Posted by: Brad Nixon | July 25, 2018

Big Coffee Tacoma, Washington. No, BIG.

In the glory days of “roadside attractions,” big was almost always better. Want to catch the attention of speeding motorists and entice them to stop? First they have to see your joint; then, it has to appeal. American highways are lined with giant attractors: dinosaurs, Paul Bunyans (also known as “muffler men”), leaping fish, teepees, animals, birds and even insects of every variety.

A few months ago, I wrote about a coffee shop in Long Beach,California —the Koffe Pot —  that sported a large coffee pot on the roof. Well, “large” is relative. The pot formed a sort of finial to cap the roof of the small building, and stood perhaps six feet high. Not large by roadside attraction standards.

If you want to get Americans to pull off the road and drink coffee, go BIG. How big?

 

Why, yes. That should do it.

That structure has a rather legendary place in the roadsideana of America. It was built on the southwestern fringes of Tacoma, Washington, in 1927 by a local veterinarian named Otis G. Button, designed by a Tacoma promoter, Bert Smyser.

Bob Java Jive Brad Nixon 0191 640

The original name didn’t quite have the pizazz to match its visual clout: The Coffee Pot Restaurant. It’s 25 feet high, 30 feet in diameter. It’s been a drive-through, a speakeasy and a bar, which it is, more or less, today.

Bob Java Jive Brad Nixon 0184 640

In 1955, Bob and Lylabell Radonich bought the place and named it after the Ink Spots’ hit, “Java Jive.” Now you’re talking.

Some places simply speak for themselves. Bob’s not only speaks; it can read you the entire raison d’etre of roadside attractions. In its several incarnations, including appearances in some movies, my favorite dates from the era when Dick Dale and other avatars of the art were forging Surf Rock from the basic building blocks of the primordial chaos. The house band then was a local group called The Ventures, who should need no introduction to any except classical music purists, with monster hits that included “Telstar,” the Hawaii Five-0 theme, “Pipeline” and, of course, the immortal, “Wipe Out.”

Bob Java Jive spout Brad Nixon 0186 640

Now I’ll answer your question. No, I don’t know how the coffee is. The place doesn’t open until 8pm, when either live music or karaoke is on offer, and I don’t know if they even serve coffee. I was on my way from one place to another and couldn’t stick around. If you show up, keep demanding the band play “Wipe Out” until they give in.

There are numerous other giant coffee pots in the roadside oeuvre, but Bob’s stands tall among them — still open after more than 90 years on the scene, and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ha-chaaa!

This was, in fact, my second visit, separated by more than two decades, and I’m happy to have seen this survivor of another era again, now that there are digital cameras, which weren’t on the scene for my last encounter.

Bob Java Jive Brad Nixon crop 0190 640

Location

Bob’s Java Jive is at 2102 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma, Washington. It’s an industrial part of town, and not immediately adjacent to a freeway exit from I-5. On my way from Seattle, I used exit 133 at the Tacoma Dome and then left (west) onto E. 26th St., which becomes Tacoma Way. Call +1.253.475.9843 for hours and lineup.

I’m indebted for many of the above details to the two flagships of roadside culture online, roadsideamerica.com and Atlas Obscura. There are some additional photos and facts on each.

Licensable, high resolution versions of some photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Shutterstock.com. Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018


Responses

  1. There used to be so many roadside novelty statutes and restaurants, now things on the road are just boring. Good to see someone is holding on to the tradition.

    Like

    • Granted, many are gone. But here’s one thought: a lot of those attractions are still there — a great number. BUT, the roads have left THEM. We’re on the Interstates and the urban bypasses, and the “big” attractions a mouldering on the byways, unseen.

      Liked by 1 person

      • So true. I saw them as a kid because Dad was driving and that’s how he said we get to see the real America!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve seen large pecans and peaches, a pretty darned big Eiffel Tower (in Paris, Texas, of course) and a sixteen-foot high metal chicken, but this is in a class by itself. If I were in the neighborhood and could, I’d hang around just to get inside. There’s no question it would be worth checking out.

    Two musical references in one morning may be a bit much, but since you mentioned The Ventures and “Wipe Out,” I can’t resist sharing this father/daughter team from Germany. She’s 19 now, but I think she was about 16 when she took on the challenge of one of the classics.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Amazing. I miss those old trips along America’s “back roads.” The Mister used to say that he wanted to take a vacation just to see those sorts of forgotten things.

    Not too long ago, we discovered a giant chicken not too far from us. That was quite a sight!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ha ha it is very funny.

    Like

  5. Very Interesting place. Was the coffee strong? I imagine a place like the Java Jive must have a gaud awfully strong brew.

    Like

    • Sorry, didn’t get in. Not open ’til 8pm.

      Like


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