Step through the door of the Zodiac Supper Club and delight your senses in a cacophony of retro kitsch. Crimson lighting casts a darkroom-esque glow over patrons and shrouds framed art and gilded decor in a delightfully macabre shade.
The focal point of what at first appears to be a petite space is a sprawling countertop and mood-lit bar. As the eyes adjust to the low light and fuchsia walls, high cocktail tables and a long row of booths come into focus. There are two slightly more private seating areas toward the back of the lounge.
A vintage record player at the end of the bar glows in that quintessential jukebox gradient synonymous with soda jerks and sock hops, “Pulp Fiction” and “Boogie Nights.” The rotation is a mix of eras and ages but loaded with time-tested tunes by greats like Lou Reed and David Bowie that are all free to play.
Retro relics, scattered hither and yon, bend toward the quirky and the unconventional. Velvet artwork evokes a tactile memory of an aunt’s living room, and mixed in with evocative and off-kilter paintings are vintage gems such as working rain lamps and funky, eye-catching knickknacks that give off a sort of edgy and distinctively Northwestern vibe. Notable San Diego tattooist Jackie Dunn Smith — a friend of the owners — is responsible for some of the Americana-inspired paintings that freckle the walls.
The welcoming atmosphere of Zodiac, though, is its most outstanding feature. Inspired by the popular supper clubs of bygone days and the community character of more mod eateries in its class, this lounge has a distinctly communal vibe. Immediately inside the door is the most apparent reason for the easy attitude of this inviting place: an island, situated in front of a wide window, where guests mill about with kabobs and grilling utensils in hand.
Bringing It Back
Supper clubs were a hot-ticket in the United States around the 1930s and 40s and have seen a reemergence in popularity in the last decade or two, alongside off-the-radar lounges and speakeasies.
Traditionally, a supper club is as much a destination as it is a bar or an eatery. These restaurants are defined by their casual ambiance and laid-back appeal. Many supper clubs boast a casual line-up of entertainment such as live music or a DJ, and fare at these types of eateries is all about keeping it simple: American classics such as a steak, chicken and fish. In the United States, the most characteristic feature of a supper club is that socializing is the rule of the roost.
Club-goers are encouraged to while away the evening from suppertime to the wee hours of the morning (if that’s what floats their boat). Where else can a person say that on a Saturday night? In a world of the two-bite check-back, turn-and-burn table service and two-drink minimums, how refreshing it is to hear, “Stay as long as you like,” and know that there is literally no rush.
Supper Club Chic Comes to Destiny City
Zodiac Supper Club in Tacoma was born in July 2015 by three amigos from California who wanted to marry the highbrow history of the supper club to the eclectic vibe of the Gritty City. The result is a glamorous dive bar with a great cocktails and a sort of off-kilter savoir-faire.
Dana Claar Verellen says that she, her husband, Dave Verellen (a Lakewood native), and her best friend, Suzanne Ramon, were inspired to open this offbeat eatery by one of their favorite spots in San Diego. “The idea for the Zodiac comes from a place that I love in San Diego called the Turf Supper Club. It’s been there for like 60 years and is where I got the idea for a bar that has a grill your own steak menu,” she says. “It’s a really rad old bar, and I try to be as open as possible with crediting them for the idea!”
Like The Turf, Zodiac offers up an avant-garde dining experience unique not just to supper clubs in general but to most restaurants: that communal grill up front and away from other guests where diners cook their own main course. Here, patrons gather to chew the fat while they grill a steak or burger to perfection.
“Something special about us,” Dana says, “is that we don’t use anything canned or frozen. Everything is made from scratch. All dressings, marinades, salads, rubs, desserts. All made by an actual staff member at the bar. We put a lot of thought into making it taste good and look cute.”
Another distinctive hallmark at Zodiac that was devised to delight? Giant, party-sized punch and tiki bowls of mixed cocktails meant to share with friends. Served with several glasses or two straws for date night, these specialty drinks are a dynamic duo when paired with Louisiana hot links, skewers, kabobs or steak. Finish your meal off with a bartender’s choice cocktail and hand-made pie to make your night out a well-rounded, three-course affair.
The owners explain that they were drawn to a celestial theme, and this is evident in little touches all over the club. The signage, for example, crafted in beautiful gold leaf (by local sign-stress Monica Worden), is an ornate zodiac medallion that catches the eye as patrons stroll in. The bathroom is another canvas for the heavenly theme of the bar: an obsidian base coat is splashed with luminous gold constellations and shimmering glitter, and whimsical glow-in-the-dark stars pepper the ceiling.
“I came up with the name Zodiac,” Dana explains, “because we wanted a vintage feel to the name and we wanted it to be just a word. Like it was important to be able to call it ‘The…’ I’m into astrology and I also liked the aesthetic opportunities that come with having a bar called ‘The Zodiac.’”
It appears that, so far, patrons of the lounge really like the idea, too. The look, atmosphere, live music, monthly events, specialty cocktails and the menu itself has been a big hit with revelers near and far. After only six months of operation, Zodiac took home the award for Best New Restaurant in the Best of Western Washington roundup. “It was so great to get the award,” Dana says, “mostly because it means that we are being supported by our community, and that’s worth more to us than anything.”
Verellen happily credits some of the couple’s success to Tacoma and its strong community. “We chose to open in Tacoma because we live in and love it here,” she says. “There was never a question of where we wanted to open. It was always Tacoma. For many reasons, but mostly because of the community support and love we feel from all around us here. We love being in the Theatre District and we work hard to maintain a safe and happy environment for anyone who wants to hang out.”
Get In Where You Fit In
Now is as good a time as ever to check out this one-of-a-kind lounge. Events like Wigstock (where patrons and bartenders come crowned in their favorite funky wig), Bring Your Own Vinyl night (where a live DJ mixes the vinyl that customers bring in themselves) or the upcoming Wayback Wednesday (which will feature a DJ mixing old-school 90s hip-hop and R&B) are a great time to immerse yourself in the full effect of a delightfully tacky restaurant doing big things in T-Town. Check out Zodiac’s Facebook for updates and news about upcoming events.
Can’t make it to a special event? No problem. The Zodiac Supper Club will still be there, waiting with a tiki bowl and a perfectly coiffed bartender sporting a retro-chic updo, whenever you have an evening you’re ready and raring to idle away.
Zodiac Supper Club
745 St. Helens
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 4:00 p.m. to midnight… and beyond