Tacoma by Transit Part 2: Engine House No. 9

In Tacoma by Transit Part 1, I visited Harmon Brewery & Eatery. In this 2nd instalment I continue to the 6th Avenue neighborhood to visit Tacoma’s original microbrewery, Engine House No. 9

Much like Seattle, albeit smaller, Tacoma is a city of many diverse neighborhoods. Among them is the 6th Avenue business district, served by Pierce Transit’s #1 bus route. Engine House No. 9 – aka “E9” – is located at 611 N Pine St – get off the bus at the 6th and Pine stop.

The #1 bus route runs past Tacoma Dome, Harmon Brewery, on through downtown, then out along 6th Ave to Tacoma Community College. You can walk between the two breweries; the distance is 2.6 miles; but keep in mind it’s an uphill slog almost the entire way.

Union Station & Tacoma Link Streetcar
Union Station & Tacoma Link Streetcar

I found a nice compromise by exploring some downtown sights near Harmon Brewery: I wandered by Union Station, the Art Museum, the Convention Center, to Commerce Street in the heart of downtown. Then I walked up the hill (9th St) to Tacoma Ave and caught the bus there.

I could have caught the bus on Pacific Avenue: at Union Station; the same stop where I got off the bus from Seattle. Or I could have gotten on the Tacoma Link streetcar at Union Station, jumped off on Commerce Street, then transferred to the #1 bus. More about Tacoma Link later.

Wonderful old building
Wonderful old building

Engine House No. 9 is a gem of a brewpub. Housed in an original brick fire station dating from 1907, it held the distinction of operating the last horse-drawn fire engine in Tacoma. The building became a pub & restaurant in 1980 and the brewery, Tacoma’s first, was added in 1995.

Today the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bar area is spectacularly ornate with its antique back-bar (shipped over I understand from Germany); the restaurant is casual, unpretentious, and kid-friendly.

You gotta love a brewpub that has so much confidence in their own house brews that they pour them alongside some of the best domestic and import beers from around the world. I counted 26 – yes, 26 draft taps, of which 8 were pouring E9 brews. In addition to the taps there are 3 hand pumps for cask-conditioned ales. During my visit one was pumping E9, the other two were pumping guest casks.

Beautiful bar at E9
Beautiful bar at E9

The 18 guest taps featured an excellent selection of Seattle-area microbrews; some west coast microbrews from Stone, Sierra Nevada, Deschutes, HUB; plus some east coast brews from Dogfish Head, Ommegang.

Some superb imports were on tap too: German & Belgian brews like Bitburger, Hofbräu, Duvel. And from the British Isles there was Bass and Murphy’s Stout. All this would represent a formidable lineup in any tavern or ale house but to have this in a place that brews their own – I can honestly say I have not seen anything quite like the E9.

E9 is family friendly, offering a wide selection of pub grub at reasonable prices. During this visit, having just come from lunch at Harmon, I only had room for an appetizer at E9; I’d like to return for dinner with The Spouse and The Daughter before passing judgement on the food menu.

Sampler Tray
Sampler Tray

My beer sample consisted of E9’s six standards (Belgian White, Fire Engine Red, Tacoma Brew, Porter, Rowdy Dick Amber, IPA) plus two rotating seasonals (Stout and Oktoberfest).

I also sampled cask-conditioned Rowdy Dick Amber. Standouts were the Porter, Amber (draft), Oktoberfest, IPA, and Amber (cask). Somewhat disappointing were the White, Red, and Tacoma Brew.

This last one was really weird: although described as a pale ale, it’s pale malt character is much closer to a blonde ale, and, due to having Czech Saaz hops, closer still to a Pilsner in my book.

I mentioned to bartender Ben my feeling that Tacoma Brew wants to be a lager: magically, it seemed, another taster appeared from the brewhouse courtesy of brewmaster Shane Johns. It’s not yet in production but I think this is where Tacoma Brew is headed – a pretty decent Pilsner sometime next year. Turns out Shane & Ben are brothers and both are very approachable about their craft – thanks guys. 🙂

When I got home I dug a little deeper and found this story from 2005 that explains the pre-prohibition background to E9’s Tacoma Brew – now I know why my taste buds screamed Pilsner.

After sampling all these brews I was left in no doubt that for me Engine House No. 9 is producing the best beer in Tacoma. I believe they have a clear edge over Harmon, and the only other locally produced craft brews are The Ram and BJs – both corporate chains, and both not in the same class as Harmon or E9. Whenever you’re in Tacoma – trust me – you owe it to yourself to go check out E9.

OK, now I come to the sad part – time to go home – and that means back to Seattle. In part 1, at least for weekdays, I recommended taking the Sounder train from Tacoma Dome back to King Street Station. The 594 bus I used to get from Seattle to Tacoma is of course available for the return journey daily but, given the choice, the train for me is the better way to go. Northbound Sounder departures are at 4:25 pm and 5:00 pm Mon-Fri. For more transit options check Sound Transit’s trip planner.

Now a few words about the Tacoma Link streetcar. To get to the Sounder from E9 I suggest riding the #1 bus from 6th & Pine back to Commerce Street, jumping off there, and taking the streetcar to the end of the line: Tacoma Dome Station. From there board Sounder or a 594 bus bound for Seattle.

Tacoma Link is a 1.6 mile streetcar line that runs through downtown Tacoma between the Theater District and Tacoma Dome. Stops along the way include Convention Center and Union Station. And best of all it’s free.

For information on Tacoma sights, events, and things to do check here and here.


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