With eating, drinking, traveling, lodging, and movie- and spa-going interrupted by the novel coronavirus, the local eating, drinking, traveling, lodging, and movie- and spa-going McMenamins empire is struggling through an unexpected new era. After the big shutdown in March, this summer hotels are open with new policies and precautions. The White Eagle in North Portland is projecting concerts onto a screen on its patio, Edgefield in Troutdale is hosting distanced concerts, downtown’s Crystal Ballroom is doing a Balcony Series livestream.... But things have never been simple or clear-cut with the McMena-world. We ran this comic in our 2019 Portland Monthly Newcomer’s Guide, and this summer, 35 years after the Oregon Brewpub Bill that helped bring about the Portland institution as we know it, it’s giving us a checklist of bar stools we’ll be eager to sit on and stages we can’t wait to press ourselves up against when all this is done.
Get ready for a complicated relationship with the local historical-preservation-minded theater-brewpub-hotel chain, founded by two brothers in 1985 and now boasting 57 locations (and counting).
Have you heard of this McMena-something place? Comfy couches, fireplaces, beer brewed on-site, cheap movies—and the Cajun tots! There’s one by my house: a cool restoration of an old [insert charming but obsolete building here]. I went to a concert at one downtown, the Crystal Ballroom, with a dance floor* on springs! *It’s actually mechanical rockers and ball bearings.
When friends visit, it’s on the top of my list. Just when I think I’ve been in every nook and cranny at the Kennedy School, I discover a new little bar. Did you know they have actual historians? And the heated, saltwater soaking pool! You don’t swim; you just, like, sit, with a drink in your hand.
Maybe I’ve had one too many Hammerheads, but I’m pretty sure that face in the McMenamins sun logo is laughing at me. The creepy jester, too.
Ugh, my fries were undercooked again. And the service can be so aloof. People are always bringing their kids and hogging the velvet loveseats in the movie theater, and they never stay quiet or sit still.
That old place? I’m done. I can live without the folk bands and shared hotel bathrooms and hippie art, thanks.
So … I ended up going to that Roots concert at Edgefield/my friend’s wedding at the Grand Lodge/a work meeting at Cornelius Pass Roadhouse/drag brunch at the Mission Theater/the rooftop bar at the new Kalama Harbor Lodge, and it was actually a good space to rock out/celebrate/get stuff done/be entertained/break the drive to Seattle.
Why doesn’t every place have coat and bag hooks like this in the bathroom? And on the road, I know I can at least grab a decent burger not too far off the highway (maybe at the Spar in Olympia, or the High Street in Eugene), and the kids never complain about the Scooby snacks and tots.
- Long-Term Acceptance
I just can’t quit you, McMenamins. How have I never been to the Rock Creek Tavern before, with its greenery-laden mezzanine and ivy-covered roof? Or the stunning Back Stage Bar, behind the Bagdad Theater’s movie screen? Maybe I should get a McMenamins passport. Maybe I should have gotten a passport 20 years ago.
This story originally appeared in print in the 2019 Portland Monthly Newcomer’s Guide.