java jive

by Art Chantry (

a couple of days ago, there was a front page story on the Java Jive, the famous old roadside “giant teapot’ monument architecture on south tacoma way in tacoma. it’s a a weird strange old niteclub/bar/tavern/dump that launched the careers of many old boy northwest rockers like the wailers, the sonics and the ventures (who were the house band there in their beginning). i have many surreal and bizarre memories of spending time in that place, memories soaked in booze and late hours. memories so bizarre and vague that they seem more like acid flashbacks than real. but, it was real, all right.

AC:when listing the 'kitsch kastles' on old hiway 99, never forget the 'spanish castle' ballroom and the infamous 'igloo' drive-in and the 'hat-n-boots' gas station. tip of an iceberg, too..

the java jive has needed some TLC for a long time. it’s original neon ‘outline’ had been little more than a few broken shards for decades. it’s paint is peeling and it’s got some nasty cracks in it’s stucco exterior.

a few months back, some yuppie parents threw and “all ages” birthday party for their kid in there (damn yuppies). when the adult chaperones saw the interior, they freaked out. it’s a fire trap and a death trap. always has been, always will be. it’s THE WAY IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE! anyway, the yuppie parents (fearing for the lives of their kids, i guess), took it upon themselves to report the place to the codes department.

now, the tacoma building code authorities have known about the java jive since it was built over 75 years ago, when it was still called the “coffee pot”. it’s a beloved structure in this city and is a source of regional pride. EVERYBODY who has ever set foot in the place sees the code problem instantly, but the people of this city would fight to the death before they’d ever do a thing to change it. the place is marvelous. any slight alteration would be to destroy an artistic achievement at the very top of the tacoma food chain.

but, the city was legally forced to respond, and went into the place in an official capacity for the very first time in living memory. they (of course) found numerous code violations and reluctantly closed it down. everybody thought it was the end of the old dear place. the local news was full of testimonials by old patrons mourning it’s loss, and obits made the full color photo front page of the tacoma news tribune. it was the end of an era.

but, a marvelous magical thing happened. the very next morning a group of contractors showed up at the front door, spent the whole day bringing the building up to code, and then said, “my dad grew up gong to this place, i grew up going to this place and i want my son to grow up going to this place.” then left, anonymously. it was a miracle!!! glory, hallajulah!!

the picture in the paper t’other day showed another professional volunteering (along with the owners) giving the exterior of the joint a new coat of paint. so, the “dream” (such as it is) lives on.

another early patron of the java jive was a young local jazz musician, a tacoma native). he spent a great deal of time listening and learning and soaking up the nightmarish “vibes’ of the place. his name was “bing” crosby. this is a photo (a bad xerox copy, which makes it only look better) of the young bing in his first

d, back when he was a college student attending gonzaga university in spokane (he’s the guy with clarinet.)

it’s interesting to note that tacoma bred and born bing crosby, likely the most important and influential singer and pop stylist of the last century, learned his chops hanging out at places like the java jive. just goes to show…

the music traditions in the northwest go long and deep. people who live outside of the northwest like to say things like, “nirvana came out of nowhere.” but, we who live in tacoma, we all know the truth.
— with Java Jive.


AC:one thing i always enjoy is reading the various tacoma area band names listed in the entertainment section of the ‘tacoma weekly’. i’ve been known to crack up a huge table of diners by reading those names out loud….

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Music/Composition/Performance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>