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Galloping Gertie's turns 64

Iconic Tillicum diner celebrates years of serving home-cooked meals to hungry military

For 64 years, Galloping Gertie’s has served up home-cooked meals to South Sound residents. Photo credit: Galloping Gertie's Bar and Grill

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In this era of innovative chefs and exotic ingredients, it's nice to find a place where culinary time has stood still. Where you can still find the kind of home-cooked meals and generous portions families went out for back in the day. Where everybody knew you - and you knew everybody. For 64 years, Galloping Gertie's, located near Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Union Ave. SW in Tillicum, has been such a place.

In July 1952, Gertie Rice opened what she referred to as "a one-woman hamburger joint." She named it Galloping Gertie's, not, as one might assume, after Tacoma's famous ill-fated bridge, but rather as a reflection of her lifelong love of horse racing and race horses.

Over the years, that "hamburger joint" grew to become a South Sound landmark serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to hungry servicemembers and civilians alike.

Gertie Rice passed away in 1991 at the age of 83. The family sold the restaurant shortly after her death, but bought it back a few years later when it became apparent that the new owners simply didn't have Gertie's touch.

Now owned and operated by Gertie's daughter, Susan Rothwell, and her husband, Rod Mason, Galloping Gertie's serves generous breakfasts all day. The house specialty, SOS ("stuff" on a shingle, a.k.a. biscuits and gravy), is, according to the soldiers who should know, some of the best they've ever had. It causes veterans of all ages to wax nostalgic about meals served up in mess halls long ago and far away. The lunch and dinner menu includes such favorites as the Bazinga burger and the Bigfoot Chicken Fried Steak - a chicken-fried steak so big, Gertie's dares you to eat all of it! Those who do are awarded a special pen to commemorate their achievement.

Rothwell also shares her mother's passion for racehorses and horseracing. The dining room features racehorse-themed décor, and the names and stories of her own racehorses are scattered throughout the menu.

Rothwell isn't the only second-generation staff member at Gertie's: The kitchen manager is the daughter of a former bartender. It's this kind of loyalty and continuity that keeps customers coming back for Gertie's generous portions and friendly service.

"I love meeting all the people that come to Gertie's, and have made great friends," said Rothwell. "I also enjoy all the stories I hear - the stories of then, and the stories of now. While I believe that our food is important, I also strongly believe that our connections to each other are what make Gertie's unlike any other place."

According to one online reviewer, "coming to Gertie's is like coming home." That has always been part of the attraction for homesick soldiers from nearby JBLM who make up a large percentage of Gertie's clientele. They come for the big breakfasts. They come for the friendly bar. They even come for the karaoke on Friday and Saturday nights.  

In order to celebrate its 64th anniversary during the month of July, Galloping Gertie's is offering special Frisbee burgers - the burger of the day served on a commemorative Frisbee. Whether you're craving an early-morning breakfast of SOS or a late-night Bazinga burger, you can find it at Gertie's, a place where "everyone knows your name."

Galloping Gertie's Bar and Grill, 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, 15417 Union Ave. SW, Tillicum, 253.584.4848,

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