Local pub celebrates 111 years

Rico’s Public House started as Smokehouse; current owner took over business from her father in 2015 to make it a ‘hot spot’



Cameron McKinley fixes a drink behind the bar Wednesday evening at Rico’s Pub.

SANDI KOBIESA, Multimedia editor

Over the last 111 years, Rico’s Public House has survived devastating events, including the largest stock market crash in U.S. history, and now, the Pullman business is facing a pandemic.

Tawny Szumlas, owner of Rico’s, said even though businesses are struggling due to COVID-19, Rico’s history has given them insight on how to handle the situation. 

E.W. Thorpe founded the Smokehouse — later renamed Rico’s — in 1909. Located at the intersection of Main and Kamiaken, the establishment’s main clientele were men, and their main product was tobacco, Szumlas said. If a group of men gathered for a game of cards or pool, Thorpe made sure they were well fed. 

In 1911, the people of Pullman voted to adopt prohibition, she said. Thorpe’s business did not revolve around alcohol, and they were not affected like many other local businesses in the area.

Soon after, Thorpe moved the Smokehouse to the former site of the Liberty Theatre, Szumlas said. In 1928, Thorpe’s health started to fail him, and he sold the Smokehouse to its second owner, Merle Ebder. 

She said parts of the bar’s history during the 1918 Spanish influenza was lost and has not been recovered since.

The next year, the stock market had one of the biggest crashes in history. During that time, WSU, formerly known as Washington State College, was unable to maintain payroll. Instead, they gave out ‘I owe yous,’ which most businesses accepted in Pullman, Szumlas said.

In 1932, the Smokehouse started serving alcohol after the Volstead Act was amended to permit the sale of light wine and beer, she said. By 1934, the Washington State Liquor Control Board was established, and the Smokehouse began serving more alcohol. 

“Since that time, our bartenders have poured more than 8 million servings of fine lagers and ales,” Szumlas said. 

Tony Talarico acquired an interest in the Smokehouse, she said. Talarico took many steps into making the Smokehouse a true public house. He added women’s restrooms and hired foreign and graduate students’ wives. He did so to encourage the transition of a real public house in Pullman.

Talarico sold the Smokehouse in 1977. A few owners down the line, like Roger Johnson, purchased the Smokehouse in 1980 when it was in a dilapidated condition. In honor of Tony Talarico, Johnson officially renamed the Smokehouse to Rico’s Public House, Szumlas said.

“Some changes Johnson oversaw was adding the first microbrew on tap in Pullman, remodeling the building in 1988 and adding liquor in 2001,” she said. 

Szumlas said she took over Rico’s after her father handed it down to her in 2015. He was a fifth-generation Pullmanite who wanted to make it a hot spot for locals. COVID-19 may have affected Rico’s more than they imagined, but after more than a century of being a business, it is not the only struggle its owners have encountered.