Say the words “Steve’s Gay ’90s” and you’re sure to confuse anyone new to Tacoma or born in the 1980s and beyond. For those in either group, we’re talking about a restaurant that used to rock South Tacoma Way — and the 1890s.
Thanks to photos and news articles tucked safely away in Tacoma Public Library’s archives, we’re still able to take a look at images of the establishment that served food smorgasbord-style while dazzling guests with song and dance.
Steve Pease (the “unofficial mayor of South Tacoma”) and John Stanley leapt into the restaurant business with the passage of liquor by the drink laws. Opening in 1941, but opting for an 1890’s theme, what was once known as Steve’s Cafe grew and entertained thousands until 1977.
By the end of the ’50s Steve’s boasted a genuine San Francisco cable car (purchased at auction, converted for street use, and driven up from California), and an Opera House furnished with antiques from the South Tacoma mansions.
At its peak, Steve’s Gay ’90s Restaurant was able to seat more than 700 people.
Above is an image of Beverlee Crombie in costume for Steve’s Gay ’90s. One of three well-known “can-can” dancers, Beverlee was a 1955 graduate of Clover Park High School.
Along with dancing, a two-act musical melodrama was performed three days a week for the enjoyment of patrons. Bill Thurmon, pictured above clutching a rifle, portrayed the aptly named Noble Hart and was tasked with saving his fair companion.
Pease and Stanley were known for sourcing local talent, including a songstress known as Peggy O’Neil. Her real name was Margaret Farrugia. This Lincoln High School alumna was also a mother of six.
Here we see two can-can dancers gearing up for a 1970 hoe-down, and Gerry Schmitt, who starred as “Nellie Quakenbush” in the musical melodrama, “No! No! A Thousand Times No!” during the spring of 1969.
The Mernaugh twins, Connie and Callie (pictured left and center), started dancing at Steve’s when they were still in high school. The pair, along with Hazel Gjerde (pictured right), were three of the original can-can dancers. They returned from retirement in October of 1969 to dance on the Opera Room stage as part of Steve’s 20th anniversary celebration.
No word on exactly why mini-me versions of the trio also appeared on stage in can can attire.
Dining at Steve’s Gay ’90s included service from a hostess, such as Vicki Tran, pictured here in 1960. The smorgasbord was open from noon to 9 p.m. every day of the week for a nominal charge, reminiscent of the 1890s’ “free lunch” concept.
For decades people travelled from all over the Northwest for this unique dining and entertainment experience, but declining business played a factor in the restaurant closing its doors in 1977.
Today you can still find postcards from Steve’s Gay ’90s Restaurant for sale on Ebay. The building has gone through numerous changes but the shell of the sign survives.
A look at Steve’s in its heyday side-by-side with a 2018 shot of South Tacoma Way…
Images via Ebay, and with special thanks to TPL and their Northwest Room.