For some twenty-three years now, the McMenamin brothers, Mike and Brian, have been working their wonders across Oregon and Washington. And what wonders those have been.
Like several other old Portland taverns, it has a basement connection to the legendary subterranean tunnels used to kidnap (shanghai) drunken patrons for the purpose of selling them to outgoing ships whose crew members may have deserted.
The 54 locations in the McMenamin empire start in the north at Mill Creek Brew Pub near Everett, WA. They range south to Roseburg Station Brew Pub in southern Oregon, east to Old Francis School in Bend, OR, and west to the Lighthouse Brewery Pub in Pacific City on the Oregon Coast.
They are on the verge of opening their 54th establishment: Chapel of the Chimes, a renovated 1932 funeral home here in Portland at 430 N. Killingsworth, set to become the company’s headquarters with a pub attached.
The brothers have long specialized in buying and renovating wonderful old historical landmarks. They are now in the process of reworking many of their early acquisitions.
Notable among these is our local poor farm, Edgefield Manor, (2126 SW Halsey, Troutdale, OR), built in 1911 and acquired in 1990. This is a five million dollar project, with a bed and breakfast and a 25-acre campus, including an 18-hole Scottish Rules golf course, a brewery and pub of course, a winery and wine pub, a distillery-pub, a movie theater, and the Black Rabbit, a first class restaurant. Edgefield—said to be haunted—is currently undergoing some renovations.
Many other fine Northwest landmarks (some on the National Registry of Historic Places) have been added as well. St. Johns Pub (8203 N. Ivanhoe St. Portland) has a truly amazing history, starting at Portland’s International Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905 as the elegant and ornate National Cash Register Pavilion and Movie Theater. Although featuring only one short film, it was unique in its time.
The beautiful domed building was then barged down the Willamette River to its present location in the St. Johns district as a Congregationalist Church. It had to be hauled from the riverfront, up the bank elevation of some 100 feet, over at least half a mile by what must have been huge teams of horses. That church didn’t really prosper, especially when the pastor was accused by a fellow preacher of being a traitor and wife stealer.
Accordingly, in 1931, the church was sold to the Lutherans, who flourished and outgrew the building by 1951, after which it became an American Legion Post until 1988, and, as its fifth incarnation, Duffy’s Irish Pub. After the McMenamins acquired it in 1998, they returned movies to the now elderly establishment.
The Brothers’ Empire
Other significant McMenamin locations include:
Hillsdale Brewery and Public House (1505 SW Sunset Blvd., Portland, 1985), Oregon’s first brewpub ($10,000 for the brew house), and home to the annual McMenamin Drink Tank (more on this later).
The Crystal Ballroom complex (1332 W Burnside, 1997 – 1914) , famous for its spectacular dance floor on ball bearings, installed in 1968. There is a brewery, and, close nearby, the triangular Ringler’s Annex pub (1997 – 1917), smallest commercial building on the West Coast.
Portland’s Bagdad Theater and Pub (3702 SE Hawthorne (1992 – 1927), now completely refurbished. The backstage bar and pool room is now blessed with a wonderful mural by Lyle Hehn, the originator of the famous Hammerhead images that have become a McMenamin trademark.
Olympic Club (110 N Tower Av, Centralia, Washington 1997-1908, remodeled in 1913 as a gentleman’s resort with “ladies patronage not solicited.” There was a bawdy house next door, according to some accounts. It is now a brewery pub and hotel complex with all the trimmings, including some very mellow ghosts.
Oregon Hotel (310 NE Evans St., McMinneville, 1999/1905) south of Portland, the highest building in that small city, complete with a legendary rooftop bar.
Grand Lodge (3505 Pacific Av., Forest Grove, OR, 2000 – 1922), formerly a Masonic and Eastern Star Home, 15-acres, with one of its rooms named for me (!).
Kennedy School (5736 NE 33rd St. 1997 – 1915) , an Italian villa-style elementary school dating to 1915. A $3.5 million dollar investment with a 35-room bed and breakfast hotel, a movie theater, and a brewery with pink tiles on the floor, in what was the little girl’s room. The best bar here is the Detention Room.
Old St. Francis School (700 NW Bond St., Bend, OR 2004 – 1935), a retired Catholic school with lodging rooms, men’s and women’s hostel, soaking pool, movie theater, and brewery. You can stay in the old nunnery, one of six cottages.
White Eagle Café, Saloon and Rock & Roll Hotel (836 N Russell, 1998/1905), a former brothel, among other things. A handy, inexpensive, slightly haunted place to stay, in the heart of a mini-brewing district, with the Widmer Gasthaus half a block down Russell. Like several other old Portland taverns, it has a basement connection to the legendary subterranean tunnels used to kidnap (shanghai) drunken patrons for the purpose of selling them to outgoing ships whose crew members may have deserted.
The Famous McMenamin “Drink Tank”
That’s what I call their annual folderol at Hillsdale Pub to plan the celebration brew for the June anniversary of the company’s first venture, the 1983 Old Barley Mill Pub in Portland’s east side Hawthorne neighborhood.
One must really stay alert to make a record of the doings at these crazy sessions. This year, there were about 24 of us contributing and examining the various additions to the brew. The base beer is a light amber ale by Hillsdale brewer John Keane to an original gravity 1052/13Plato, 5.4% ABV, brewed with Baird Gambrinus Pale malt and some caramel malt for color. The beer is hopped to about 31-ibu from Nuggets and Centennials.
The brew itself is only the beginning, because our Drink Tank contribution is symbolic of the entire McMenamin operation. We gather there, each of us bringing a contribution to the pot. The whole process is masterminded by Mike McMenamin and supported by brother Brian, the fun-loving brains behind the brothers’ zany, but hugely successful, company. They are definitely prospering: while they started $300,000 in debt in 1983, today they are probably millionaires. But as Mike himself put in 1985, “The only rule here is there are no rules. The main thing is to have fun!”
The four-hour session started with lunch, a definite prerequisite for an afternoon of drinking. The various contributions to the 23rd anniversary brew include beers, (some 14 from the company’s 23 breweries), wines from their various vintages, and other spectacular wines such as a D’Oliveiras 1929 Boal Madeira (and as a gift to me for my 80th birthday, a 1922 example of that very same rare wine!) These libational additives were interspersed, from time to time, with singing by Greg Clarke, a local musician, playing bluegrass on his mandolin.
Every now and then Mike and others placed paper bits of several readings in the pot. These included a dissertation on how beer isn’t alcohol, from a November 1914 Oregonian newspaper ad by Henry Weinhard’s local brewery, a belated and unsuccessful attempt to stave off Prohibition in this state.
A German ‘83 Von Kesselstatt Riesling Auslese was added to the pot shortly after that ,along with a Clarke song “Brown-Eyed Women,” and a jolt of French-made Absinthe Edouard at 72% ABV.
As the day wore on I noted, “The afternoon seems to be slowly spinning out of control…” More songs, including me leading the chorus in a round of that old Prohibition favorite “The Song of the Starvation Army:” “We’re coming, we’re coming, our brave little band, on the right side of Temperance we now take our stand!”
A total of 42 inoculations (beer, wine, champagne, some well-aged really fine rum, bourbon, tequila, and a bottle of my homemade saké) were among the 72 deposits, including herbs, flowers, songs, and readings, accompanied by a continuum of babblements and dissertations of one sort or another. The sun was low in the sky as I boarded the city bus back to my home at the opposite end of Portland. I was grateful not to be driving my auto. Whatever it was we did; it was a grand doing. I guarantee it!