Tacoma’s new 700-capacity Spanish Ballroom will open April 24 inside McMenamins Elks Temple. (Courtesy McMenamins) 

McMenamins finds “sweet spot” at 700 capacity in historic building

Tacoma is getting an addition to its local music scene with the opening of the new 700-capacity Spanish Ballroom on April 24. The live music venue is inside McMenamins Elks Temple, a former Elks Lodge turned hotel and entertainment complex, and adjacent to the Spanish Steps in Tacoma’s downtown core.

“There was no venue with this capacity in Tacoma,” said Jimi Biron, director of entertainment and venue programming for the Pacific Northwest’s McMenamins, which own 60 locations, including live entertainment venues the Edgefield Amphitheater in Troutdale, Ore.; the Queen Anne in Seattle; and the Bagdad Theater in Portland.

“There are 400-capacity clubs and some 1,000-plus-capacity spaces in Tacoma but nothing in the 700-capacity.” Biron said. “We think we found a sweet spot. We’re not trying to knock anyone out, we’re trying to add. Because of the proximity to Seattle, we’re looking at this like a Sacramento or Boulder where it’s an independent market and bands will play Tacoma in addition to Portland and Seattle.”

A spate of stars will open the venue starting with the Young Fresh Fellows, which features former auxiliary R.E.M. member Scott McCaughey; Knife Knights fronted by Ishmael Butler; and Giants in the Trees, which is Nirvana’s Krist Novoselić’s new band.

Also already confirmed are Blitzen Trapper, Neon Indian, the Blasters, Mudhoney and the Melvins.

Monthly and weekly events like Drag Queen Brunch, ’80s and ’90s video dance nights and a Django Reinhardt-inspired gypsy-jazz happy hour will be also featured.

Much of the programming will be free. “We’re doing this for the community and want to be the premier club venue for live music in this market,” Biron said. “When there is ticketing, some tickets will go for $3 to $4. We want people to come every night.”

A giant game room looks down on the stage and people will be able to play pool, shuffleboard and other games as they watch the shows, Biron said.

Renovation of the Spanish Ballroom in McMenamins Elks Temple began last year.

The historic building was designed and built by Beaux Arts architect Édouard Frère Champney. McMenamins bought the property in 2007, but the makeover of the Spanish Ballroom didn’t start till 2018, with Anderson Construction leading the project.

Biron was especially pleased with the purchase of a Bose ShowMatch line array that makes the sound unique and will allow the Spanish Ballroom team to focus the sound on the people and not the pillars. The stage was custom built by River Hawk Custom Stage Builders.

“The theater is adjacent to the Spanish Steps, which are comparable to the steps in “Rocky” and are just as iconic to Tacoma as those steps are to Philly,” Biron said. “The goal was to update and fix up the property in a way that keeps it worthy of inclusion on the historic building register. Our owner has put in gorgeous aesthetics. There are 20 chandeliers hanging through the ballroom and floor-to-ceiling murals celebrating the history of Tacoma. It’s a stunning transformation, and the community is going to love it.”

Funding for the project was unique: It was partly crowdsourced. “We wanted to invite the public to participate in the project and offered smaller investors the opportunity to join in,” Biron said. “There’s a set guaranteed percentage return and a fixed-date payout.” The final cost of the refurbishment was not disclosed.

Concessions will be operated in-house and will feature a tapas bar.