When you first approach the Engine House No. 9 Restaurant and Brewery, it becomes obvious the building has a history. The towering brick structure just off of 6th Avenue, in Tacoma’s North End, should feel somewhat out of place compared to the rest of the suburban landscape that surrounds it. Yet, the fact that it has paid its dues and earned the right to be included in both Tacoma’s Historical Landmarks and the National Register of Historic Places, it fits right in.
“[The Engine House] just oozes history,” says John Xitco, co-owner of X Group Restaurant, Catering and Brewery, who bought the Engine House No. 9 in August of 2011. “New customers can expect the real deal in terms of a firehouse, [with a] friendly welcome and warm, casual atmosphere that has developed over years of use and love.”
“It’s an old firehouse,” agrees co-owner Jeff Paradise, “not a restaurant manufactured to look like a firehouse. You can’t manufacture history.”
Originally built in 1907, the Engine House No. 9 (or more appropriately E9 to both the regulars and staff) was a working firehouse until the mid-1960s. Prior to 1919, fire service was horse-drawn. The ground floor was the stable, the second floor the living quarters for the firemen. After the building was abandoned in 1965, it seemed as though the story would end there. “The building was to be demolished,” recounts Xitco, “But was saved by two gentlemen that worked for The News Tribune as reporters and bought the building for a little over $4,000 in the early 70s and turned it into the Engine House No. 9.” The horse stables were turned into the tavern, the second story an apartment.
Since 1972, E9 has been serving customers a unique blend of nostalgia and history. The walls are adorned with firefighting antiques and old pictures of the building’s unique story. Old trampolines hang from the ceiling, the old fire pole is still intact. Xitco and Paradise prefer it that way. “When we took over,” Xitco says, “we made sure to not disturb the E9 that people remembered from the mirrors on the wall to the rough wood floor salvaged from a local roller skating arena by the first owners.”
And the history doesn’t stop there. E9 also boasts being the first microbrewery in Tacoma, with some beers so fresh that they come directly from the cellar. Patrons can expect staples like IPAs and Belgian Whites as well as more now trending experiments like Farmhouse Ales and local berry Lambics. “When we took over,” Xitco says, “we wanted to let our brewer brew what he was as passionate about while streamlining the mainstream variety.” Because of this, E9 beers often rotate, and you never know what exciting new styles are available. The names of the beers also have ties to the E9 story. For example, the Rowdy Dick Amber is named after the last two surviving fire horses, Rowdy and Dick. Legend has it that when the two horses passed, they were given firemen’s funerals and were buried along with their gear behind the firehouse.
This history also blends in with the supernatural, and rumors of ghosts at E9 have been recounted time and time again. Even the owners are convinced that the physical and spiritual worlds are commingling inside of those brick walls. “There are definitely spirits joining us in the building,” Xitco says. “There have been many stories from customers and employees witnessing seeing spirits in the building, or weird instances of pans getting knocked off the counter.” The manifestations became so prevalent that Xitco chose to take matters into his own hands. “I had a medicine man do a cleansing of the building when spirit activity seemed high,” he says. “They said there were many both good and bad spirits in the building. Some of the good spirits were firefighters looking to get back to work, and they said it was common to have bad spirits with the presence of alcohol and a bar. After the cleansing, the activity stopped. He said it could return and we have had only a few cases since.”
Ghosts or not, E9 continues to evolve slowly, which is no bad thing at all. In recent years, the second floor has been converted to a private dining space, complete with its own bar, and is available for rent for private parties and gatherings. Old equipment has been replaced and new chairs have been added, as well as a new shuffleboard table. The restaurant is also open for breakfast on weekends. John recommends the SoCal omelet with cheesy house made hash browns.
Aside from breakfast, E9 serves traditional bar fare, from pizzas and burgers to salads and sandwiches. When asked about his favorite thing on the menu, John was quick to point out the Pumper Truck pizza with E9’s own Golden Raspberry Lambic (when available).
The ownership of such a building comes with a great responsibility, and Xitco and Paradise are more than up for the task, including plans for a new tap system and some improvements to the working area of the bar itself. “We really care about the history of E9,” Paradise says. “And we want to continue stewarding its continued place in Tacoma’s history.”
Engine House No. 9 Restaurant and Brewery
611 North Pine Street
Tacoma, WA 98406
Monday to Wednesday: 11:00 a.m. to midnight
Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Friday: 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Saturday: 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Sunday: 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.