Hangouts: Engine House No. 9

by Stacey Wilson '96

Here’s the bad news about E-9: Your beloved, cozy respite from homework on Pine Street now allows kids until 10 p.m., charges nearly 8 bucks for a burger and fries, and is so packed with UPS students on a Thursday that you’d be lucky to get a table on the patio outside in the rain.

The good news is that you’re the one with the children, an $8 burger is no biggie considering you spend $3 a day on coffee, and—let’s not kid ourselves—when was the last time you actually went out on a Thursday night?

Yes, Tacoma’s landmark fire-station-turned-pub has, like you, grown up quite a bit in the last few years. But before you bemoan the harsh reality that most current UPS students were born after the release of The Breakfast Club, E-9’s manager of 13 years, Steve Peoples, has some words of comfort. “We’ve really grown more into a tavern for alumni,” says Peoples. “Students who’ve graduated are coming back when they’re married and they bring their kids. We’ve evolved into a ‘family’ restaurant, but we’re a family restaurant that just so happens to have 25 beers on tap.”

Built in 1907 to provide fire protection for Tacoma’s North End, Engine House No. 9 was converted into a restaurant in 1973 and placed on the National Historical Register in 1975. Thirty years later, E-9 is celebrating its 10th anniversary as Tacoma’s first tried-and-true brew pub and currently features at least six beers from its own brewery, which was installed in a side annex and opened for business in 1995. An original brew destined to be a classic is E-9’s Rowdy Dick Amber—named for two of the engine house’s six original horses—as is the Belgium White, both of which are hot sellers with Loggers. (Peoples says the UPS crowd still accounts for a good 30 percent of his business.) Like E-9’s very own kitchen, its menu has also undergone steady remodeling, as the classic, garlic-heavy pizza you used to split with five friends at midnight has been joined by the can’t-make-enough-of-it soft taco, grilled steak, and various hearty pasta dishes.

Fear not: Many aspects of the traditional E-9 experience haven’t changed a bit, including its nonsmoking atmosphere (it was Tacoma’s first bar/restaurant to eliminate smoking indoors), the luxury of sampling beers afforded to every customer over 21, and an intrepid staff’s willingness to serve you year-round on the outside patio. “Hey, if you can stand the freezing cold and winter rain, heck, we’ll serve you,” says Peoples.

We Loggers have never let a little rain stop us from doing anything, and we certainly won’t let getting older keep us from a truly age-defying Tacoma institution such as E-9. So go forth ye overworked, overscheduled alumni and set a happy-hour date with your buddies at the most comfortable watering hole this side of 6th Avenue. Yes, the glory days of youth are behind us, but at least now we can afford a decent burger.