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Best of Tacoma 2019: McMenamins Elks Temple, Spanish Ballroom

Writer's Pick: Best New Live Music Venue

The Melvins, and the capacity crowd at the Spanish Ballroom, enjoy the room’s ornate, proscenium-arch stage, along with awesome acoustics. Photo courtesy McMenamins Elks Temple

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With the launch of McMenamins Elks Temple in May, downtown Tacoma saw the re-opening of a civic landmark and now enjoys a unique, boutique hotel and an eclectic mix of new restaurants and bars within the historic building.

The city also gained a much-needed new live performance space. The ornately detailed, intimate and artful Spanish Ballroom is this writer's pick for Best New Live Music Venue. With room for some 700 people, the ballroom has awesome acoustics, a state-of-the-art sound system and -- of course -- a bar. The concert hall has already hosted various local acts, as well as big names like Mudhoney and the Melvins.

"We want the Spanish Ballroom to be a place for both national acts that often skip Tacoma, and local artists who keep this scene so vibrant as it grows," explained Elks Temple marketing director Kathleen Tarrant. "To do that, we try as much as we can to book all-ages shows, free shows, and shows that showcase not only how much great music the Northwest has, but how much great music Tacoma has."

In fact, something is scheduled in the Spanish Ballroom nearly every night, and it isn't just concerts. Consider the variety of events and performances coming up in the next couple of months, for example.

On Aug. 14, and again Sept. 11, "SUB POPULAR: 50 Years of Indie and Alternative Music" takes over the Spanish Ballroom. The evening features punk, grunge and new wave tracks spun DJ-style by none other than Sub Pop Records founder Bruce Pavitt. The mind behind the seminal Seattle record label curates musical history through the turntable, and due to Pavitt's wide-ranging network of musician connections, you never know who might show up as a surprise guest.

Remember when MTV actually played music videos? With its "80's Video Dance Attack" nights -- coming up Aug. 17 and Sept. 14 -- McMenamins brings to the Spanish Ballroom the longest running theme-night dance party from Portland. The $10 tickets are available in advance and at the door, letting revelers in for a night of new-wave nostalgia on the dance floor, shaking it to 80's hits while the classic MTV music videos play throughout the room on multiple screens. The 21-and-over party starts at 9 p.m.

Considering the painstaking historic preservation of the Elks Temple and many other McMenamins properties, it's no surprise that history is a big deal for the company. At the Spanish Ballroom, history comes alive with the Elks Temple History Pub series. 

For example, Aug. 6, "Shipwrecks, Legends, and Lost Treasures -- Historical Archaeology on the Pacific Coast" are considered with archaeologist Scott Williams hosting. On Sept. 3, the scheduled subject is "The Olmsted Legacy Across America and the Pacific Northwest," in which Portland historian Laurence Cotton examines the impact of the famous landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, his two sons and the Olmsted Bros. landscape architecture firm. For the free, all-ages lecture series, doors open at 5:30 p.m. and presentations begin at 7 p.m.

Along with history lectures, non-music events include tastings such as the All Access Pass to Whiskey. A vast variety of whiskies will be available, as well as whiskey-based cocktails whipped up for the occasion. The World of Whiskey Pass is $30 and includes 10 tokens. The 21-and-over event is scheduled Thursday, Sept. 19, from 5-9 p.m.

McMenamins Elks Temple, Spanish Ballroom, 565 Broadway, Tacoma, 425.219.4370,

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