walls, removed old boards from the windows, and hired a contractor to remove wood paneling from the walls to expose the structure’s original wood posts. They even switched the bar with the kitchen, providing guests with a view of the water.
At the time of the remodel, Manke was leasing the entire space, but only the bar was open to the public. For years, she rented the café to other small businesses. However, as improvements continued and business grew, she soon realized more space was needed and added the café.
“Practically each month, business would increase exponentially,” said Manke. “It was kind of busier than I could have ever anticipated.”
Since Manke took over The Spar 30 years ago, she said business has continued to grow. One of her favorite parts about the job is seeing customers she served 20 or 30 years ago as children come in for dinner with their own families.
Offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, The Spar continues to be a popular gathering place for Old Town residents and visitors to the area alike. Longtime menu favorites and live music on the weekends also serve as a draw. The Chicken and Jos (locally raised chicken breaded and cooked in The Spar’s Henny Penny broaster), for example, has been a popular menu item among guests for more than 50 years. And live music on Saturdays and blues on Sundays also have been a longtime tradition.
Reflecting on The Spar’s history and her own 30 years there, Manke couldn’t be happier with the leap of faith she took three decades ago. “I had no idea it would end up the way it ended up,” she said. As for the future? Manke said she simply plans to continue the same traditions established by the Radonich brothers 100 years ago.