A multitasker at heart, Bryce Romero wipes down his bench and table outside, makes sure the barstools inside and outside are aligned just right, adjusts the liquor bottles that sit below his gray bar sign posted on the back wall, and does so as Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” plays in the background.
The Tap Room — 103 East Wishkah St., — is his bar. That said, the lifelong Hoquiam resident is eager to make everyone welcome, which he has done since he opened on June 6, 2019.
“People want to feel comfortable, so we strive to do just that,” said Romero, who opened The Tap Room when he was just 25.
The Tap Room features sports memorabilia from all over Washington state, including Aberdeen and Hoquiam high school football helmets, Washington State University and the University of Washington, the Seattle Mariners and Seattle Seahawks. In addition to the sports atmosphere, and a bigger presence throughout the bar, are the in-state and regional beer signs. A customer who recently moved out of state gifted him an electronic Pabst Blue Ribbon sign, which also hangs on the wall near the bar.
The beer signage also shows the variety of rotating craft beers that flow through his clean taps.
Romero, a Hoquiam High School graduate, said having a fun place for people to go is what made him want to own a bar. The social element is his favorite.
“Getting to talk to everybody and hanging out,” Romero said. “It’s like you’re at a party every day, but you don’t have the hangover the next day, you know?”
Romero said The Tap Room had been a “cool” bar before he owned it, but he wanted his iteration of the bar to be his way.
“We just wanted to put our own twist on it,” Romero said. “Adding cocktails and other stuff helped, I think. They give it a little more variety for people if they don’t want to just drink beer or cider.”
The most popular drinks at The Tap Room, according to Romero, are the Mojito, Lemon Drop and Rainier Beer — an old school Seattle beer. Romero said the bar always has Rainier on tap.
Romero’s customers love him and he loves them. Romero usually works six day shifts per-week, and he’ll occasionally work a night shift. And he always has a smile on his face when he greets people as the bell rings and the front door opens.
“I want to thank everybody for the continued support and patronage all the way around,” Romero said. “You can’t be a good business without customers. I want to give a big shoutout to all of my customers.”
On weekends, it can be tough to find a seat at the bar itself as most, if not all, of the barstools are usually full. But, there is plenty of table space throughout the rest of the place. And there are TVs that make for easy viewing of pro and college sports games.
Romero’s longest tenured bartender, Mike Bunn, has worked at The Tap Room since July 2019. She loves her friend and boss.
“Bryce is awesome,” she said. “He is friends with everyone. The guy makes everyone feel noticed. He gives people nicknames … and they stick.”
For a bar that opened nine months before the first COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, Romero’s business had to survive an early and unexpected challenge. The fact it did survive says something about his ability to succeed as a business owner as many other businesses throughout the country closed because of the challenges the pandemic caused.
One thing Romero doesn’t shy away from is acknowledging the help he’s received, and perhaps that’s what has led to The Tap Room thriving. On June 6, he’ll celebrate his fourth anniversary.
“Without the help I got, I don’t think we would have been able to do as well as we have,” Romero said. “I was coached in a way, I guess you could say. I had a lot of guys with good experience behind them to kind of be like ‘This kind of works, this might not.’”
Anne Marie Babineau, who owned Anne Marie’s Cafe until just before she started helping Romero open The Tap Room, spoke about those early days.
“I closed the cafe and the week after that I came down here and started helping Bryce to get things organized,” Babineau said. “They did all the remodeling of the shelves, to put all that in, so it was just a dust bowl in here. Everything had to be cleaned, washed and what have you. I helped him with that.”
She referred to the bar’s soft opening as an “eye-opener.”
“It took us about a week after that to get our ducks in a row,” Babineau said.
While she only really intended on helping Romero get the place going, she stuck around. Romero’s thankful for her lasting presence and for her mentorship through the time he’s owned The Tap Room.
“She came in, helped us get everything in the kitchen finished up,” Romero said. “She helped with the menu. She still helps. She was working here up until about a month ago. She was my longest tenured employee. She was a huge help and she still is.”
Romero’s appreciation for people such as Babineau, Bunn and his other bartenders, shined through as he discussed The Tap Room.
“We’re a tight ship,” Romero said. “I appreciate the people who work with me. We’re a good team. Everybody who works here works hard. I can’t say enough about them. Obviously, I wouldn’t be where I am without them. And they’re fun people to work with.”
Bunn seems to agree.
“Working for him at The Tap Room has been a really fun chapter in my life,” Bunn said. “I’ve met and made so many friends there.”
Romero is open to the idea of potentially expanding from his near-corner bar if the opportunity arose, but as of now the plan is to “stay put.”
But, an expansion of the menu is on the docket. Romero won’t say how it will expand. As of now, the menu features bone-in wings, macaroni and cheese, sandwich and soup lunch specials, and pizza that is made fresh.
The food remains a real attraction for Romero’s customers. The inviting scent of wing sauce wafted through the space Tuesday night as people sucked down beers, ciders, hand-crafted cocktails and shots. And the pizza is quite popular. Romero spends more on the crust since it’s the base of the pie. Romero said going cheap on the crust is like a burger restaurant going cheap on the hamburger patty.
Romero’s improving acumen as a business owner isn’t a surprise to Babineau.
“He’s come a long ways since we opened almost four years ago,” Babineau said. “He is quite intelligent and a quick study. Everybody loves him. He’s very personable, he’s very respectful. And so it didn’t take him long to catch onto what he needed to do as far as being the business owner.”
Babineau said everyone runs their place differently.
“When I had the cafe, I didn’t ask anybody to do anything I couldn’t do, or wouldn’t do,” Babineau said. “Bryce is on that same page. He does it all. He puts his time in when it’s his shift to work. He doesn’t cut corners. He works like all the rest of us.”
Babineau then described Romero with a few select words.
“I’m gonna say considerate, humorous, lives life to the fullest and is very intelligent,” Babineau said. “Not necessarily in that order.”
The success of The Tap Room made Babineau smile as she talked about it.
“It’s exceeded expectations,” she said.
If you want to go:
The Tap Room is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Mondays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Tuesday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. The bar is closed on Sundays.