For roughly the 25th time — I’ve lost track of the exact number — I am settled into a visit at McMenamins Elks Temple. Twice I spent the night. Sometimes I come here with colleagues or friends or family. Three times I popped in just to buy things at the gift shop. Many times, I come here to enjoy my own company over a pint or lunch or to write.
On this rainy afternoon, I am seated alone in the Spanish Bar, looking out on to the steps with a pint of Hammerhead and tapas — and pondering.
Next month, our Elks Temple celebrates its one-year anniversary as a McMenamins destination — something I campaigned for as a newspaper columnist since 2003. Now, I wanted to know whether folks believe this place has lived up to expectations — or not. So, I asked my social media contacts.
A few of you think not.
In summary, my Tacoma friends who chose to reply say: beautiful restoration, yes; improved Tacoma’s music scene, absolutely; spin-off benefits to Tacoma, sure; but mediocre food and slow, spotty service make it not a place to revisit.
“It’s a great concept … We don’t really go there often because fun decor doesn’t compensate for uninspiring food and service,” says Meredith Neal. Several others chimed in similarly.
“I wish the food in the ‘themed rooms’ lived up to the spaces in which it is served,” Rick Allen said.
Sigh. And yet: Zach Varnell, who oversees a design school, says the Elks Temple has lived up to expectations: “The care and attention that went into the design of the physical space created a beautiful restoration of one of Tacoma’s most iconic structures. The Spanish Ballroom has brought in a great mix of national and regional acts, and it always seems to be busy. The food is nothing to write home about, but that’s never been what McMenamins has been known for.”
“I have worked my way from the Old Hangout (tiki bar) to the Mezzanine. Once they settled on staff and trained them, service has gotten consistently better. Have not had a bad meal (or drinks) there yet,” said Len Ganduglia.
Jamie Strayer took a big-picture view: “The loyalty of the thousands of McMenamins Passport holders has attracted unknown, countless people to Tacoma that would never otherwise visit the city. The economic impact of this single program ripples to other local businesses and increases tourism to the entire city. More people are coming to Tacoma, and returning to Tacoma as a result.”
Ah, the passports for the Cosmic Tripsters — those fanatics who get their passports stamped at every McMenamins location. I wonder what they think of our Elks Temple. So, I posed that question in the 1,600-member Cosmic Tripsters Facebook Group.
In short, the fanatics think it’s FANtastic.
“As Tripsters who live in Tacoma, got engaged at the Crystal, got married at Edgefield, my husband and I love Elks!” said Alison Niles. “We are very happy to have a Tacoma McMenamins and think it ranks in our top five favorites of all the McMenamins locations. … In terms of how it celebrates the history of Tacoma, we think the property is so unique and love the care and details of the building. It has quickly become our favorite Tacoma hangout!”
“It has my favorite McMenamins bar in it. I LOVE The Old Hangout,” said Aryka Hanto.
“My 2nd favorite behind Edgefield, where I got married. Just wish it had a spa but LOVE it ♡,” says April Smith.
Gina Wolf says, “It is beautiful and the best addition to Tacoma nightlife EVER. They rescued a historic building that the City of Tacoma allowed to become a dilapidated and rundown eyesore as well as a haven for druggies and squatters. This jewel of downtown Tacoma is such a gift to the community. I love the entertainment of the concerts and the pub night talks are so wonderful and informative. I’m so thankful for the McMenamin family for this establishment.”
I had sky-high expectations. Nineteen months ago, during the construction, I stood at the top of the Spanish Steps with the McMenamin family and told them the Elks Temple would “lift the collective community psyche and inject new energy into this city unlike anything in recent memory.”
Company cofounder Mike McMenamin flinched.
“Oh, no,” he said. “That makes us extremely nervous hearing something like that. We’re just having fun with the restoration and seeing what it can become.”
On so many fronts, for me and for Tacoma, this place has become exponentially more than I imagined. Cheers!