Sometimes you find yourself having an experience that needs to be told in the second person because your first person is waiting in line for macarons from Girl Loves Cake’s table.
It’s a true Tacoma Night Market story, and you can see it unfolding, again and again, every third Saturday of the month at Alma Mater Tacoma on Fawcett Avenue. Edison lights, avant-garde art installations, giant games of Jenga, locally sourced food trucks, and photogenic everything are all part of the story.
While your first person is inching closer to those fluffy macarons (Ever had a rosé-flavored macaron? How about caramel-apple-cheddar?), you’re ripping through crates of secondhand vinyl as fast as your fingers will carry you. You’re on a quest to find that weird, experimental Strokes LP (“Angels,” if you were wondering, and while it’s not representative of their overall body of work, it does represent a valuable stage they went through creatively) to complete your catalog.
You wander toward the big stage and laugh your ass off at a filthy handmade greeting card that probably isn’t legally allowed within 500 feet of a Hallmark.
All this while you’re listening to a DJ spin records that seem impossibly to meet you at that pivotal moment in your youth where you wanted nothing more than to have the coolest t-shirt, the rarest record, the baddest-ass earrings. You hear Bell Biv Devoe fading into Rush, and it’s not weird. Or yeah, it’s a little weird, but it works.
You grab a Honeybutt Latte – an order that requires both confidence and faith but earns both – from Honey Coffee & Kitchen because they make good coffee and because someone spent a lot of effort designing this place to look like it was still under construction. Plywood walls, handheld work lights for fixtures: They nailed it when they nailed it.
You check in on your first person. Still in line for those macarons.
So you wander over and talk with a self-taught armorer (Squirrel vs. Coyote) who designs some pretty risqué jewelry but also has some pieces with quiet anthems and affirmations. Things are going to be okay, and you’re allowed to take up space.
It seems like there are earrings everywhere, and you suppose that’s endemic to art markets everywhere, but it seems especially so in a city that’s steeped in glass art. So yes, there are ornate and simple glass earrings at several tables, but there’s also wood, leather, and fired clay earrings. Magpie Mouse Studios specializes in enamel, and her bold, gleaming designs are so straight out of the ‘70s, you feel like you should put your keys in a fishbowl somewhere.
You get inspired by the nearly obscene amount of creativity on display from these vendors who don’t seem to think it’s a big deal, and you can’t wait to get home and make some cool shit of your own. You literally can’t wait, and you literally don’t have to. There’s a glass artist and teacher who brought an entire furnace and annealing oven (Puget Sound Mobile Glassblowing), and you literally blow glass. In public. At a market. It’ll be ready for you to take home in an hour.
Shopping between vendors in three buildings and multiple floors is thirsty work, and you fancy a beer. You walk up to a plywood bar so rough that just looking at it gives you splinters. No fancy mahogany that’s been shined into the fourth dimension here. The drinks on display include a couple of wines, an IPA, an imperial IPA, a double IPA, another IPA, and a PA that’s not “I.” There seems to be a pilsner that looks lost. You get an IPA.
This whole thing is getting overwhelming. Across the room and up on the stage, you see an artist who gathers zen and refocuses it into hand-painted mandalas. You walk up the stage stairs, and as you get closer, the level of detail in those mandalas turn your retinas figuratively into jelly, but it’s a serene jelly, so no problem.
You struggle to find the words for the strange blend of intensity and tranquility and fellowship you’re feeling. That’s okay. There’s a poet there who will find those words for you, and then she’ll type them out onto beige linen paper using a 1939 Royal Quiet typewriter. This is a scrap of paper that demands a frame.
And when she gives the heel of her 7.5 Chucks to people wanting to hawk “Live, Laugh, Love” throw pillows and “Wine Me Up and Watch Me Go” wall plaques, it’s not about exclusion or exclusivity; it’s in service to a higher ideal. It’s to make sure that there’s a place where people who make, curate, and sell meaningful, substantial things have an intimate but mellow place to connect with people who want to buy meaningful, substantial things.
This is that place, and while the vendors may be handpicked to keep the quality of goods sky-high, all are welcome to shop, eat, drink, share, and create.
Your first person is back with those macarons. It turns out they ran out of rosé, your favorite flavor. But that’s okay because their macaron in my second-favorite flavor is still way better than any other macaron I’ve ever tasted.