For decades South Tacoma Way has been silently and patiently waiting for things to come full circle. Prior to the I-5 and the Tacoma Mall scooping up all the attention the lengthy strip was home to the nightlife for Tacomans of the past, who saw those businesses and bars they love close down one after another due to diverted traffic. Historically this happens in Tacoma, one area rebuilds and the rest seems to be obsolete until they follow suit. A once very neon and bustling downtown suffered from something similar. But following suit isn’t so easy for most small businesses and without a cult following of regulars the ‘phase out’ happens faster than expected. But prior to the pandemic Tacoma was in a new stage of growth that shined a light on revitalization of our business districts as much as exploration into new territories or those that had been underused. And a man ahead of the curve as he has proven so many times before, Danno Rankin, saw that very early on. Like most of South Tacoma Way at that time, with the exception of a few key players, the Airport Tavern was on its way there before he had the foresight to remodel and bring it back to life. Danno did everything under the sun at Jazzbones for a long time including booking all the talent, so his resume and expertise speak for itself when it comes to understanding what Tacoma wants from a venue. His answer was providing the best of both worlds, Tacoma’s love for dives with his booking abilities creating a bar/venue. While it does tend to cater towards rock bands, Airport Tavern and Danno have a huge hand in putting on Reggae on The Way, a block party style reggae fest that in the past has shut down the main retail strip of South Tacoma Way. It has now outgrown that setting and is being held at LEMAY. His ability to revitalize has been impressive.
The current Airport Tavern looks just like the old Airport Tavern; he really did a great job at giving the place a facelift while preserving the integrity of the establishment that opened way back in 2004. A fresh coat of paint changed the faded baby blue to a bold but not bright red with navy trim, the window framing was updated to this era, the neon sign was painted and restored to its glory. The other two random “tavern” signs were removed and an added outdoor guardrail to both sides of the entrance with bar shelving attached for your pint. Pinball in Tacoma has a community of its own and Danno expanded their reach by adding another place to play. When you enter Airport Tavern you’re greeted by seven pinball machines to your left, seating and a few arcade games to your right. The bar has classic mirrored shelving and a straight forward selection that has all the hits. A personal favorite interior feature is a wood bench with the prettiest grain that runs the length of the far wall stopping just before the billiards table and digital jukebox. Just past that you can see into the kitchen and into the venue space at the end of the building. Every part of the space is used effectively. In an effort to cover all the bases and check all the boxes Danno put together a dynamic bar menu. They offer sandwiches, nachos, tacos, bar bites (pretzels, wings, sliders) and 10” pizza that has become popular via word of mouth and Internet reviews. I recommend getting the I Know Danno.
In my experiences at Airport Tavern it’s perfect for every setting. Enjoying it during the opening hours it's a nice and quiet workspace. You can sip your beer slowly and order lunch when you get tired of squinting at the computer screen. Despite what the mall goers have done to traffic the 48th-56th blocks of South Tacoma Way is still centrally located and a great place to dwindle time if you happen to be in between meetings. One of my first experiences at Airport Tavern was for a show. The venue space was the perfect size for the performances and the sound is surprisingly good for being segmented from the rest of the space. And the staff is always friendly and accommodating to our large parties in the evening. After getting through the worst of the pandemic (2020-2021) it’s evident Airport Tavern has a lot of future in front of it.
5406 S Tacoma Way
Tacoma, WA 98409
Tuesday 4 PM–12 AM
Wednesday 4 PM–12 AM
Thursday 4 PM–12 AM
Friday 4 PM–2 AM
Saturday 4 PM–2 AM
Sunday 4 PM–12 AM
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