If you’re looking for a bar with a hint of panache, a dash of sophistication, and well-made drinks to boot, then Triple 8 Lounge is the place for you. Located in the Tea Palace restaurant in northeast Renton, the lounge caters to the professional living and working in the Eastside and south-end of Seattle.
The emergence of several Asian-inspired bars and clubs in the Eastside indicate a steady growth of Asian Pacific Islanders in the area. Owner Duc Tran, a businessman and philanthropist, who also established the Viet Wah grocery store chain, makes it a point to highlight the openness of his latest venture, the restaurant and lounge, to all age groups and ethnicities — a point demonstrated in the entertainment line-up.
“It doesn’t matter who comes or what age…There are different kinds of bands from different ethnic groups.”
Tran’s story is a remarkable chronicle of the American Dream. Having arrived as a “boat person” from Vietnam in 1976, Tran attended community college to improve his English skills while helping refugees as a translator. He realized these immigrants needed their own ethnic food — not only to survive but to feel a sense of home — so Tran established a catering business to feed the refugees. Eventually, the contacts he made while serving the immigrants allowed him to expand his small enterprise into opening a grocery store on Jackson Street in Seattle’s Little Saigon. Since then, Tran’s single grocery store providing Asian ethnic ingredients and products has developed into the well-known Viet Wah chain stores dotting the greater Seattle area. Today, there are three Viet Wah supermarkets along with Tran’s latest enterprise, the Tea Palace restaurant, which serves predominately Chinese cuisine, and includes the Triple 8 Lounge.
It is now Monday night. The majority of the patrons tonight are African Americans, here to watch the game. Stacy, the bartender, has mixed the perfect gin and tonic. I see customers savoring the honey-garlic chicken wings, a favorite appetizer to accompany the drinks. I ask Stacy about the general ambience of the lounge. Tonight, for example, is relaxed and casual, ideal for a night of watching sports.
“It depends on the night,” she said, while mixing my drink. “Sometimes, we have a preppy Abercrombie crowd,” while other nights are attended by locals enjoying jazz beats.
In keeping with Tran’s vision, the people who frequent the lounge are diverse. For the lounge’s Monday night football event, for example, you are likely to see African Americans mixing it up with Vietnamese patrons, all watching the game on several LCD widescreens positioned strategically around the lounge.
Able to accommodate about 100 people, the lounge can host events such as business meetings, birthday parties and weddings. The bar also schedules themed events, including karaoke on Thursdays and jazz nights every Friday.
The drink menu at the lounge is as mixed as the crowd it attracts. From pear martinis to mango mohitos, the bartenders mix drinks that are proportionate and tasty. The drinks are also reasonably priced, at just four dollars for a mixed drink. The lounge’s rendition of the classic martini, for example, is a perfectly balanced concoction of vodka and vermouth, without an overpowering aftertaste. Similarly, the gin and tonic is mixed with just a hint of gin flavor, so that the taste of the spirit is not too intense.
The business’ media coordinator, Lee Ching Tran, emphasizes the bar also accommodates seasonal drinks. “The bartender, Dustin, has a large drink dictionary. Currently we are serving wintery and hot drinks such as Kahlau and Baileys.”
The real treat at the lounge, however, are the appetizers. The happy hour menu is competitively priced, with appetizers ranging from around five to ten dollars. Tea Palace is a great restaurant in itself, so it’s only natural that the food at the lounge be top-notch. You can also savor the vegetarian egg rolls that are fresh and crisped to perfection.
Indeed, the competitive prices and invitation to diversity has helped the lounge (and restaurant) not only to survive but also succeed in these economically taxing times. Since the business is located in northeast Renton, it attracts both the south-end as well as Eastside crowds – an influential demographic from growing and developing regions of the Puget Sound.
Tran plans to evolve the menu seasonally for both the restaurant and lounge, adding certain ethnic cuisine such as Vietnamese, and hopes to attract more ethnic groups, such as Koreans and Japanese, to accommodate the increasing presence of APIs in the Eastside.