The rail town of Kalama doesn't get a lot of action. What it has—a working port, timber yards, and Twilight bragging rights (look for its high school parking lot in a few shots)—is supplemented by the city's sweeping views of the Columbia River. It's beautiful here. Picnickers watch ships go by from Marine Park. Strollers meander the riverwalk. And those looking for more excitement head 18 miles down the highway to the Cowlitz Tribe's newly opened Ilani Casino.
Now, residents might party closer to home. On Friday, April 20, the latest location of the Pacific Northwest's McMenamins chain of boozy adult amusement parks opens in Kalama, right on the river. Two years in the making, the 40-room Kalama Harbor Lodge effectively doubles the town's restaurant offerings, with a main eatery on the ground floor, a private lounge tucked to the side, a rooftop bar, and the Ahles Point Cabin a short hike up the river.
If you've ever visited a McMenamins establishment—say, Edgefield, the Crystal Ballroom, or the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse—you know what to expect: quirky local art and artisan touches wedged into every conceivable corner; free-flowing McMenamins brews, wines, and spirits; a lot of Grateful Dead references; and, sometimes, secret passageways. (The Kalama Harbor Lodge has two.)
What's unique about this location, in addition to its deep dive into Kalama history (historic photos and educational placards line the hallways), is the new hotel's nod to another hotel: the Maui Pioneer Inn. Two weeks before opening, Mike McMenamin roamed the multi-story structure, navigating a hive of construction workers that, a guide said, would wrap up in time for opening day. ("They always do.")
Pausing in a second-floor stairwell, Mike explains the Hawaiian connection is part historical reference (one version of city history attributes its name to John Kalama, a native of Maui), and part personal nostalgia. When he and his brother Brian stayed at the original Maui Pioneer Inn, the wraparound verandas stayed with them. Then the port sweetened the deal, agreeing to build the hotel's shell and lease them the property long-term.
"We developed a relationship over the past 10 years with the port," Mike grins. "Lanny, the [former] director, is a wino like me."
Can McMenamins pull off the mix of longshoreman lore, small-town arcana, tropical nostalgia, and complex native history? As our guide assures me, "they always do."