First Call: 1022 South, Tacoma’s Cocktail Pioneer

On the hardscrabble Hilltop, mixology's vanguard.

The Watering Hole: 1022 South, 1022 S. J St., 253-627-8588, TACOMA

The Atmosphere: Located in Tacoma’s gritty Hilltop neighborhood, 1022 South is not the kind of bar you stumble across. The surrounding blocks are full of vacant lots and shuttered businesses, but at least that leaves plenty of open street parking.

Inside, exposed filament lightbulbs hang from the ceiling, a dozen stools surround the J-shaped bar, and tables glow with candles reflected in the mirrors hung around the room. Shelves are lined with jars full of colorful liquids and mysterious gelatinous forms reminiscent of science class. And vials and squeeze bottles full of housemade tinctures, gastriques, bitters, and potions sit at the bartender’s ready.

The menu at 1022 South is divided into sections for “literary,” “classics,” and “apothecary.” They make everything in-house, from the tonic and ginger beer to shrubs and infusions. They use herbs and fruit like lavender and rhubarb, and medicinals like echinacea and horny goatweed. The aptly named Hellfire tincture is a fiery combination of cayenne, ginger, chiles, and horseradish—among other ingredients—inspired by a creation some hippies use as a cold remedy.

The Barkeep: Owner and bartender Chris Keil opened 1022 South in 2009, after years of bartending around Tacoma. Don’t let the beard and shaved head fool you—this guy aims to please. When it came time to order, I asked Keil to make me the “Apothecary Cup,” listed on the menu as “Bartender’s choice, bonne chance.” Not so fast: Keil wanted to know what I liked to drink and if I liked bold flavors, sweet drinks, or something more subtle. Then he took my temperature. OK, that part’s not true.

The Drink: Keil grabbed a bottle of Barbancourt 8-year-old rum, maraschino, and a couple of other bottles. He wouldn’t tell me about the drink until I tasted it and told him what I thought. It turned out to be a riff on a Trinidad Sour (rye, orgeat, angostura, lemon juice) made with rum instead of rye and maraschino instead of orgeat.

The Verdict: The healthy amount of angostura bitters made the drink a rich ruby color, while the maraschino and citrus juice counteracted the bitterness. The vanilla from the rum balanced the woodiness of the remaining angostura flavor for a complex drink that was smooth and surprisingly refreshing. It was tart, but not bracingly so, and sweet but not cloying. My spirits were lifted and my worries were carried away. Of course, that almost always happens with the first drink of the day.

1022 South feels more Parisian than Pierce County, with a menu more sophisticated than those of most bars in Seattle. While it’s not a reasonable after-work stop for most Seattleites, the drive isn’t bad outside commuting hours. And who knows? You may find a cure for what ails you.