By Nancy Covert
For many years, it’s been a long-held custom of a group of Steilacoom women to dine on the last Wednesday of the month, somewhere around the Sound.
On Jan. 26 the ladies headed down I-5 to lunch at Galloping Gertie’s. They gathered for fellowship and good grub in a side room off the main restaurant that should have been named “The Winner’s Circle.”
Galloping Gertie’s has nothing to do with the infamous Tacoma Narrows Bridge that went galloping down into the Narrows in the late 1940s. Instead, Gertie’s at Tillicum is a favorite gathering spot for area residents.
The name, according to “the History of Gertie’s” (available for the asking) was given because original owner Gertie Bjorke liked to “bet on the nags at LongAcres.”
Assorted restaurant’s décor, including a sign that reads “Approximate Odds,” to “Minutes to Post” to the collection of racehorse and jockey photos displayed around the restaurant, attests to that equestrian fascination.
Gertie’s landmark business began in 1952 when Gertie took her son, David, for a haircut. Unhappy with the cut, she took him to another barber, located near American Lake.
“The barber had an empty space available in his building, and Gertie thought she might be interested in it for a variety store, but the barber told her it was equipped for a restaurant.
It was a good deal. “Rent was $45 per month, and the first month was rent tree.” Thus was borne Gertie’s Grill, a one-woman hamburger joint that opened a few days before the Fourth of July. Half a dozen years later she purchased a “downtown Tillicum” site, and expanded it again in 1970, converting a tenant’s beauty parlor into a cocktail lounge. Nowadays, Gertie’s youngest daughter, Susan Fothwell, and her sidekick, Rod, have taken over the reins.
Gertie’s—at Exit 122, just off the Freedom Bridge, opposite the main Gate to Camp Murray, remains a busy destination. Gertie’s is open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 2 a.m, where it “serves excellent food in a friendly atmosphere.”
Although Steilacoom’s ladies didn’t share any “hot race tips” they agreed they’d enjoyed checking out this piece of local color.