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First impressions of McMenamins Elks Temple and last-minute tips

After years of negotiations, planning, waiting and painstaking overhaul, Tacoma’s McMenamins Elks Temple is finally marking its opening day.

After a few “pre-opening” events over the weekend and Monday night, The Elks is ready for the public to finally see what has taken years to produce.

An invitation-only open house Monday allowed Mayor Victoria Woodards and city staff to see the place for themselves.

Ellen Walkowiak, assistant director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Department, told The News Tribune on Tuesday she found the restoration “magical.”

Walkowiak was one of the main officials who worked with McMenamins during its development negotiations with the city, including the Old City Hall talks.

“Mike and Brian McMenamin truly demonstrated the love of an historic building. What a joyful place to experience,” she wrote via emailed response when asked her reaction.

Tacoma Historical Society posted pictures of former mayor and society board president Bill Baarsma at the hotel room named after him.

“Bill is honored to have supported the McMenamin brothers and their team in the successful transformation of the historic Elks Lodge,” the post noted.

Two doors down, 619, is Walkowiak’s room.

If you’re going the first day, some items of note:

The main restaurant, on the site’s fourth floor, seats 250 and opens at 7 a.m.

The Bottle Shop & Brewery Tasting Room on the first floor is serving espresso drinks starting at 7 a.m.

Bagpipe performance is scheduled at 11:30 a.m.

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Plan your parking (and the cost) ahead of time: With the usual traffic and McMenamins’ first-day crowds, you’re most likely going to have to be on the lookout early for a parking spot. There are a mix of pay lots and garages nearby. At least one lot on Market Street near 7th Street is less than a minute away on foot.

This tip from a neighboring resident was posted Monday on Twitter: “HEY #mcmenamins #mcmenaminselkstemple visitors: please park only in legal spots. Not in driveways, on sidewalks, or blocking roads/alleys. Nearby residents thank you in advance. #Tacoma.”

The Spanish Ballroom is planning an opening week of concerts free on most days. If you’re staying the night, you might want some noise-canceling headphones for sleeping if you are in a room near the ballroom. According to its website: “Many of our rooms surround the ballroom; you may hear the faint sounds of a good time across the way — but if you’d prefer not to, earplugs are provided.”

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Also, pack light. There is an elevator inside at the Broadway/Spanish Steps corner of the building; the bulk of access to the hotel rooms and other floors is via stairs.

Look up and around: The place is overflowing with chandeliers, detailed trimwork and posters, photos and artwork celebrating Tacoma and other McMenamins properties, such as the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, and past concerts.

McMenamins also has done its homework about the Tacoma Elks’ site and has an online list about significant years in the building’s history.

The hard work has so far paid off, judging from early visitors posting on the McMenamins Elks’ Facebook page this week.

“I have to say this is now my favorite McMenamins of all time. It was absolutely mind blowing,” posted Lori Bonner.

Walkowiak was equally satisfied after touring the site Monday.

“I wandered each floor. There was something new to discover around every bend,” she said. “They made history come alive in the paintings and the stories of the people that graced the walls. The gathering places were intimate and inviting. It was so comfortable and welcoming.”

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