Monday, October 02, 2006

By Jove, I Think They've Got It!

It was a lot smaller than previously thought, that much was certain.

When one thinks of a treasury, one typically thinks of splendor and abundance, but neither was found at the old Boones Treasury Pub in Salem Oregon. Instead, the grand ideas of a large facility with no less than guilded plates and splendors adourning all walls passed and were replaced with a much more quaint and McMenamens-ish quirkiness.

Boones Treasury is a small brick pub on the inside, and easy enough to find on the outside since it sits right at a three way intersection. Nothing of interest lies outside of it, but inside one can find enough amusements to pass a meal. If the décor of an old building with a hundred years of history, including 200+ year old Hungarian headboards for bridal beds, street signs from the Netherlands and an old navy propaganda poster fails then there are enough concerts and modern references sprinkled around to do the job. Waitstaff of yore have left their mark on the bar with Tigger stickers, spiderman figures and other flair sprinkled around while the customers have enjoyed the usual cheap entertainment of marking up the bathroom stalls. Its a fitting mix of interests to go along with a building that has been an armory, post office, and your choice of diety knows what else before becoming a part of the McMenamins empire. In other words – a darned good place to spend a Sunday afternoon lunch.

Even better than the building and decor? The waitstaff.
During the hour and a half my associate and I hung around we witnessed not only one 'above and beyond' move, but four. This beats out the typical restaurant staff by... well, four.

Act of Awesomeness #1 – Knowing the beers enough to encourage you to try a sample of whatever you're curious about. Often times waitstaff uses this as a copout to knowing what kind of goods they have on tap, but you can quickly discern the liars by their quick 'Ohh... umm, you want to try it?' rather than 'sample whatever you want, Id rather see you with something YOU like'. It didn't hurt that he let us move tables to a booth to correspond to our beer juju. Cheers to you, barman.

Act of Awesomeness #2 – Actually giving the customer what they want. When a woman came in to the pub alone and asked for the waiter to turn on the hitherto blank TV for her enjoyment he not only pulled up a stool to turn it on, he channel surfed for her until she found the football game she was looking for, made sure the signal and angle were alright and only then did he hop down. I should have bought him a beer right there.

Act of Awesomeness #3 – Without any training or debriefing from McMennamins on it, the petite chick working the tables KNEW HER STUFF. Since we don't live around Salem (actually we avoid it at all costs generally – sorry locals) we asked her for directions back to I5. She gave us two different routes along with a report about the traffic on Sundays. Since she was so nice about it we decided to test her and see what we could find out about the place. She told us all about the performers, when to come in, where the best seats were, what all the items in the place were, their historical significance – she couldn't be stumped until it came to piddly details such as why the décor was chosen for Boon's. Speaking as a history major, it was a breath of fresh air to find someone who not only did their job, but appreciated all around her.

Act of Awesomeness #4 – When a customer wanted to sit at the bar but couldnt quite reach the counter since she was shorter they offered her not just any book, but a DICTIONARY, which suggests that they searched until they found one that trully fit her to a T. She even joked that she was going to have to steal it for use on the grey hound buses. Not a regular here? No problem. Same great service for all.

The one and only complaint I can think of is the somewhat sparse burger options. They have less than I have seen anywhere else – only the basic characters made the cut, with even Communication Breakdown and Dungeon Burger being left off the list. In its place I did find one unique burger, a veritable garlic lover's treat. Think basic cheeseburger with Mozz rather than cheddar and more roasted garlic than you can shake a stick at. It was heaven.

In summary this McMennamins was a delight, whether it was due to every good employee mcmennamins has being left in one inconspicous corner of a mainly forgotten capitol, or sheer luck on our part. The beer was flowing, the food they did have was cooked wonderfully and the staff and building was great. Were this McM's in my hometown, I would be hard pressed to frequent another.

Beer: 80.
Food: 70.
Service: 95.
Atmosphere: 85.

Total: 330/400.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Low times at High St.

Today marked the 9th Annual MidValley Brewfest, held at the High St. Pub in Eugene. This was not really a traditional brewfest, but merely a promotion for a high number of guest taps. Most were from McMenamin's breweries, with Barleycorns, Roseburg Station, and High St. itself offering their own pet projects. True guest taps included a (Rogue-owned) Eugene City Brewery 100 Meter Red, which poured...poorly. Thin and incomprehensive, reminding me more of a really weak and watery Scotch ale across the pond. The ever-celebrated Oregon Trail Wit was present, as was Ninkasi's dark Munich-style lager.

Roseburg's Vienna Lager and High Street's Imperial IPA were the most notable of the McMenamins offerings. The former was much hoppier than anything the Austrians would drink, with a cloudy pseudo-darkness that reeked of too much malt. Decent mouthfeel, but the body of the beer was lost - it was a lager trying to taste like a pale ale, with hops buzzing in the ear of the malts and neither comping out in clear definition. No crispness, no sweetness.

The Imperial IPA suffered from similar confusion. Also very drinkable based on the mouthfeel, it wasn't overly malted, but did have a sweet alcohol current present for the full taste of the beer. Not surprising considering a 9.1 ABV, but again, lost without any definition. Most imperial IPAss - Lag's and Stone's, in particular, have a very defintive ordering of malt, hop, and alcohol. This was like an artifically sweetened beer, almost on shandy territory.

The food experience was among the worst I've had at McMenamins. Until about 6 months ago, most Eugene-based McMenamins suffered from cold food and ridiculously slow service. Then, all of a sudden, things turned around. Waitstaff were more prompt, although still not timely. Food, however, arrived still warm from the line cook's hands.

In this case, we waited twenty minutes to even get a drink order in, while the indoor waitstaff chatted with a party of six (there was only one other party, of two, in the pub). Another twenty minute wait for drinks, then another twenty for food.

At this point, the standard commie comes out. Appetite had yielded to uncontrollable salivation, and the burger was placed in the pool of drool I had created on the pub table. My friend had ordered the special for the fest, a Terminator Bratwurst that tasted like ready-to-eat fare; it was room temperature, covered in mayo and tossed on a bun straight from the bag with kraut straight from the jar. Truly, the potato salad was better. As for the generally tried and true commie...

It was horrible.

A total hockey puck. A brick of carbon on a bun. The cheese itself had separated from the excess heat, the onions and peppers were charred instead of sauteed.

Ten minutes later I had to wave down a different waiter as ours had mysteriously disappeared. After a confused look my burger finally made its way back to the kitchen, and my salad returned after another five minutes or so, the waiter smilingly apologized and made the salad a peace offering so I could begin my meal.

Little did I know that it would be the only food I would see until my comrade in arms was already done with her food. The time had come to begin forcing things along to a quicker pace, so I decided to get up and see if my burger was done yet. "Just another minute or so" was the answer, even though my burger was already sitting on a plate. I placed a drink order to tide things over. "We'll have those out in a second."

Finally the remade burger arrived, but I had to check in again at the counter in search of our brew. He explained they were having problems with the taps, even though the pints were ready on the counter. I snagged, drank, and we left.

Jesus man, this isn't rocket science. You just need to pour beer for a grand total of ten people in your serving circuit and bring them warm beef. The server in question seemed a bit sketchy for a proper pub - he professed his favorite beer to be PBR, although he was finally transitioning to ales. Maybe there is hope for hipsters after all.

Usually I love High St because of it's cozy atmosphere. The pub is split between a large outdoor smoking porch, which I avoid, and a series of cozy indoor rooms that remind patrons that they're drinking in someone's former bungalow. The curtained windows up front paired with the shady booths make a fine setting for a stout on a cloudy fall day. Decor is typical McKitsch, with no real historic points of the building preserved other than a fireplace in the main room - the original floor plan is long lost, decorated with the standard classic rock paraphanelia and occasional vintage placard.

This last visit, however, leads me to seriously re-evaluate my favorite McM's. The Brewfest, meanwhile, was a disappointing event (a band showed up later, and grocery store cupcakes were distributed). McMenamins could probably benefit from permanently promoting guest taps as they did today - both for distinguishing the individual internal breweries, and giving the nod of respect to their peers in the industry.

High St. Scorecard
(4 tallies of 100 each)

Beer: 60.
Food: 40.
Service: 05.
Atmosphere: 85.

Total: 190/400.

Hit List.

Below you will find the list of McMenamins pubs, along with current visits. We have a long way to go, and could use your help doing so. Professional beer drinking comes at the expense of other, more lucrative career opportunities. Your donations are grately appreciated, and we will do all we can to oblige any special requests in turn. Given the life of hopped asceticism we lead, we will regrettably be unable to complete our pilgrimage without your divine help.

1 - Cornelius Pass Roadhouse
1 - Imbrie Hall at CPR
1 - Roadhouse Pizza at Cornelius Pass
2 - Edgefield
2 - Black Rabbit Restaurant
3 - Fulton Pub & Brewery
4 - Highland Pub & Brewery
5 - Hillsdale Brewery & Public House
6 - John Barleycorns
7 - McMenamins Cedar Hills
8 - McMenamins Greenway Pub
9 - McMenamins Mall 205
10 - McMenamins Murray & Allen
11 - McMenamins Oregon City
12 - McMenamins Sherwood
13 - McMenamins Sunnyside
14 - McMenamins West Linn
15 - Oak Hills Brewpub
16 - Power Station Pub & Theater
17 - Raleigh Hills Pub
18 - Riverwood Pub
19 - Rock Creek Tavern
20 - St. Johns Theater & Pub
21 - Back Stage Bar
21 - Bagdad Theater & Pub
22 - Barley Mill Pub
23 - Blue Moon Tavern & Grill
24 - Crystal Ballroom
25 - Greater Trumps
26 - Kennedy School
26 - Courtyard Restaurant
27 - Market Street Pub
28 - McMenamins on Broadway
29 - Mission Theater
30 - Ringlers Annex
31 - Ringlers Pub
32 - McMenamins Tavern & Pool
33 - The Rams Head
34 - White Eagle Saloon
35 - Boon's Treasury
36 - East 19th Street Café
37 - High Street Brewery & Cafe
38 - Hotel Oregon - Visited
39 - Lighthouse Brewpub
40 - McMenamins Corvallis
41 - North Bank
42 - Roseburg Station Pub & Brewery
43 - Grand Lodge
43 - Ironwork Grill at Grand Lodge
44 - Thompson Brewery & Public House
45 - Yardhouse Pub at Grand Lodge
46 - Dad Watsons
47 - McMenamins East Vancouver
48 - McMenamins Mill Creek
49 - McMenamins on the Columbia
50 - McMenamins Queen Anne
51 - Olympic Club Pub
52 - Six Arms
53 - Old St. Francis School
53 - The Old St. Francis Pub
53 - Fireside Bar at Old St. Francis
53 - O'Kanes at Old St. Francis
54 - Chapel Pub
55 - McMenamins on Monroe

Friday, September 22, 2006

Road trip!

One cannot speak of beer without speaking of the Northwest. One cannot speak of the Northwest without speaking of McMenamins. McMenamins does not define Northwest brewing culture, nor does Northwest brewing culture define McMenamins.

It is an empire unto itself.

The elements are similar to many other brewpubs:

Drinks: Locally produced, handcrafted ales.

Eats: Tasty grub to accomodate pints of malt with a minimum of pretension.

Identity: A notion of self reflected in and formed by the décor, staff, and attitude of the pub, as well as its relations with the outside world.

Fresh beer? Check. Cooked meats? Check. Goofy shit on the walls? Double check.

What’s different, then?

Standardization: The beer and food are virtually the same everywhere – or are they?

Scale: There are fifty five McMenamins pubs in the greater Northwest. The runner up, Wild River Brewing, maintains four. McMenamins operates twenty two separate breweries. Anheuser-Busch, the country’s largest brewer, holds twelve. Why is it so big?

Expansion: McMenamins operates movie theatres, hotels, a vineyard, a roastery, a distillery, a spa…is it marketing a lifestyle instead of a specialty product? Does the latter suffer at the expense of the former?

And the biggest question: does any of this really matter?

Yes. Whether considering beer enthusiasts or casual diners, McMenamins has hosted an enormous number of Cascadians and our visitors. It is a significant element in the greater pastiche of Northwest culture, from Mill Creek to Roseburg.

The McMenamensch mission:

To visit every McMenamins pub and outlet in existence, as well as those that may sprout during our adventure.

We seek to understand the empire, to answer the questions above, and more. Expect reviews, dissections, schooling, scandal, and of course, photos.

Burgers and brews are serious business. We’re on a mission from God.