Cosmic Tripping with McMenamins

My #1 resolution for 2016 is to finally become a Cosmic Tripster.

No, I can’t afford a ride on Virgin Galactic. But I do have enough funds to grab a pint and some Cajun Tots at one of the 61 McMenamins brewpubs in Oregon or Washington.

All signs point to….
All signs point to….

Although, to call a McMenamins a mere brewpub is to suggest that a trip on Virgin Galactic is just another airplane ride. Most beer-sipping residents of the Pacific Northwest know and love the McMenamins “brand.” But then, to call this pioneering, family-run company a “brand” might make it seem soulless — something it definitely is not.

Grand Lodge Forest Grove
Grand Lodge, Forest Grove

What started in 1985 by McMenamin brothers Brian and Mike (Oregon craft brew pioneers) has now grown into a fun, quirky family-run empire, with not only brewpubs, but wineries, hotels, and concert venues, concentrated mostly in the Portland area.

Little White Shed, Cornelius Pass Roadhouse
Little White Shed, Cornelius Pass Roadhouse
little-white-shed-inside
Great things come in tiny sheds.

But the McMenamins reach stretches up and down Oregon’s backbone, and includes 8 locations in Washington.

Thompson Brewery, Salem, Or.
Spar Bar, Olympia
Spar Bar, Olympia, Wa.

McMenamins are predominately housed in old buildings, whose (sometimes sordid) pasts are not just embraced, they’re exalted. Flamboyantly decorated by brilliant artists in a style the company calls “historical surrealism,” a trip to a McMenamins transports you into a universe of enhanced reality.

Sleep comfortably in this room, friend.
Sleep comfortably in this room, friend.
Capran and Strigiformean mysteries….
Capran and Strigiformean mysteries….

In the course of filling each venue with a sense of history, the decorators have managed to salvage the eyes and bones of some grand old buildings.

Olympic Club
Olympic Club
Anderson School
Anderson School
grand-lodge
Grand Lodge

olympic-club-urinals
Exaltation of the massive porcelain urinals unearthed at the Olympic Club. (Friend Margaret Staudenraus wisely noted that the stein is “troubling.”)

They’ve also amassed a brilliant collection of vintage and antique lighting, hardware and fixtures that would make a Hollywood prop house or Seattle interior decorator drool with envy.

Olympic Club
Olympic Club
Olympic Club
Olympic Club

Anderson School
Anderson School
Anderson School
Anderson School

The brothers McMenamin started as brewers, and thanks to their efforts as champions of the 1985 Oregon Brewpub law (which was the first to allow independent brewers to sell their beers on-site), the Oregon craft-brew movement was born. So it naturally follows that they serve AMAZING craft-brewed beer — plus house-roasted coffee, hand-crafted spirits and above-par pub food.

Beer flight, Olympic Club
Beer flight, Olympic Club
Gyro sandwich, Thompson Brewery
Gyro sandwich, Thompson Brewery

What does this all have to do with tripping through the cosmos?

Taking a cue from their target customers’ penchant for whimsy and discovery, McMenamins has created a wildly addictive and fairly brilliant marketing ploy — the McMenamins Passport.

Mine, which has obviously been places....
Mine, which has obviously been places.

You buy the empty passport at any location for $25 and a sense of adventure, then you visit EVERY SINGLE MCMENAMINS — the number of which is increasing yearly, it seems.

At each location you get a unique stamp (many locations have multiple stamps), and when your book of dreams is filled, you become a Cosmic Tripster.

Who's a Cosmic Tripster?
Who’s a Cosmic Tripster?
mcmenamins-passport-stamps
34 down, 63 to go.

Besides being able to forever call yourself a Cosmic Tripster, you get awesome perks, like a free night’s stay at three different McMenamins Lodges, free concert tickets, entry into the annual Passport Club party, and a Cosmic Tripster “key.” I don’t know what that is, but you can bet I’ll let you know when I get mine.

Grand Lodge
Grand Lodge

Along the way, you also get little prizes for completing a location or region — a T-shirt here, a growler there. You can also earn “experience” stamps — try a beer flight, attend a specialty dinner, spend the night in one of the hotels. Collect four experiences and you earn a $20 gift card.

My Anderson School stamps….
My Anderson School stamps….
And my shiny new lunchbox!
And my shiny new lunchbox!

Sometimes you have to complete a “photo challenge,” which entails solving a little puzzle by wandering around the grounds and finding the painting that answers the riddle — all in keeping with the fun and games that are the company’s heart and soul.

olympic-club-photo-clue

And the answer….
And the answer….
Winna winna burger dinna!
Winna winna burger dinna!

But there’s more to prize than just T-shirts or Tater Tots. The best gift I’ve received from this cosmic journey has been the delight of discovery.

Grand Lodge
Grand Lodge

Is this deliberate? I think so.

The brothers McMenamin understand delight. Of course they want their travelers to enjoy a beer and a burger, but they are also storytellers.


Since most locations are housed in historic buildings that have been given a second (and sometimes third) life, they already come imbued with a sense of character.

The Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, Or., was once an orphanage and old-age home run by the Masons…

grand-lodge


The Olympic Club in Centralia, Wa., was a hostel and brothel…

Olympic Club, Centralia, Wa.


And the newest jewel in the McMen crown, the 1931 Art Deco-style Anderson School, just north of Seattle, was a local Junior High School.

anderson-school


The venues are exaltations of their past lives, which makes them great places to exalt your present one.

Tavern on the Square, Anderson School
Tavern on the Square, Anderson School

Not only have I learned the always-interesting backgrounds of these old buildings, I’ve visited nooks and neighborhoods I might never have discovered otherwise, and glimpsed into other peoples’ lives — true treasure for a writer.

Grand Lodge
Grand Lodge

My first stamp mission was the Rams Head Pub in Northwest Portland, in a former residential hotel built in 1912. This is how I learned about Portland’s “alphabet” streets — a neighborhood of small, restored Victorian and Craftsman homes, with a cool, trendy shopping and dining scene. (And the McMenamins Mission Theatre is just blocks away.)

I also dug deep into the basement of Portland’s Crystal Hotel, where I purchased my passport (but I did not get stamped there — see the Cosmic Caveats below….)

Al's Den, Crystal Hotel
Al’s Den, Crystal Hotel
No stamp? Just for that, I'm gonna sing for you!
No stamp? How ’bout I sing for you instead?

Since I got my passport as I was in the midst of my move from California to Washington, I started to plan the routes of my road trips north and south to coincide with McMenamins in outlying areas.

The Roseburg Station Pub & Brewery, a former Southern Pacific train depot, was a grand way station on a cold winter drive south.

roseburg-stationroseburg-station


I did the “Salem’s lot” — Boon’s Treasury and Thompson Brewery & Public House

boons-treasury
Boon’s Treasury
thompson-brewery
Thompson Brewery

…The Eugene trio North Bank, High Street Brewery & Cafe, and East 19th St. Cafe, (and a free basket of aforementioned and addictive Cajun Tots.)

High Street
High Street
North Bank
North Bank

…And the lovely Corvallis couple, the Corvallis Pub and McMenamins on Monroe, with its wall of sinks, 20 foot shuffleboard table, and my free basket of chicken wings.

Corvallis Pub
Monroe, Corvallis

If I hadn’t sidelined through Corvallis, I would have missed one of the prettiest and most memorable drives of my journey, west on the 20 to the Oregon Coast, for snow and a simmering winter sunset.


I did a handful of Portland locations with my friend and fellow passport-holder Hilary (who first introduced me to McMenamins years back with a trip to the Olympic Club). We hit the Fulton Pub and the Chapel Pub, and got our first experience stamp when we toured the Coffee Roaster (and “discovered” Portland’s diverse and thriving King Neighborhood.)

Chapel Pub
Chapel Pub

An all-purpose chapel!
An all-purpose chapel!

chapel-pub-sign


coffee-roaster

Gettin' toasted.
Gettin’ toasted.

I had a lovely side trip on my visit to the West Linn location, where I also discovered the nearby Aurora Mills Architectural Salvage.

West Linn
West Linn

And I broke up a long round trip to the Portland Airport with a lazy afternoon at the Vancouver on the Columbia.

Vancouver on the Columbia.
Vancouver on the Columbia

Before another airport trip, I enjoyed an overnight stay with my honey at the Grand Lodge in Forest Grove (somewhat trepidatiously — the place is supposedly haunted, but we were not visited).

It was the warm of summer, and we watched a lively game of disk golf, discovered a “secret” hydrangea garden, took a starlight swim in the outdoor soaking pool and got ALMOST all of our stamps.

Grand Lodge
Grand Lodge
Pat's Corner, Grand Lodge
Pat’s Corner, Grand Lodge

Hydrangea garden, Grand Lodge.
Hydrangea garden, Grand Lodge.

Which brings me to the Cosmic Caveats:  some locations have small, tucked-away bars that are only open for, like, two hours a month (I’m exaggerating, but they do have limited hours). If you want to make the most of a passport journey, make sure you’re visiting at a time when you can maximize stamp acquisition!

Bob's Bar will be getting another visit from us.
Bob’s Bar will be getting another visit from us.

Also, staff do not seem to be terribly forthcoming in OFFERING stamps. I originally purchased my passport at the Crystal Hotel in Portland — and by rights, I should have gotten all of my stamps right then and there, had the desk clerk gently reminded me.

My oversight, yes, but a missed opportunity to create customer good will, as opposed to customer annoyance. You had me at hello, now treat me like you want me.

Anderson School bartender being first-rate.
First-rate bartender at the Anderson School.

We also missed out on some experience stamps at the Grand Lodge. It would have been a lovely gesture had the front desk staff, who knew we were passport holders, suggested we tick off our “overnight stay” and “take a soak” experiences. But these are very small bumps on a wide highway of wonder.


If you don’t live on the Pacific Northwest but plan on paying a visit, you should seek out a local McMenamins for a meal, or even a stay.

Bedroom at the Grand Lodge -- where vigilant boyfriend observed that was "disappeared" in 1826, not 1862.
Bedroom at the Grand Lodge — where vigilant boyfriend observed that Captain Morgan was “disappeared” in 1826, not 1862.

If you DO live in the PNW, sprinkle yourself with a little bit of McMenamins magic and treat yourself (or a friend) to a cosmic trip. You’ll meet some cool people, uncover a new neighborhood, and you never know what you’ll discover.

Anderson School
Lighting the way, Anderson School-style.

Here’s to it, and here’s from it, and here’s to it again! If you ever get to it, and don’t do it, You may never get to it to do it again!
-Joe Cotter, McMenamin’s artist

linda-signature

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8 comments on “Cosmic Tripping with McMenamins

  1. Julie Markovitz
    February 3, 2016 at 3:28 PM

    Wondrous and magical! Love this piece, Linda.

    • lindaeee
      February 3, 2016 at 7:54 PM

      Thank you, Ms. J — we’ll have to visit one when you come up next!

  2. Virginia
    February 8, 2016 at 8:42 PM

    Thanks for the blog! My friend and I started ours in Lincoln City a year or so ago and are having fun on our quest too! Maybe we’ll run into you sometime! Have fun!

    • lindaeee
      February 9, 2016 at 5:04 PM

      Thanks, Virginia! How many stamps do you have to go?

  3. D.G.
    February 9, 2016 at 9:05 AM

    I’m sure if you went to any of the McMenamins hotels and showed them your receipt from your stay, they would gladly retroactively give you that Overnight Stay stamp…

    • Denise Mapes
      February 9, 2016 at 4:47 PM

      Wonderful post!
      As I am on number 3 passport, ( I recently met someone on number 6!) and have been dragging many a friend along on my stamping escapades, I can assure you the journey is as fun as the party! What I might add is that I have met some of the most interesting individuals on this quest. I have crossed paths with a few multiple times, and with others we plan to meet again at the party!
      I have also missed out on many stamps, my sister had her nearly complete passport stolen … We just get to do it all again and have more adventures! See you at the party all you Cosmic Tripsters!

      • lindaeee
        February 9, 2016 at 5:09 PM

        Thank you, Denise! I can’t believe you’ve done this 3 TIMES. I wish I lived closer to Portland.

        Sorry about your sister’s passport but love your attitude. 🙂 I’d love to meetup at a Cosmic Tripster party — this is my year!

        -Linda E.

    • lindaeee
      February 9, 2016 at 5:05 PM

      D.G. – I’m sure you are right — I should have done that as soon as I realized I missed out. I AM looking forward to a trip back to Bob’s Bar….

      -Linda

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