Last summer, Pedro and I stayed at a McMenamin’s hotel for the first time. We had such a good time we decided to stay at more of them. Finally, in the first week of December we stayed at another one, this time in the town of Bothell, Washington, half an hour north of Seattle.
The McMenamin’s chain of pubs, restaurants, and hotels began in 1985 in Hillsdale, Oregon when the McMenamin brothers opened the first brewpub in the state of Oregon. This is actually amazing to me to realize theirs was the first, since right now, there are about 70 breweries just in the city of Portland, much less the whole state! And many of those have a family-friendly brewpub right alongside. McMenamin’s craft beers and ciders have long been some of my faves, and now they even have their own spirits. McMenamins operates 55 properties now.
Two characteristics about McMenamins I like the most (other than beer and cider) are: 1) their decor inside and out is fanciful, if not downright crazy. Every single McMenamins facility is adorned with mis-matched antique lighting, stained glass, out-of-this-world paintings, old street signs, historic concert posters and unexpected sculptures. You will be surprised by what you find in the hallways, bathrooms, parking lots, and gardens. The places are designed to delight, and frequently make an extra effort to champion musical history and local history in some way. The other thing is that 2) the properties are often reclaimed historical buildings. I like this because I am a fan of old and interesting architecture. In some cases the campus will be quite large, as with the one we stayed at in Bothell.
It’s called The Anderson School, because it was previously a Junior High School campus, opened in 1931. Inside the main school building are the rooms, cleverly built into the old classrooms, maintaining the wonderful high ceilings. On the third floor is a short staircase up to “The Principle’s Office,” a tiny bar closed right now because distancing would be too difficult during the pandemic. In properties that are quite large like this one, there are little (and sometimes big) bars and restaurants hidden all over the place. On this property, all the structures that used to be part of the school have been repurposed to serve a new role.
Pedro and I arrived late afternoon on a Monday in December. The place was totally dead, so we had an opportunity to wander around the entire place and explore without bothering anyone. All my photos for this post were taken when the property was nearly deserted, but trust me it was filled with people inside and outside both nights we stayed there. At McMenamin’s hotels, guests are encouraged to poke into every corner, walk on every path, push through doors and peer around corners. I realized, while we were touring the garden, that a benefit of reclaiming a historic site is that the trees can be enormous – something unexpected with a hotel that only opened in 2015. There are beautiful trees in the garden that have been here for many years.
We spent an hour or two exploring the grounds, and trying to solve the riddles to earn stamps in my McMenamins passport. We were disappointed to hear that the theater (in the school’s former gymnasium) was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays – exactly when we would be there, so we couldn’t watch a movie or see the theatre bar. The Principal’s Office was closed and The Shed was closed. *sigh* When we went to the front desk to get stamps, we asked if there was a secret room. Sadly, no, was the answer. But the fabulous person behind the front desk said, “For everyone who asks that specifically, I show them our one very secret room. Follow me.” She shifted a chair, and bent into a corner and pulled open a tiny door with her fingernails.
After that, Pedro and I went to the Woodshop to have a drink finally, and play some pool. We were pleased to see that we had to show proof of vaccination in order to be served. Washington state is being more proactive than Oregon. I wish everything required proof of vaccination, so maybe more of the holdouts would get annoyed and go get their shots. We were having fun and played about five very long games (we are both bad at pool) till my brother and his girlfriend (who live in Seattle) showed up for dinner. She had researched, and discovered that the menu at the North Shore Lagoon was different than other McMenamin’s menus. In keeping with the South Seas theme of the pool, the restaurant served menu items inspired by the South Seas. There is Thai Sweet Potato Fries with fried shallots, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, and Sriracha aioli, Spring Rolls, Pork Belly Báhn Mì, jerk chicken with mango chutney, dishes with Spam, or ahi poke, jasmine rice, coconut curry, and sesame-ginger slaw. While most McMenamins serve more or less the same menu, this place was culinary exploration!
This is the property’s most exciting bar & restaurant, hovering over their Olympic-sized saltwater swimming pool.
Over the course of three days and two nights, we explored each part of the property that we could, except the brewery, which looked very small and wasn’t open the first day, when we had time for it. Our final morning, after a huge breakfast in the Tavern on the Square, in front of the fireplace with a hearty fire crackling, we went to the pool and swam laps. We had to show proof of vaccination to use it. The pool is open to the public, who pay an hourly fee to swim. But when the bell rings to clear the pool once each hour, hotel guests are allowed to stay and continue swimming for free. So we did.
I hope I have convinced you that the place is worth a stay, because the last thing I want to say is that it was a letdown after our stay at the McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, Oregon. I would describe the Anderson School as classier and maybe better suited to a Seattle crowd. Grand Lodge was more creative and more fun, with less polish and more mischief. Anderson School did not have enough stamps to get us to probe more deeply into the property – and they stamped us just for showing up in places, instead of making us work for it. (Usually stamps require solving a puzzle or riddle, and going on a scavenger hunt.) They need to up their game! McMenamins has 12 hotels and we have stayed at 2. I think this means we need to keep trying them out till we can decide on our favourites.