Forest Grove, Oregon, is not a destination many have heard of — not even those of us from the Northwest. But I recently headed there for a weekend because it combined two of my favorite things: the funky, comfortable vibe of a McMenamin’s resort, and an opportunity to taste Northwest wines.
I’ve been seeking out opportunities to hang out in McMenamin’s pubs since I moved to Olympia more than 20 years ago, and their resorts offer even more of a good thing. It’s as if Portland founders Mike and Brian McMenamin whirled the amenities of a resort in a blender with the comfort of a grandmotherly bed and breakfast and the hippie aesthetics of the Grateful Dead.
Their Grand Lodge sits in the heart of Forest Grove, on the western outskirts of the Portland area and in the scenic northern reaches of the Willamette Valley. That mild valley and its rolling hills have become home to some of the most renowned pinot noirs in North America.
MCMENAMIN’S GRAND LODGE
I arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon ready to take advantage of all the Grand Lodge had to offer. I found many things to love, and a few that I could at least tolerate. Mostly, I loved that I could have spent the entire weekend occupied there without leaving the grounds.
Things to love:
The building contains a myriad of gathering spaces: a cozy reception area, a huge auditorium, open porches and south-facing sun parlors, plus wood-burning fireplaces in many of the public rooms. Most of the rooms are available to rent for parties, conferences and gatherings, although few of them were occupied when I got there. My first order of business was to curl up on one of the overstuffed chairs in front of a fireplace in the Magic Flute sunroom to read a novel.
Inside the Grand Lodge is the main restaurant, the Ironwork Grill. The name needs no explanation — although it is worth noting that its antique glass windows were discovered in the basement of McMenamin’s Olympic Club Hotel & Theater in Centralia. The ornate but cozy decor is paired with Northwest-style pub fare that spills into some higher-end steaks and entrees. For those familiar with the uniform McMenamin’s menu at their pubs, I’m happy to report this menu is not built on that foundation. The Ironwork Grill is open from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. weekdays and midnight on weekends.
In the basement, there is Bob’s Bar, which has the hole-in-the-wall feel of a European bistro, and the Doctor’s Office Bar, which contains an 1860s German back bar and games galore, from pool to pinball and shuffleboard. And most weekends there is live music performed across from Bob’s in an area called the Garage Door.
First, buy your tickets in advance for two reasons: Tickets sold before 5 p.m. the day of the show are $7 instead of the regular $9, and all seats are reserved, so you want to make sure you get a good one in this deep, somewhat narrow theater.
Also, you should head to the theater 30-45 minutes before the film begins. (Showings are generally at 7 and 10 p.m.) That’s because you’ll want to order food and drink that can arrive before the screening. I got there just 15 minutes before the movie and almost missed my chance to order a salad and ale. And because I didn’t see my Caesar salad except in the dark theater, I was surprised to find myself chewing on an anchovy.
One tip: Soak during the day, if you are really looking for relaxation. I found just two other people in the huge pool on Saturday morning, but the night before it was packed with huge groups of family members who had clearly partaken of McMenamin’s ales and were enjoying each other’s company, very loudly.
Which brings me to the things you might not enjoy:
Each room has a sink and a lovely, comfy bed. But it’s true that you’ll have to share the toilets, bathtub and shower with the other same-gender guests on your floor. The dormitory-style bathrooms are beautiful, though ancient, constructed with tile and marble. They do require a guest room keycard to get into. But I got around having to go all the way down the hall at 4 a.m. by ducking into a public restroom across from my room when I knew no one else was around. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have cared if I’d met someone in my robe (thoughtfully provided by the Grand Lodge). Just like when you were in college, you get used to seeing people in all stages of dress.
Unfortunately for anyone sound sensitive, the acoustics of the Grand Lodge don’t do much to dampen all that noisy enthusiasm. Voices carry down the hard surfaces of the hallways, and the old, heavy doors close with a clang. If that isn’t appealing, bring your earplugs and your patience. Or if it’s a deal breaker, the Grand Lodge may not be for you.
GRAPE ESCAPE WINE TOUR
I am not even close to being a wine aficionado. But still, there is huge appeal in spending a sunny afternoon being driven around to vineyards in northwest Washington County to sample wine, learn a few things, chat with congenial strangers, and munch on breads, cheeses and chocolates.
So I met up with four other adventurous souls — a local couple who makes wine in their garage, and a mother-daughter duo celebrating mom’s birthday — who had signed up for the four-hour wine tour. Our tour guide would be driving us to three vineyards, where we would taste 18 wines, and he would provide both snacks and information about winemaking in the area. Since the wines being offered vary each weekend — and you wouldn’t want to base your wine picks on my palate anyway — I’ll tell you about the wineries, and not so much about the wine.
The first stop was Apolloni, and it is as Italian as it sounds. Alfredo Apolloni grew up south of Venice, Italy, working each summer in the family’s vineyard, and he wanted his own three children to have a similar childhood. So he and his wife, Laurine, opened Apolloni Vineyards in 1999, carrying on his family’s 200-plus-year winemaking tradition.
Laurine was pouring during our visit, and she is a warm ray of sunshine. She offered us a tour of the underground wine cave where the casks are stored, and told us about the special pinot noirs that are named for their children.
The grounds are clearly set up for warm-weather gatherings, with grills, tables and even a bocce ball court. The family’s home, built with Italian styling, overlooks the vineyard.
Not surprisingly, Apolloni specializes in traditional Italian-style wines, such as pinot grigio and its red blend, Soleggio, as well as estate-grown pinot noirs, pinot blancs, chardonnays and rosés.
The second stop was the 145-acre Tualatin Estate Vineyard, which was established in 1973, during the beginnings of Oregon’s wine industry. It has been owned since 1997 by the Willamette Valley Vineyards, one of the largest wine producers in Oregon.
The Tualatin tasting room pours from both labels, and the Willamette Valley’s Whole Cluster pinot noir was a huge hit with our group — although sitting outside at a picnic table in the sun made everything taste better. With 12 or so tastes under our belts, our group members opened up and really started getting acquainted. Our tour guide had to take away the plate of cheese, bread, crackers, cold cuts and fruit to prompt us back into the van.
Our final stop was David Hill Vineyard and Winery, which has vines that were planted in 1883, making them some of the oldest in the state. (During Prohibition, most of the vines were pulled out, but some were saved and replanted on the same land.) The tasting room sits in a quaint house in the middle of the lovely, pastoral vineyard.
But the tasting room was anything but pastoral — it was the most crowded spot of the day. Still, the crowd was happy and carefree, and spending generously. David Hill offers pinot noir, pinot gris (the French style of Grigio), riesling, chardonnay, merlot, and tempranillo. Our tour guide’s best recommendation of the day: the winery’s farmhouse red, a blend bargain priced at $12.
After many pairings of David Hill wine with chocolate treats of all sorts, our chatty group piled back into the van, all of us fast friends and making plans to have more wine back at the Grand Lodge. What a way to spend a weekend.