TNT Diner

5 new restaurants are opening at Tacoma’s McMenamins Elks Temple. Here’s a preview

Take a look inside McMenamins Elks Temple

Take a tour inside the McMenamins Elks Temple in Tacoma. The building includes a live music venue, hotel, and several bars.
Up Next
Take a tour inside the McMenamins Elks Temple in Tacoma. The building includes a live music venue, hotel, and several bars.

When the McMenamins Elks Temple opens in Tacoma April 24, locals will finally get that long-awaited hotel we’ve been waiting years to visit.

What comes along with the 45-room hotel and concert venue is something that’s been a bit lost in the buzz about the grand McMenamins hotel opening. Diners might be surprised to hear we’re getting five new restaurants and bars in the downtown building.

Diners will have a choice of a ground-floor tiki enclave equipped with a fire pit and waterfall, a Spanish-themed tapas bar, a classic family friendly pub that seats 250 diners, a game room with a specialty pizza menu and a hidden bar specializing in sophisticated cocktails.

How many diners are they expecting upon opening?

They don’t know. Michael Jordan, property executive chef for the Elks Temple, said he’s preparing for an avalanche of eaters and trying to prep the cooking staff the best he can for the long-anticipated opening.

“I’ve been looking at the cooks and saying, ‘You’re likely going to face something more intense than you’ve ever dealt with before,’” he said, joking that the experience would toughen them all up.

Seating for each of the five restaurants ranges from 20 to 250. With high-volume turnover, potentially they could serve more than 1,000.

So they’re staffing up.

Way up.

“We have around 40 cooks,” Jordan said of the opening staff, which includes two kitchen managers — David Cooper, formerly of Seattle’s Le Pichet, and Ethan Ashcraft, formerly of Tacoma’s Hotel Murano. Before joining McMenamins this year, Jordan was chef of Bellevue’s El Gaucho and a cooking instructor at the Seattle Culinary Academy at Seattle Central College.

Churning out that much food from two on-site commercial kitchens — on the first and fourth floors — is a wild undertaking. Even after the restaurants settle into their rhythm after the crush of the opening, the hotel will operate as something close to a 24-7 food entity, Jordan said.

“There are maybe one or two hours a day when a chef won’t be there. We’ll bring cooks in around 4 a.m., and we’ll have people here until 2 in the morning. It’s quite the production,” he said.

McMenamins has a reputation for company-made products.

As Jordan says, “We roast our own coffee, distill our own spirits, make our own beer and wine, and we make cider. It’s hard to find a product we aren’t doing ourselves.”

As for food, what they don’t make themselves, they collaborate on with Northwest food companies. He described the company’s in-house pickling program that grew so big McMenamins partnered with a Portland-based company that now makes those house pickles for all McMenamins properties using McMenamins recipes.

Jordan hopes to work with local food vendors in Tacoma at some point. He’s antsy for the farmers market season to begin, so he can explore local produce.

He said the Spanish-themed tapas bar is a likely place to feature local food products.The theme of that bar is Spanish Mediterranean with seasonal Northwest flare and is on the smaller side with about 60 seats, which makes seasonal cooking more manageable than the volume of the hotel’s 250-seat family-friendly pub.

As for the other hotel restaurants, here’s a look at what to expect at each. Jordan and Dan McMenamin, one of the McMenamins owners who handles food and beverage operations for the company, provided commentary on what those restaurants will feel like and look like — once the hotel finally opens.

MCMENAMINS PUB AT ELKS TEMPLE

The first thing Dan McMenamin thinks diners will notice upon entry of the 250-seat family-friendly McMenamins Pub, the hotel’s main restaurant, is the spectacular view.

“If you walk off Broadway, you’ll walk right into the lobby and the pub,” he said. The view extends across the Foss Waterway. “The windows are massive. They’re 10- to 12-feet tall. You’re looking out on the waterway looking north and south.”

Those windows come with incredible leaded glass, McMenamin said, and they’ve added “tons of vintage glass.” Also, “the bar canopy is like a classic English pub bar. And the ceilings are so high.”

Be sure to look up.

“We have the best selection of glass light fixtures in the whole company in that pub,” McMenamin said.

McMenamin said they haven’t counted, but he thinks there are hundreds, if not thousands, of glass light fixtures in the building overall.

“If you go down the hallways, all the stairwells, and rooms, and the banquet spaces, they all have glass light fixtures,” he said. “There are mini ones all over the place. It’s full of vintage light fixtures.”

He described a pub space with shimmer from all that glass, plus the space is segmented with nooks and crannies and comes with a fireplace that make the larger space feel cozier and more intimate than it is.

As for the food, Jordan said the menu is crowd-friendly fare similar to other McMenamins pubs. Burgers, sandwiches, beer-friendly food and beyond will comprise the menu at lunch and dinner. Traditional breakfasts with scrambles, Benedicts and American breakfast classics also will be served at the pub, which will be family-friendly and all ages from breakfast through dinner.

TNT_Elks_Temple_Tour_0014
Sample cocktails at McMenamins Elk Temple during a tour of the hotel before its opening. Joshua Bessex

SPANISH BAR

Right off the Spanish Steps will be the Spanish Bar, a 60-seat bar just off the Spanish Ballroom on the hotel’s second floor. That ballroom will be the hotel’s 700-person music and events venue.

In the warmer months, McMenamin said the hotel intends to add an al fresco dining space at the base of the Spanish Steps.

McMenamin described the Spanish Bar’s decor as vibrant and bejeweled with glass like the other spaces, with wood-heavy decor from an aged bartop and back bar with a local connection. They found the bar in Long Beach.

“They (the owners) contacted us a few years ago, and we bought it from them,” he said. “I don’t think we looked at the time where it was from, we just liked it.”

During the bartop’s restoration, “We noticed a metal embossed stamp that said made in Tacoma,” he added. “It has the patina and roughed up look of an old bar. It’s so beautiful.”

Jordan said diners should expect a Spanish Mediterranean tapas theme with small plates meant to be shared. McMenamin described the menu as “a pub version of what you’d get in Spain.”

“These are all dishes that have been inspired by Spain, but one thing we thought about was, what would a Spanish chef who found himself in the Pacific Northwest, what would he create?” said Jordan.

Jordan described patatas bravas, the fried potato dish, a plate featuring Spanish manchego cheese, plancha-seared pork and a Spanish-themed burger made with serrano ham and Mama Lil’s Peppers.

Portions will be kept small with the ability to assemble a feast from small plates.

“We’re trying to make it so you can try a few different things, a light or heavy meal if you want,” said McMenamin.

Jordan expects the Spanish-themed gin and tonic to become an instant cocktail favorite in the Spanish Bar, which has its own dedicated cocktail menu.

TNT_McMenamins_Elks_0007
A view of a booth inside the Old Hangout Bar during a tour of the McMenamins Elks Temple in Tacoma. Joshua Bessex

THE OLD HANGOUT

Enter the ground floor off Commerce Street, in the space that formerly held the swimming pool, to find a global themed bar and restaurant with seating for about 125.

“It’s inspired by tiki, but it’s more of a world travel bar,” McMenamin said of The Old Hangout.

The decor is “eclectic world exotica,” he said.

He described tiki masks, bamboo accents, cushy red leather booths and visually stunning features, such as a working waterfall and fire pit.

“The waterfall starts at the top of the room in the ceiling and falls down some rocks and down into a pool,” said McMenamin. “The fire pit is only maybe 15 to 20 feet from the waterfall.”

Don’t be surprised if you hear some funky noises.

“The room rumbles,” he said. “There’s thunder and lightning that goes through there as well.”

He tried to find a vintage foghorn, but none of the sounds were quite right. So he made his own, with help from his daughter. Rather than a foghorn, it sounds more like an elk horn, he said.

“It has an interesting honk to it,” he joked.

The menu, he said, goes beyond Polynesian fare to include broader Asian influences, including Indian and Chinese flavors.

He said the drinks menu will be tiki-meets-global flavors. He expects diners will walk away with menu copies.

“We’ll have an illustrated drinks menu by our artist, and we’re expecting people will want to take it. It’s not just tiki drinks, it’s drinks from New Orleans and other kinds of drinks.”

He added, “If your grandad doesn’t want a foofy drink, he could have a beer.”

Jordan described the menu as “ports of call” flavors applied to pub fare. We’ll have “lots of spices and flavors from Asia and Polynesia,” he said.

He described loaded fries flavored with ginger and garlic with mustard greens and hoisin. The house burger will come with pineapple sambal, pickled daikon and fresh cilantro. A hot dog will come topped with Sriracha, Thai peanut sauce and fried shallots. Salt-and-pepper squid will be served with a jalapeno-soy dipping sauce.

Save room for the grilled pineapple sundae made with rum-marinated pineapple grilled to order and served with ice cream and mai-tai candied peanuts.

TNT_Elks_Temple_Tour_0026
During a media tour of the McMenamins Elks Temple in Tacoma, Wash., on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Joshua Bessex

DOC’S BAR

This 21-and-over bar and game room with seating for about 50 sits overlooking the Spanish Ballroom. McMenamin described a wide range of gaming for grownups at Doc’s Bar: “There will be shuffleboard, pool and pinball.”

Jordan described a menu of pub burgers and specialty pizzas. There’s also “spinach artichoke dip, wings, big salads, a killer black bean dip and Cajun tater tots.”

THE VAULT

Don’t expect hotel staff to guide visitors to the hotel’s secret bar, The Vault. You’ll need to go find it yourself.

“It took me a few days to find it,” said Jordan. “It’s really cozy. There’s natural lighting that comes in, even though it’s very, very hidden, but I don’t want to give anything else away.”

He said there’s seating for up to 20 people.

“We have different colored light bulbs that guide you there,” said McMenamin. “It’s a secret hallway you’ve got to find.”

McMenamin described a subterranean feel in the atmosphere with a turn-of-the-century carriage bar.

The cocktails will be “brown spirits” focused. There’s no dedicated food menu, but Vault patrons could order from one of the other kitchens if they want a bite, said Jordan.

TNT_McMenamins_Elks_0004
Brian McMenamin stands the McMenamins Elks Temple in Tacoma, Wash., on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Joshua Bessex

ONE MORE

Find a bottle shop and brewery room just off the brewing area, which is located off the Commerce entrance, said McMenamin.

It won’t have its own menu. Rather, the focus here is on the brew with hundreds of bottled beers and 16 taps. The brewery’s 10-barrel brewing system will be on display from that room. McMenamin expects the on-site brewers will brew at least one beer that’s unique to the Tacoma property that won’t be served anywhere else.

Follow more of our reporting on

See all 10 stories
Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune

Sue Kidd has been The News Tribune’s restaurant critic since 2008. She dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals. Sue is a South Sound native. She writes about new restaurants, openings and closures and knows where to find the best tacos in every neighborhood.
  Comments