Steve’s Gay ’90s Restaurant: When Smorgasbord & a Show Ruled South Tacoma Way

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.

    1. I don’t have any information for you but if it a yellow sleeved record with a picture of the jazz masters on the back i would very much like to listen to it.

  1. I took ballet lessons from Connie who was a can can dancer! At the community center as a child.
    Jane Williams Eberle

  2. Weird to me is that the article did not mention Dorothy Heffernan,,,,,,,,,Steve’s daughter who sang there and participated in many of the stage productions,,,,,,,,My mother worked there and also made many of the gowns, costumes, and vests for the barber shop guys for a long time. They used to do little stage shows also dragging people up out of the audience and having them participate like myself and a friend from California visiting ,,,,,,,,I remember when Dorothy sang for her dad’s I think 70th birthday an old song called “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine”. While doing so she was wearing a beatiful blue satin dress designed and sewn by my mom and she and I sat on the floor for almost two weeks just sewing the silver sequins around the bottoms of the ruffles,,,,,,,,,,,,Wow,,,,,,thank you to my old friend Alan for dragging up these memories!

    1. Not sure if this is my Cousin Peggy however my Aunt Joyce did work there and made many of the costumes.

    2. Hi Peggy,
      I worked as a bartender there from 1972 to 1974. I dated Vicki one of the can can dancers. Was also good friends with the MOST HAPPY FELLOWS (barbershop quartet)
      You’re right, Dorothy was a big part of the show and Bobby Shownack the banjo player.
      Don

  3. My wonderful Mother “Smilin’ Marilyn Ogburn played the ragtime piano for the Can Can girls for several years. She also raised 5 of us kids by herself. Miss you Mom.

    1. The cable car booths were purchased by my grandparents and installed into their restaurant, Aversano’s located in Sumner, WA.

      They sold the restaurant some time ago, however the cable cars can still be found there.

      1. Wow!!! That is really neat to hear that! We have been fans of Aversano’s for over 35 years!! I also spent a lot of time at Steve’s in the Cable Cars because my dad was a bartender.

  4. I agree with the lady who mentioned the lack of a picture of Dorothy Heffernan, I am the daughter of Donna Wright, and niece of Arlene Moon……I grew up at the restaurant, Steve was like a grandfather to me, and we lived near him on Clover Creek……..I would love to have many more pictures of the years there…..my mother and aunt were waitresses and very good friends with Steve and Dorothy Jean, until their deaths………………

  5. I helped install the Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ in the Opera House Room in 1971 and stayed on as the organist until 1974. I also had a CDL to drive the cable car. Used to take it in the ferry from Pt Defiance to Dorothy Jean and John Heffernan’s cottage on the island. Mary and Steve Pease were great folks. Lots of fun memories from my time there!

  6. My parents took us there many times in the late 1950’s, fondly remember the shows. The Can Can girls were a revelation for a 10 year old.

  7. My parents took me to dinner there in spring of 1973 the night before I had surgery at the original Madigan hospital. We came down from Whidbey Island. That was quite memorable!

    1. I grew up in Tacoma. Steve’s has always been a special memory for me. Especially the morning in the early 70’s when my girlfriend Sandy and I had hot coffee and breakfast after spending a wet and cold night together without our parents knowledge. Oh young love, wish I was still there after 40 plus years!

  8. Anybody mention the legendary Buck Owens played there in the 50,s where he met Don Rich. My Dad said he saw them one time playing out in the parking lot they got so high.

  9. Oh the memories when I was around 7 or 8 y.o. and lived nearby. My brother used to make moats with his mashed potatoes and flags on top of them. Great smorgasboard… Fun fun times. I wish they had a place like that in Tacoma or Olympia now.

  10. I was stationed at McChord AFB in ’65 &’66 and my buddy and I would go up to Steve’s on the weekend, usually Friday night, and have a few or more drinks. I was 19 and my friend was 20 but we must have looked older because we were never carded. There was a bartender named Joe believe it or not who lived in Kent. We were low on the totem pole in rank and didn’t have much money, so when it ran out Joe would ask the crowd if anyone wanted to buy a couple of GIs a drink and someone always obliged. Joe would ask if we were hungry and give us a slip of paper with a note on it to take into the smorgasbord for a free meal which was always delicious. We were the youngest, not to mention being illegal, patrons and we had a really good time. I remember a number of memorable occasions but the most memorable one was one very cold winter night when a very light snow was falling, my bud and I were just walking out of the bar heading back to base when the owner, we found out later, who was just leaving in a chauffeured Rolls Royce, asked us where we were headed. Long story short, he gave us a ride all the way to the front door of our barracks. I was surprised the AP’s let us through the main gate, but I don’t suppose too many Rolls Royces passed that way and after checking our ID’s everything was copacetic. My first and only ride in a Rolls Royce. Lots of good memories of that place. I was amazed and very pleased to find this article. At my current age of 75, memories are veery important.

  11. This might be a shot in the dark but i see some people who worked here commenting so maybe there is a chance.

    My parents used to a have a vinyl bright yellow sleeve from steve’s gay 90’s. My Grandpa was on the back with his band the jazz masters (Im fairly certain he is in the 3rd picture in the article with a giant smile behind the cancan girls.) I never had a chance to listen to it so im curious if anyone would still have a copy.

Your email address will not be published.