TACOMA, Wash. — It is one of the most colorful, instantly Instagram-able, niche neighborhoods in all of Washington: Tacoma's Opera Alley.
“You feel like you are in a place that is ready for a celebration,” says David Dagley of The Press Room, an events space there.
It’s a place to see and be seen, where both romance and mystery linger in the air.
“It's just such a cool space,” says Deanna Bender-Hicks of Over The Moon Café. But Opera Alley hasn't always been so vibrant.
“There were no sidewalks to speak of,” says developer George Chambers. “They were all caved in and there were needles.”
Chambers was the first to invest in the alley back in 1999. He saw promise where others saw decay.
“They saw blight and garbage and we saw Europe,” he says.
The alley's been around since before there were automobiles. The city's first post office was built here in 1889. Banners remember silent film legend Sarah Bernhardt who made Tacoma a stop on her farewell tour.
“We were surrounded by theaters here so when the theaters let out this is where people would congregate,” adds Chambers.
Deanna Bender-Hicks opened Over The Moon cafe in 2001 hoping people would find her romantic restaurant. It was then the very definition of a hidden gem.
“It's dark and it's cozy and it lends itself to conversation,” she says.
On the tables are boxes where customers leave handwritten love letters.
“I can't believe I could ever be this lucky to sit in this place on a date with my best friend.” Bender-Hicks reads from one note.
For years Over the Moon had passion. Now it has neighbors including a yoga studio and a hair salon. And at night only a ship's wheel hints at the location of a busy tiki bar.
“Devil’s Reef is in adventure,” says owner Jason Alexander. “You gotta want to find it and seek it out, kind of like you're an explorer searching unknown places.”
Inside you'll find a bar with a dark nautical vibe, private booths and strong cocktails.
“Everybody knows everybody here,” says Alexander. "Everybody is friends. Everybody's family.”
Devil's Reef shares its building with The Press Room, an events space designed to honor its history as a printing press for Tacoma newspapers.
“We want people to come here and celebrate with us,” says Dagley.
In Opera Alley there's a lot to celebrate.
“Everybody loves to stumble upon something that is beautiful and different and unique,” says Bender-Hicks.