McMenamin’s, Socially Distanced

Dear Liza,

Giant painted tapestry in the Backstage Bar

I’m sure I have told you about our chain of restaurants and pubs owned by the brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin. These two fellows started buying cool historic buildings in 1985 and turning them into places to sell their good food, beer and wine, and have concerts. They have been incredibly successful, now having more than seventy places, large and small.

Jerry Garcia weathervane at Edgefield

Speaking of size, Brian once said, “You can’t have too small a bar. We know. We’ve tried.” Inside their Kennedy School Hotel venue here in Portland, there are bars in hall closets, called “Honors” and “Detention”, which are about fifty square feet each. Tiny. Cozy. Delightful.

Whimsical school kids at The Kennedy School

The coronavirus has temporarily shut them all down, of course. No sunny afternoons at Edgefield. No pinball at the Back Stage Bar. No celebrating Harry Potter’s birthday at the Kennedy School. Big, sad sigh. Seriously.

Breakfast crowd at Kennedy School

Then we got some good news. Some of their restaurants, including the Bagdad Theater just half a mile way, were re-opening for take out! Hooray!! Not only could we get some yummy food and wine to celebrate Friday, but we could support our local guys and do our part to make sure they could weather this crisis.

“The Tempest” at The Mission Theater

We called, ordered, and walked down. Like most things they do, they had planned their partial re-opening well. Social distancing guidelines were taped on the sidewalk and a desk was set up for getting your order to you. Sterilized pens were there to sign your credit card receipt. The managers running the place were masked, cheerful, and efficient.

…and our local Bagdad Theater

It felt so good to have this little bit of normalcy, to eat a great Communication Breakdown Burger and tater tots, and drink the brothers’s yummy Black Rabbit wine, even if we ate it at home instead of their delightful dining room.

A toast! To Mike and Brian and their whimsical empire!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Taking the Banfield to Edgefield, Part 2

Dear Liza,

Yesterday I told you about the Multnomah County Poor Farm at Edgefield, just east of Portland. Today I will tell you what The McMenamin brothers, Mike and Brian, did with the farm.

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Down the Rabbit Hole?

The brothers had been successful at creating restaurants and pubs out of scruffy buildings, but had never taken on a project this big. There were 292 acres and every inch of every building and every square foot of land needed work. Flooring was damaged from broken windows letting in animals, vandals and rain.img_79111.jpg

The first building they got up and running was the Power Station in 1991, as a guest hotel, theater and restaurant. People came, stayed, paid, and the brothers’ bankers realized this could be a success.

The brothers envisioned what they called a “down-the-rabbit-hole” experience, a place like nowhere else. There would be no phones, no televisions, no smoking, just food and wine, beer and cider, sunshine, rain, gardens, art and comfort.

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ART!

Once the Power Station was up and running, work on the main building, called The Manor, got under way. Having been built for people in wheelchairs, all the doors were really wide. The brothers decided that rather than replace every single door, they would have a staff of artists paint each one, making each room a unique place. That worked so well that they hired more artists, and now art covers all the doors, ceilings, and is hung on every wall.

The building had been vandalized while it was empty, including someone painting a pentagram at the head of the main staircase. The brothers wanted good energy, not bad, in their place, so they hired a troupe of bagpipers to come out. The musicians formed a circle around the pentagram, played “Amazing Grace,” and painted over the evil symbol.

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Thursday at McMinamen’s

The gardens needed redoing. Patrick McNurney was the landscape guru for the property. There were almost no trees, and lots of weeds, but he knew that the land was fertile. He was instructed that there shouldn’t be any straight lines in the gardens, and that the plants should all dance together. He succeeded beautifully.

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Flowers Dancing Together

There is an herb garden, fruit and vegetable garden, and winding paths through groves of aspens and birches. There is a spa with a serpentine hot tub to float and nap in. There is currently a winery, brewery, bakery and distillery on the premises. Yes, it IS heaven.

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A Very Happy Grandma Judy

We enjoyed our day at Edgefield. On the way to the place, we found Ben Pilchuck and his partner blowing glass in the old shop. We had brunch The Black Rabbit Restaurant (there’s a story in the name, too), then a tour around the place with Thursday, who has been working for McMenamin’s for 35 years. She is funny and knowledgeable, and I will be talking to her more, I hope.

It would take weeks to see the whole place, and pages more to tell you all about it. I will show you this wonderful place when you come to visit.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Taking the Banfield to Edgefield, Part 1

Dear Liza,

Yesterday we had a road trip, going 14 miles east of home. We actually got on a freeway!  ( Not nearly as common for us here as in California). The number 84 freeway is also called the Banfield. We went out to visit Edgefield.

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Mt. Hood in the distance

Edgefield is a beautiful, interesting place with an even more interesting past. From 1911 to 1982, this complex of buildings and farms was the county poor farm, 292 acres of land where people came when they had no where else to go.

There was a real farm, with cows, pigs, chickens, orchards of fruit and acres of vegetables, which was tended by the folks who lived here. They provided food for their own tables, as well as to the county jail and juvenile facility.

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Main Building

There was a power station to supply electricity for the place. The staff had farmers, nurses, cooks, and administrators. The residents weren’t required to work, because some were old and sick. But if you could work and did, you ate better than if you could work and didn’t. The Depression, when many people were poor, filled the place up, and World War II, when lots of work was needed, emptied it of able bodied people, leaving just the old and sick.

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Gardens and Original Water Tower

After the war, Social Security and other social safety nets came into being, and fewer people needed to live on the farm. A hospital was built as the population got older. By 1982, the buildings were too old and out of compliance with safety laws, and there were so few residents that the County moved them to other hospitals and closed Edgefield down.img_7911.jpg

It stood, abandoned, for eight years. It was big, old, in need up repair, and quite a way out of town. No one knew what it could be used for.

Then The McMenamin brothers, Mike and Brian, who are known as The Brews Brothers because of their work developing the microbrewery industry in Oregon, came along. These men had, by 1982, created more than a dozen bars and restaurants out of historic, abandoned buildings. They had been successful in re-imagining spaces they felt were worthy of saving. In 1990, they saw Edgefield  and fell in love.

I will tell you what they did next tomorrow!

Love,

Grandma Judy