Hotel Murano and the City of Destiny

Sometimes, the best getaways are the easiest. And the most overlooked.

Yes, but Tacoma?, you ask.

You bet. The City of Destiny, that city of industry, hard hats, Emerald Queens and toxic smelter landfills is quietly and surely emerging into a destination worthy of a second look.

I should know. Tacoma was my family address until I departed for college. The same is true for my wife, Judy. And with brothers, sisters, cousins and mother-in-laws still residing in Tacoma, I feel like I should know the place.


My latest Tacoma surprise came with a recent weekend getaway to our state’s newest, best and largest art lodge — Hotel Murano. This extremely well-reinvented 22-floor, 320-room, center-of-town hotel (formerly The Marriott) takes modest, blue-collar T-town to significant heights of sophistication. The Murano and several emerging restaurants have rocketed Tacoma to a whole new realm.

Let’s start with the Hotel Murano. It is part of the Portland-based Provenance Hotels collection of art lodgings. Two in Portland, Hotel Lucia and Hotel de Luxe, suggest the corporate thinking. I have stayed in the Hotel Lucia, which features 680 black and white photos by David Kennerly, the Portland native who scored covers on Life, Time, George and Newsweek, and also served as President Ford’s personal photographer. The Lucia’s corridors, meeting rooms, lobby and lounge are festooned with amazing photos, many of world-famous politicos and celebrities.

Hotel de Luxe starts with another art theme, this time the classic Hollywood of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. From Busby Berkeley to Humphrey Bogart, it is a fun place.

Tacoma’s Hotel Murano, like its sister properties, is filled with fabulously documented arts, and each of its 22 floors features a different internationally renowned glass artist. Each floor’s art is amplified by informed photos and discussions of how the particular glass art piece on display was created and what led to the particular vision for its creation.

Dale Chihuly? Well, of course, but more than displaying Chihulys in his home town, Hotel Murano serves as a thoughtful homage to the new glass world that Chihuly has created. The biggest names in glass art from around the world are on display: Czech artists Karen Le Monte and Dana Zamecnikova; Sweden’s Bertil Vallien; Hiroshi Yamano from Japan; Peter Bremers from Holland; Australia’s Cobi Cockburn; and Maurizio Donzelli, Orfeo Quagliata, Andrea Morucchio, and Lucio Bubacco for starters.

And Americans who follow glass art will know the names of William Morris, Dante Marioni, and Toots Zynsky among the U.S. artists featured.

The glassworks in the lobby, around the cozy fireplace, over the sky-lit corridors, and accenting the restaurant, all are worth a stop in for a glass of wine, if not an overnight.

I shouldn’t slight Hotel Murano’s rooms either. King beds with a full “menu” of pillows were new and superb. The bathrobes were very plush. Ipod menus and docking gadgets and even ipods to borrow would have impressed our son. A “menu” of spiritual reading materials from the Bible to the Torah to the Bhagavad Gita, Quran, and Tao to Ching gave us pause, but not enough to move us toward serious introspection on this visit.

And our bellman who helped us from our car into check-in may be the happiest guy in America. He had such a pleasant and upbeat spirit that we figured that he reads ALL the Murano’s spiritual offerings.

What else does a person do, or a family do, on a weekend in Tacoma? You might be there for a convention meeting, in which case, your room at the Murano will be within a hundred yards of Tacoma’s new glassy and classy Convention Center. It could not be closer.

You may want to sample some of what’s new in Tacoma’s restaurant scene. We were blown away by Indochine, located an easy ten minute walk down Pacific Avenue near Tacoma’s University of Washington campus and across from historic Union Station. Indochine is a gorgeous and quite spacious collection of rooms with artistic woods and hand-crafted booths all in a peaceful Asian minimalist design. The food was great too.

Up Pacific near the old City Hall between 7th and 9th is Meconi’s Pub & Eatery, a very upscale, clean, and airily relaxed dining experience that we really enjoyed. I tried the Philly cheesesteak that came with special fries and massive onion rings, and my brother dove into his salad and burger. Meconi’s is a five minute stroll from the Murano.

Even closer to Murano is TwoKoi a small, but classy sushi place on 15th and Jefferson. Up Jefferson at 19th is “The Swiss,” a dungeonous beer hall extraordinaire. The Swiss has been operating in Tacoma since my early drinking days 40 years ago, and was in business 50 years before that! This is the kind of place that college kids would love, with pool, shuffleboard, and even cribbage to pass the time, which is important since The Swiss is located 3 blocks up the hill from the UW’s Tacoma campus. As for food, it’s the usual with pasta and burgers, soups and salads, but the special is pan-fried oysters.

Finally, Paddy Coyne’s Irish Pub on Pacific Avenue near 9th has earned its stripes as a Tacoma landmark in just one year. Sister to the Irish Pub on Seattle’s Capital Hill, Tacoma’s Paddy Coyne’s has done a great job of recreating the blarney fun and good Guinness beer and fair fare that one finds on the auld sod on Connemara Island.

What to do in Tacoma besides eat? On a summer’s day, Point Defiance virgin forests will be cool and shady. The rose garden in June is Technicolor wonderful. Owens Beach has pea gravel and tons of logs on a half-mile of beach, perfect for working on a summer tan. Fort Nisqually is a must for kids, and the zoo is one of the top 50 in the US.

If you haven’t taken the new bridge across The Narrows, that is worth doing, if for no other reason than to hang around and shop Gig Harbor. If you are hungry, Gig Harbor’s Tides Tavern may be the best tie-up-the-boat tavern on Puget Sound.

And if you love baseball, a game that the Seattle Mariners seem to have no clue about, you can catch real professional baseball in Tacoma by visiting Cheney Field and watching the Tacoma Rainiers, which have a better chance of wining a game than their Big League brothers.

For those who love neighborhood shopping (as opposed to the white bread of Tacoma Mall), then head to 26th and Proctor for its offbeat shops and eateries at decent prices.

Bill Morton can be reached at

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