McMenamins Anderson School, the Oregon hotel/restaurant/brewery chain’s largest property, opened to the public on Thursday, with a tropical pool, a bar in the principal’s office and plenty of the company’s signature beers, from Ruby Ale to Terminator Stout.
Most developers are busy tearing down old buildings, only to build something tall, gleaming and generic in its place. But McMenamins, the Oregon-based company that specializes in taking historical buildings and transforming them into adult funhouses, is sticking with history, thanks.
Its latest playground, the McMenamins Anderson School in Bothell, a former junior high school built in 1931, opened to the general public Thursday. The smell of fresh paint hung in the air, and plants still waiting to be planted were perched on the sidewalks.
The thousands of people checking out the megaplex weren’t lacking for things to do on the 5.41-acre property. They could catch a screening of “The Martian” with Matt Damon in the luxurious 134-seat “brew-and-view” theater, where they could order Bavarian pretzel sticks, pizza by the slice and a glass of wine, sit in a comfortable chair and eat dinner from a table, not a cupholder.
Or, they could — like a few families did — take a dip in the shallow, indoor saltwater swimming pool. Heated to the upper 80s, the pool temperature makes the rain that can come through the open skylights bearable and even beautiful.
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They could watch live shows in Haynes Hall, which was previously the school’s gymnasium, where the Transcendental Brass Band from Portland serenaded the partygoers with funk-filled jams.
And they could eat and drink.
Oh, how they could eat and drink.
There are three restaurants and two bars, and on Thursday night all were packed to capacity with hour-plus waits at peak dinner hour. Though the food seemed somewhat similar to other McMenamins properties by virtue of having a single chef overseeing all the menus — burger and fries and pizzas abound — there was enough distinction between each venue’s atmosphere to carve out an identity.
The Shed, the tiny bar, which is, yes, a little shed, and the only new building on site, will surely be perfect for a date, as will the romantic North Shore Lagoon, a tiki bar and restaurant above the swimming pool. Compared to the gargantuan main restaurant, Tavern in the Square, and the sports bar The Woodshop, which will likely be popular during Seahawks games, the Lagoon was quaint — fitting a little more than 100 people.
Stuffy inside? If the weather permits, as it did on Thursday, with a soft pink cotton-candy sunset, visitors can sit outside by one of the many firepits (that is, if they could snag a seat).
For overnight guests, there’s the 72-room hotel in the original school, which features works by regional artists saluting local residents, many of whom have rooms named after them. One of them is Jim Egawa, a Bothell High graduate who was the director of the Lummi Education Center for the Lummi Nation, and directed the Tacoma Schools’ Indian Education Program for 30 years. Another honors U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who worked in her dad’s five-and-dime in downtown Bothell.
Those who were curious about the building’s origins could visit the McMenamins historians, Tim Hill and Kerry Beeaker, in the Murray room. Hill’s been with the company for 20 years, researching the backgrounds and residents of many of the McMenamins buildings, 18 of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The week before, Hill had explained that renovating an old building is certainly more challenging than building from the ground up — retaining the structure and keeping the spirit of the original building intact is important to brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin. It’s also far more expensive.
But money isn’t their main priority, said Hill. “If it was making money, this wouldn’t be the way to go about it,” he said.
Still, it was clear from the ringing of cash registers in the jampacked restaurants and the complex’s Market — which sells food, wine and McMenamins souvenirs (and also improbably, Yoo-Hoo) that making money wouldn’t be a problem. Like a fortress, Anderson School beckons customers who could come and never leave.
Last week before the opening, Brian McMenamin said it was all part of his master plan: “You want to stay because you have so many options on the property.”
And to think, they didn’t even have to tear anything down.