Gertie Rice was a woman who loved gambling and St. Patrick’s Day. She was best known as the Gertie behind the iconic South Sound restaurant, Galloping Gertie’s.
While Gertie’s children usually celebrate their mother’s life on her favorite holiday in March, this year they moved the celebration to July. It’s the month that Gertie opened her Tillicum neighborhood restaurant in 1952 and also the month she died in 1991 at the age of 83. Through Friday, to celebrate their mother and 60 years of business, Galloping Gertie’s will sell 60 cent burgers, fries and sodas and offer other specials as a thank you to Gertie’s customers.
Rice’s daughter Susan Rothwell tells spectacular stories of her mother, who still has a presence at the restaurant in the form of stories passed from one generation to the next. Rothwell is quick to point out that her mother was as interested in gambling as she was in the horses she loved to watch race. Rice’s interest in race horses also was the reason the restaurant was named Galloping Gertie’s (not after the failed Narrows bridge).
Rothwell, who was 3 when her mother opened Galloping Gertie’s, remembers her mother bringing her along to Longacres to watch the races and the horses they both loved. Rothwell, who now runs the restaurant with her husband, Rod Mason, laughs when she tells the story of her mother fudging her age to get her into the track shortly before she was legal. “She told them I was ‘12 for the day,’” said Rothwell, laughing at the memory of her mother’s “not a lie.”
Not long after Rice’s death, Rothwell attended Longacres’ last day, scooping up some of the dirt from the track and depositing it later at her mother’s grave.
A customer who was a logger even named his race horses after Gertie Rice. There was Windy Gert, Mrs. Grice and Windy Peaches, a nod to Rice’s childhood nickname, Peaches. “The horses weren’t famous, but she loved watching them,” said Rothwell.
Rice opened the restaurant as a burger stand in 1952, but traded up to a better building in the neighborhood in 1959. She added the lounge in 1972. Located near Joint Base Lewis McChord, the restaurant always has catered to military members. The menu has remained the same over the years, offering fairly priced diner classics.
After Rice died, the family sold the restaurant to a group that couldn’t keep it going, and the family reclaimed it in the late 1990s. Rothwell has been running it ever since.
Like the diners who eat there, the restaurant is working well into its second generation of staffers. The kitchen manager’s mother was a bartender there for 30 years.
Ask any longtime local about the restaurant and they’ll at least know the sign that’s a landmark off I-5 at Exit 122. And about that sign. Do you know what the shape is supposed to be? Rothwell said she still isn’t sure, but she thinks it’s supposed to be a saddle. Seems fitting for Gertie.
Galloping Gertie’s Bar and GrillWhere: 15417 Union Ave. S.W., Lakewood; 253-584-4848Specials: 60 cent burgers, fries and coke through Friday, July 6, 2012, to mark 60 years in business.