Pairing a glass of wine and a painting class was still a brand new idea when Tacoman Kerry Cole began toying with it. The concept behind paint-and-sip studios is simple: artists – aspiring and accomplished alike – bring themselves to the venue, and the studio provides canvas, paint and hands-on instruction. Kerry’s studio, called the Blue Octopus, is now in its seventh year and was the first to bring this kind of indoor entertainment to the South Sound.
When visitors take in the warm and welcoming atmosphere of her champagne bar and studio, it seems hard to imagine that this eclectically elegant space and reality TV might somehow share a common thread. But that’s precisely the case. Believe it or not, Kerry had been searching patiently for the right opportunity to open her own business when a handful of “real housewives” showed her the way.
Art imitates life
Kerry was a manager at a luxury department store in Tacoma before she was struck with sip-and-paint inspiration. She was an accomplished painter as well, with more than 15 years of experience creating and showing her work at galleries all over the country. While she was happy, like most people, to support her family, she often imagined starting a small business and making her passion her profession. She just wasn’t sure how.
“I came home from work one day and my girls were watching one of their favorite shows at the time: Real Housewives of Orange County. They were so excited, shouting, ‘This! This is what you can do, Mom!’ In this particular episode, the wealthy ladies of Orange County were in an artist’s tiny studio in LA painting awful paintings of red shoes and gold glitter.” At first Kerry laughed, but as she watched along, she realized her brood might really be onto something.
Selecting a memorable and meaningful name for her venture was an important first step. “When coming up with the name, I remembered a TV show back in the day called Sanford and Son…I thought of calling the store The Red Foxx. There was already a domain name for the red fox, though, so I started pairing colors and animals. I stopped at The Blue Octopus.”
Kerry worked up to the challenge of finding a space and fine-tuning her vision for a sip-and-paint spot. She did her due diligence, first researching the few comparable business models she was able to find and then putting together a business plan.
The only fish in the sea
The Blue Octopus officially found its land legs in 2010. Here, in the Middle Floor Merchants area of the Sanford & Sons antique mall on Broadway, Kerry Cole introduced the concept of enjoying a glass of fine wine along with painting and voila! The Blue Octopus was born. The business grew steadily in its first few years with the help of sites like Groupon and the weekend traffic that Tacoma’s Antique Row crowd attracts. She quickly learned that events and paint parties were activities that seemed to resonate the most with her clientele.
To set herself apart from other studios, Kerry decided to offer customers the ability to paint any number of images, not just one. She also planned to change the subjects seasonally, hoping to increase patronage over time with an ever-changing curriculum. As a gallery in the state of Washington, Kerry learned that she could offer one glass of wine to each customer without having to obtain a liquor license. It quickly became apparent, however, that this wasn’t going to cut it. “I needed to add a liquor license,” she says with good humor, “because my ladies don’t mess around … one glass was not enough.”
Her creativity as an artist is reflected in her creativity as an entrepreneur as she’s worked to accommodate her growing business over the years. After completing the Spaceworks program, Kerry moved to a larger space on Pearl. She filled the studio with her artwork and some local goods, at first for decoration and eventually for sale. “I used to only sell local art and had a focus on hyper-local beer and wine,” says Kerry. “Well, that movement has exploded and pretty much every bar around has local beer and wine. Sort of the same with local art. Local art is everywhere. It’s great we have such a large and talented group of artists in our area, but we are going for something a little different these days that makes us a draw (no pun intended) and helps us stand out from the rest. I have scouted artists from across the nation to show with us. I scout on Instagram and via word of mouth from other gallery owners and art collectors I know. We’re proud and excited to showcase art from all across the country.”
“This isn’t to say I’m not proud of where I live,” she continues. “I am. We will have some local beer and wine to go. We have local ceramics and a few carefully curated pieces that aren’t being sold or shown anywhere else. We will probably have a pop up show around the holidays featuring local artists as well.”
Her space may have changed, but a constant for this small business owner has always been finding innovative ways to entertain her guests. In addition to the wine Kerry had been pouring by twos and threes at her paint parties, for instance, she added a speakeasy-style bar to the back of her gallery. “It was pretty cute,” Kerry remembers. “The problem with a speakeasy is no one knows it’s there…a cool concept if your bar already has a following. I used the three years [at the Pearl Street location] to learn about wine, champagne and beer.”
Experiments like this combined with more unexpected inspiration to bring the Blue Octopus home to its newest location in Point Ruston. It didn’t take much convincing for Kerry: she fell in love and decided to move the Blue Octopus again, this time to a scenic venue with waterfront views and even more foot traffic. “This space is gorgeous,” says Kerry. “It’s healing. We have mountain and water views. The design was seven months in the making. More than 300 people came out to celebrate with us for our grand opening in February.”
Kerry’s made a few more changes to her service to go along with her studio’s fresh face. “We have paired up with Seldens, and have curated a collection of furniture, pillows and home furnishings just for The Blue Octopus. The collection is gorgeous and should fill a need down at the waterfront with all the condos and apartments. We’re excited to offer this new addition to our customers and to meet the resident neighbors.”
As with other spaces that Kerry has owned, live music is something to look forward to at Point Ruston’s one and only sip-and-paint shop. Everything from acoustic, cafe-style acts and French music to techno and electronic DJ will be on the docket for visitors to enjoy most Fridays from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. or 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. Check the event calendar at www.theblueoctopus.com to see who the featured musicians are for the evening.
Beginning in 2017, the Blue Octopus is the first and only champagne bar and sip-and-paint studio in the Pacific Northwest. For a crash course on the finer points of bubbly-bar offerings, check out the champagne flight tasting for two. Ever wonder what a $200 bottle of Prestige Cuvee champagne tastes like? This is your chance to see what the fuss is all about, and at a fraction of the cost. Truffle popcorn and Spanish quicos (read: legit corn nuts) are on offer to snack on between sips, and a light menu combined with a BYO food policy keeps folks full as well as hydrated between brush strokes or conversation.
If you fancy a little more in the way of frills, try one of several new champagne cocktails. Floral and fruity syrups add sweet and aromatic notes to an already effervescent drink. Berry garnishes and flutes dusted with gold flecks at the rim combine with picture-perfect views from the second-floor balcony to make for one memorable afternoon or evening out.
One-on-one instruction, private or Sips-N-Canvas painting parties can be scheduled any time. For more details about renting the venue, scheduling a party or stopping in for a flight of champagne or wine, visit the Blue Octopus on the web, Facebook or Instagram.