Pubs on the Palouse: smokehouse turned to public house

“It’s basically like having a party all the time,” Rico’s owner says



Rico’s Public House was originally opened for the male-clientele, but is now open for anyone and everyone.


Rico’s Smokehouse was originally established for the nearly all-male clientele to gather for bar games and cards and is now an iconic public house that serves the entire community.

Rico’s owner Tawny Johnson took over the bar after her father in 2018. 

The pub was opened as ‘The Smokehouse’ because people went there to smoke, and eventually got rebranded to ‘Rico’s Public house,’ Johnson said.

After many years with several different owners from different families, it finally settled and became a true public house which encouraged an establishment that would serve the whole community, she said. 

Johnson said the first thing that everybody says when they visit the bar is that it’s a ‘Harry Potter Bar.’ The bar gives a rustic vibe and has a large fireplace with shelves among shelves of books.

The bar has books, a fireplace and everything is old but well-maintained, she said. 

David Miedema, 1990 WSU graduate and former bartender describes Rico’s as a neighborhood public house; during the day when no customers were at the bar, bartenders would pull down the old rustic books and read through them. There were old anatomy books and yearbooks from bygone years, Miedema said.

He said even if you don’t know anyone and you aren’t super comfortable in social situations, it’s a very friendly environment. 

Rico’s has lots of specials and events each week, Johnson said. On Monday’s they have open mic night, Tuesday they have trivia with games, prizes and giveaways. On Wednesday the WSU Jazz Band plays, and on Friday’s local musicians perform live music. 

She said the bar also has a full menu filled with classic appetizers, loaded burgers, salads and seafood. 

“We have a very small kitchen because we didn’t open with food,” she said. “The water closet became the kitchen and we don’t have a lot of room, so we’re not very fast and that’s really important.” 

But if someone has 20-30 minutes to wait for food, Johnson guarantees it’s some of the best food in Pullman. 

Along with food, the bar serves various beer, wine and signature cocktails. 

Johnson sees mostly graduate students, Pullman locals and professors, she said.

“I think that there’s a time and place for every bar and sometimes the time and place is just a dance or sports bar,” she said. 

Miedema encourages students and community members to give Rico’s bar a chance, he said. 

“Still to this day Rico’s is the best bar in this state,” Miedema said.