1909 - Present
E. W. Thorpe opened what was to become Rico’s in 1909. Originally located at the intersection of Main and Kamiaken, his establishment primarily provided tobacco products. However, beverages and meals were also available for the nearly all-male clientele who gathered for a game or two of pool or cards.
In 1911 Pullman adopted Prohibition under local option, which closed all saloons within the city. But it was not until January 1919 that the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment made the sale of beverage alcohol unlawful nationwide. The Eighteenth Amendment took effect on January 16, 1920, when the Volstead Act provided federal enforcement of prohibition and banned any beverage containing more than 0.5% alcohol.
Thorpe’s establishment, which had already successfully changed to a Prohibition economy was virtually unaffected, and by 1927 Thorpe needed a larger facility. He moved the Smokehouse farther up Main Street to the former site of the Liberty Theatre, near the intersection of Grand Avenue, where it stands today. The Liberty Theatre moved across Grand Avenue, becoming the Cordova Theatre.
Shortly after relocating the Smokehouse, Thorpe’s health began to fail and it became increasingly difficult for him to manage the business. Merle Ebner purchased the establishment in 1928, one year before the Stock Market crash. The Smokehouse survived both Prohibition and the Depression that followed Black Thursday on the strength of its house specialty, “Smokehouse Milkshakes,” which literally sold by the thousands.
During this time, Washington State College was not allocated sufficient funds to maintain its payroll. The state legislature promised to deliver this money at a later date. As a result, the employees of then Washington State College (WSU) were issued IOU’s or scrip, which was freely accepted at the Smokehouse and in the entire Pullman area.
As the nation’s extreme economic hardship increased under the strain of higher living costs and lower consumer wages, the attitude toward Prohibition began to change. In 1932, the Volstead Act was amended to permit the sale of light wine and beer. Shortly after this change, the Smokehouse began to serve beverage alcohol, two years prior to the establishment of the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
In 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment to The Constitution repealed the Eighteenth Amendment and delegated authority to regulate the sale of beverage alcohol to the individual states. By 1934, the state legislature had authorized and established the Washington State Liquor Control Board. The Smokehouse, which had begun serving alcohol under the provisions of the amended Volstead Act, was granted, and still maintains, Pullman’s first beer and wine license under state authority. Since that time, our bartenders have poured more than 8,000,000 servings of fine lagers and ales.
In 1947, Tony Talarico acquired an interest in the Smokehouse, and his regular customers christened the new owner “Rico,” a nickname alluding to a minor underworld figure of that era. Tony’s vision of the Smokehouse was that of a true public house. He added a women’s restroom and employed foreign and graduate students’ wives, which he hoped would encouraged the transition to an establishment that served the whole community. Tony sold the Smokehouse in 1977.
After a few intermittent owners, Roger Johnson purchased the Smokehouse in 1980 after it had slipped into dilapidated condition. Roger officially changed the name of the business to Rico's Smokehouse to honor Tony and proceeded to turn the business into what is seen today. Changes included putting the first micro-brews on tap in Pullman, re-modeling the building in 1988 and adding liquor in 2001. Roger's changes were well received and Rico's Smokehouse continues to be a place where neighbors and friends meet for conversation, food and drink.