As many of you know, I have been in Washington State for the past several weeks helping my mom post hip replacement. All the buzz in the area is about McMenamins. ‘McMenamins finally opened, have you been there? Did you find the secret bar there? Oh, my, gosh! It’s so cool! You have to go!’ We live in California, where sadly, no McMenamins exist, so all this chatter had me wondering….what the heck is this place and why are people so excited about it? Daniel came up for a quick weekend visit, so we set off to find out what all the hubbub was about.
What exactly IS McMenamins? McMenamins is a family owned chain of brew pups, historic hotels, music venues, restaurants, and theaters in Oregon and Washington. Founded by two brothers in 1985, many of their locations are rehabilitated historic properties, several of them listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. This sounds intriguing, but still we didn’t quite get it.
The moment we set foot in the lobby of the Elk’s Lodge McMenamins, we knew this place was different. ‘Cosmic Tripster’ is the term coined by McMenamins to label fans who travel the Pacific Northwest in a quest to visit all 58 locations. Definitely an appropriate title! This is starting to make more sense to us.
We went straight downstairs, bought some drinks and started wandering and exploring. There are several bars on multiple levels of the building which also houses a hotel. You are encouraged to grab a drink and check the place out! The bars each have a different vibe, tiki bar to underground…there’s something for everyone.
All the buzz was about this so called ‘secret’ bar. Where’s the secret bar? Did you find it? We ambled around, drinks in hand, listening to other guests chat about it, looking for the entrance. The Elk’s lodge was abandoned for many years and was known as an unofficial 90’s venue for underground bands and graffiti artists. Scattered throughout the property are photographs of the property pre-renovation. Fascinating! Some of the graffiti is still preserved in the building today.
We did find the bar, though I will never tell how to get there! Finding it yourself is half the fun. While we were meandering around, we saw some people with passports and asked around. It turns out that McMenamins sells a passport for $30. The premise is that you collect stamps from each of the locations you visit and once you have completed your passport book, you will be elevated to a new status as Cosmic Tripster and be rewarded with free stays, discounts, and access to special events. Genius!
So why should I spend $30 on a passport just to collect stamps from a million locations, you ask? We asked that, too! It’s not just a stamp book, it truly is a quest. As you visit each location, you must find and answer a clue to get your stamp. Sometimes it’s a piece of art you need to find and take a picture of, sometimes it’s a quest you need to complete. Once you do this, you report to the appropriate staff member, present your answer, and receive your stamp. In certain locations, you get prizes, too!
That sold us. We bought our passports and started our quest. This place is turning out to be much more than a restaurant and a few bars!
‘Hey. We have to drive home to Chico….how many places can we hit on the way down?’ I asked Daniel. Our plan was to travel back to Northern California via the Oregon Coast, so we consulted the map to see how many locations we could visit. ‘Looks like we can hit a few, let’s do it!’ Daniel responds. And the quest continues….
Olympic Club in Centralia, Washington had an equally cool vibe, but a little different feel from the Elk’s Lodge location. We found our clue, completed our task, explored a bit and headed out. It was a great first stop on a long road trip. We weren’t able to collect all the stamps here because one of the bars wasn’t yet open. Definitely worth a return visit!
The above photo is an example of they types of clues you will find. They change them regularly so no cheating!
Our next stop took us to Gearhart Hotel in Oregon. You never really know what to expect when you see the outside of a McMenamins. This one just looked like a regular coastal hotel. Turns out, as with many of the McMenamins locations, there’s a lot of history here. Opened in 1892 as three holes strewn across sand dunes, Gearhart Golf Links is one of the oldest courses west of the Mississippi.
We found the clue, completed the activities at four different spots in the resort and got to claim a prize here! We are definitely on the quest now.
Heading on down the coast, our next stop led us to the Lighthouse Brewpub in Lincoln City, Oregon. We pulled up into the strip mall looking for our locations and we were thinking….what the heck? This is a strip mall. Somewhat dejected, we got out of the car and headed towards the average looking McMenamins storefront. But do not despair! The inside is two stories of yet another McMenamins wonderland.
We read the clue and explored until we found it, then sat down to claim our prize: free clam chowder in a bread bowl. This was amazing, guys. Ah-mazing.
Where to next? After spending the night in Yachats, Oregon, we continued our quest the next morning. There are no Oregon coastal locations any farther south than Yachats, so we headed inland towards Eugene. Eugene had four stops to make and we were on it!
High Street Pub was a little tricky to find, but a super cool bar in an old house with some awesome outdoor fire pit area. Quest completed…next!
We visited the four locations in Eugene, completed all the quests and redeemed our free tots and french fries (another prize!) at the East 19th Cafe before continuing southward toward Roseburg.
Roseburg Station is an old railway station converted into a McMenamins. We won t-shirts here and Daniel got a sticker for answering the bonus question correctly. This is turning out to be super fun!
We visited six locations, saw some cool historic places, and made some memories in the process. We’re starting to ‘get’ this McMenamins thing! Can’t wait to see what we discover next….
Have you visited McMenamins? What is your favorite location? Have you achieved Cosmic Tripster status? Share a fun memory in the comments below and be sure to like, share, and subscribe to our blog to follow our continuing quest to become Cosmic Tripsters! Thanks for reading!