Gracie Strom still a fixture at the Sea Hag
Sal Strom's mom created popular landmark in Depoe Bay
Anyone who has visited Depoe Bay during the past several decades and come upon Gracie Strom "playing the bottles" in the Sea Hag has never forgotten the experience. But playing the bottles is just a tiny piece of Gracie's fascinating life.
Born and raised in Washington during the Great Depression, Gracie (who is the mother of Sal Strom featured in the February Regal Courier) first met Dick Strom, a handsome Marine pilot, through a friend when she was still in high school. They met again after her sophomore year at Washington State University and a year later eloped on July 27, 1949.
Dick was called up for active duty during the Korean War and served in Korea for just over a year, and the family spent the second year of his duty in Florida.
Back in the Northwest and looking for a business opportunity, the Stroms came across an ad for the sale of a restaurant in Depoe Bay, and the couple borrowed money from their families to purchase the restaurant in what was at the time a nondescript fishing village on the Central Oregon coast.
On a stormy day in February 1963, Gracie and Dick, along with their children Nancy, Larry and Sally, arrived in Depoe Bay - population 150 - as the new owners of the Sea Hag.
Gracie explored the town, noticing the beautiful scenery, the working harbor with boats heading in and out for whale watching and fishing, and live crabs for sale.
She decided that if could lure the Coast Guard personnel, the fishermen and the locals to the Sea Hag, the restaurant might make enough money in the winter until the tourists arrived in the summer.
Gracie turned out to be a natural hostess in the restaurant, and Dick tended the bar, but Gracie realized they would need a gimmick to draw in more people.
She started "banging on the bottles," according to her daughter Sal, and taught herself to play different sounds on the array of liquor bottles in the bar; after a time, she embellished the music using Dick's old Marine whistle, cow bells, a car horn and even a kazoo.
Over the years, the interior of the restaurant was gradually remodeled to resemble the captain's quarters in a large ship, and the place became an informal community center. Gracie gave people jobs and mothered their children, took care of her customers, offered a bowl of clam chowder to those who couldn't afford it, and opened the place for meetings of various groups.
The demands of the business took their toll on Dick, who became an alcoholic and like his father, was diagnosed with Type II diabetes; he suffered from depression and ended his own life Feb. 14, 1968.
Before Dick's death, the couple had been seriously considering selling the business as they feared their liquor license might not be renewed, and the owners of the building wanted to sell it at a price they couldn't afford.
Gracie went to the president of Lincoln Bank, who told her to make a cash offer for little more than half the asking price using a bank loan; to her astonishment, the sellers accepted.
Gracie later was able to purchase the property behind the Sea Hag and made other successful real estate investments; purchased stock in Lincoln Bank, the first non-board member to do so; joined the National Security Bank's Board of Directors; and was elected to the Depoe Bay Sewer Board.
The Sea Hag continued to prosper under Gracie's guidance and even earned a national reputation as a must-visit place for some fun, good food, drinks and a charming hostess who provided the best entertainment in town.
She was known for her many colorful comments, such as, "I get a lot of requests, but I play anyway," according to Sal Strom. Another favorite was, "One martini is just great, two at the very most, three I'm under the table, four I'm under the host."
In 2002, Gracie married Stan McDonald; in 2007, she sold the Sea Hag, and the couple live in a condo in Newport overlooking the harbor. Her life story was made even more famous with the publication of a book called, "Amazing Gracie and the Sea Hag."
"She still plays the bottles at the Sea Hag every Saturday afternoon around 2 p.m. and signs books, unless she is off on one of her many adventures," Sal Strom said.