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Bob's Java Jive entrance view.

Bob's Java Jive: Giant Coffee Pot

Field review by the editors.

Tacoma, Washington

It's accomplishment enough for an old coffee pot-shaped building to still be standing, let alone serving cups of Joe. Bob's Java Jive is one such survivor, weathering gyrations that might crack a lesser coffee pot-shaped building.

Built in 1927 as the Coffee Pot Restaurant by a Tacoma veterinarian, Otis G. Button, the 25-feet-high 30-feet-across concrete coffee pot was designed by local artist/promoter Bert Smyser, owner of a commercial display business.

The big pot operated as a food drive-thru at one point, and as a speakeasy. As the city of Tacoma expanded, and waves of development swept outward, the Coffee Pot thrived while other eclectic buildings succumbed.

The handle.

In 1955, Bob and Lylabell Radonich bought the place. Lylabell concocted the name, "Java Jive," from a lyric in a popular Ink Spots song (the phrase "Java Jive" had been around at least since the 1930s).

Bob transformed the big coffee pot interior to cater to new audiences as a music club. In the 1960s, when the instrumental surf band The Ventures became a national sensation, they were fresh from years as a lowly paid house act in The Java Jive.

Bob made the Jive loosely Polynesian-themed, with a Jungle Room and two chimpanzees living there -- "Java" and "Jive." The chimps banged on a drum kit while Bob and Lylabell's son played the organ.

Later mutations of the Java Jive ventured into karaoke; it also operated as a go-go bar.

Over the decades, that section of Tacoma became more desolate and a little run down. The bar somehow avoided demolition until the city realized it was a vital cultural landmark worth preserving. It narrowly escaped a fire in 1998.

Inside the Jungle Room.

Bob's Java Jive has served as an unique backdrop for Hollywood films, including "I Love You To Death"(1990), and Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything"(1989).

Bob Radonich died in September 2002 at age 83. It didn't seem to put a dent in the enthusiasm of Java Jive fans.

The place was hopping on a late Saturday afternoon when we stopped by. Coming around a wide curve on South Tacoma Way, we spotted the 2.5-story white and red coffee pot glowing in a burst of sunshine.

Punk types were already filling up the small parking lot with their junker cars. On the rusted trunk of one, a fat permanent marker had been applied: "The Meat Beaters: Born to Die!" -- decorated with little skulls.

Hand-lettered posters on the hurricane fence complained about the local smoking ban legislation. Live music blasted from the open doors.

Entering Bob's Java Jive.

The bar is still owned by the Radonich family. Bob's daughter, Jenna Schrenk, tends bar and runs the place. There was a cover charge to support a procession of local bands playing for the next 10 hours, until the place closed.

Inside, a rangy man with a stubble of whiskers and one shoe sat at the bar, collecting the cover charge. We couldn't tell if he really planned to wear the red bowler hat in front of him; it looked like a New Year's Eve party novelty.

He took a drag on his cigarette, introduced himself as Teddy, and volunteered that he was Alec Baldwin's movie stand-in. We believed him; there was even a photo hanging on the wall of Alec and Teddy. We wondered what happened to his missing shoe.

The Jungle Room was decorated with kitschy tropical paintings, fake foliage, and strings of Christmas lights. A clutter of memorabilia and photos were tacked onto every wall. A pattern of foil stars decorated the ceiling.

You might still be able to buy a cup of coffee at Bob's Java Jive; we forgot to ask.

Also see: Big Coffee Pots

Bob's Java Jive: Giant Coffee Pot

2102 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma, WA
I-5 to the 38th St. exit. Head west. Turn right at S. Pine St. (Guitar Center), then right at S. Tacoma Way. Bob's Java Jive is on right.
Always visible; open 8pm-2am. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Bing Crosby's BirthplaceBing Crosby's Birthplace, Tacoma, WA - 2 mi.
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In the region:
Bicycle Eaten by Tree, Vashon Island, WA - 13 mi.

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