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News / Life / Dining Out

10 numbers to know about McMenamins Elks Temple

By Kristine Sherred, The News Tribune
Published: June 1, 2024, 6:06am

TACOMA — From purchase to grand reveal, the McMenamins Elks Temple research, restoration and construction project in downtown Tacoma took 10 years. What would have likely been a triumphant one-year anniversary for the Portland-based company and the city of Destiny was stomped by the worst of the 2020 pandemic.

In honor of Year 5, which officially hit at the end of April, we took a tour of the now-very-much-alive hotel, concert venue and brewery inside the 44,361-square-foot structure, as well as the series of bars and restaurants that serve locals and tourists day and night, seven days a week.

Here are 10 numbers to know about the history and evolution of McMenamins Tacoma.

  • $160,000: the original construction cost (in the early 1900s)

The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks spent $160,000 constructing their “opulent, grand new ‘temple’” in 1916.

A century later, McMenamins, now with 56 properties in Oregon and Washington, spent more than $36 million restoring the fireproof (thanks to its nearly indestructible cast-marble exterior) building at the head of Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma.

MCMENAMINS ELKS TEMPLE

565 Broadway, Tacoma, mcmenamins.com/elks-temple

5 main bars and restaurants open daily, hours vary

Check Spanish Ballroom for event schedule

Hotel bookings available online

Company founders Mike and Brian McMenamin officially acquired the building for $1.2 million in 2009.

  • 30: the number of years Elks Temple sat (mostly) empty

An emblem of the second Renaissance Revival style, Lodge No. 174 and the adjacent Spanish Steps were designed by Édouard Frère Champney, who studied at L’École des Beaux Arts in Paris and worked on several World’s Fair expositions. The Elks occupied it until 1965, when they moved to Central Tacoma.

Over the next two decades, it hosted various community events, from school dances to memorial services, according to local history pages. It went dark in 1986.

The McMenamin brothers, known in the Northwest for their studied restoration of historic properties and their eclectic decor, spent six years following their 2009 purchase digging through archives, securing investments and determining what, exactly, they wanted to do in Tacoma.

The result is pretty darn close to the plans they announced as discovery and abatement began in 2016, which led to unforeseen issues, such as a rotting ceiling support beam, and heightened costs.

  • 201: the room number where you can remember the graffiti

As the Elks Temple, not alone in its decline, languished in the 1990s, young graffiti artists snuck through a “loosely boarded-up window below the Spanish Steps,” as a March 2019 McMenamins blog post recalls.

One of the company’s artists tracked down some of those who posted their work on the walls and maybe skateboarded in the empty pool on the Commerce Street level (now home to The Old Hangout). They were invited to rekindle their work in Room 201, which can be readily booked by any guest — and it’s not the most expensive room on the property, noted hotel manager Michael Do during a May 22 tour.

There are 45 total guest rooms, each with a king bed and private bathroom. Some only offer an “atrium view,” while rooms with outward-facing windows also have a balcony.

  • 7 (or is it 6?): the number of floors, including the ‘basement’

As a 2004 report about the city’s restoration of the Spanish Steps said, “In a city built on a hill, the Spanish Steps comprise the only formalized, landscaped hill-climb in the downtown and the most formal public exterior stairway in Tacoma.”

Indeed, Elks Temple boasts several entrances on two streets and the Steps’ landing, on which guests of The Spanish Bar can enjoy gin and tonics with tapas al fresco in forgiving weather. That level — technically Floor 2 — also holds The Spanish Ballroom, the concert and event hall.

The Commerce Street entrance leads to Level 1, home to The Bottle Shop, next to which is the brewery that produces much of the beer you can enjoy throughout the property. Head down a few more stairs to The Old Hangout, the tiki-themed bar known for its high-octane cocktails and random gong sounds. This room originally had a pool, honored here by a small pond with a running waterfall.

The Broadway entrance opens into the lobby and The Pub, open daily at 7 a.m., on Floor 4. Floor 5 exists spiritually in this space, but you won’t find a conspicuous fifth floor sign.

Doc’s Bar and The Mezzanine Lounge (tickets sold for most concerts) live on Floor 3.

Floors 6 and 7 hold most of the hotel rooms, although there are also rooms tucked in Floors 2 and 3.

  • 4: the number of stairwells

If you consider the Broadway entrance the “front” of Elks Temple, the “front” stairwell aligns with the only elevator. Here you can access all “seven” floors.

In the corner of the building where the Spanish Steps intersect with Commerce Street, the so-called Wide Stairwell takes you to most floors. Hotel guests beware: It skips the sixth.

There are two smaller stairwells that provide access to the lodging areas and perhaps respite for staff.

  • 6.5 bars: the ‘real’ number of places to get a drink

Bar manager Lacey McKim likes to say that McMenamins Elks Temple actually has six-and-a-half bars, though it’s usually cited as just five.

The Bottle Shop is typically omitted, she said, but you can get a beer, wine or cider there (no liquor or cocktails, hence the half-count) and hang out in a kind of lounge area. The Ballroom also has its own full-service bar.

Of course, the five-count does include The Vault, the clandestine bar that resides in a cement-encased room under the sidewalk on Broadway, through which you can glimpse shadows of passersby through purple-tinged miniature glass blocks (installed by the McMenamins to provide modest natural light).

Like any good sport, we won’t tell you where it is.

Even five years in, said Do, front-desk staff still fields a singular question more than most: “Where’s the secret bar?”

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Their answer will always be the same: “IT’S A SECRET.”

  • 2: the number of kitchens

All but The Vault and The Bottle Shop double as restaurants, each with “their own personality,” said Renee Rank, McMenamins’ marketing director.

They are fed by two full kitchens. One is on the first floor, servicing The Old Hangout and The Spanish Bar. The other is on the fourth floor, servicing The Pub and Doc’s.

  • 1,000: the annual number of barrels produced by the on-site brewery

McMenamins has been in the brewery business since 1985. Rank described the decision as one propelled in part by a change in Oregon’s craft brewery laws, which for the first time allowed producers to sell their product on site.

The company now operates two dozen brewing facilities, including one on the first floor of Elks Temple in Tacoma managed by head brewer Nick Webber, who previously worked at the Queen Anne outpost. He and his small team produce about 1,000 barrels a year using six 10-barrel fermenting tanks and a very cool open-air copper mash tun.

“We like to keep it old-school,” he said.

  • 749: the full capacity of The Spanish Ballroom

The venue is permitted for 700 general-admission attendees on the main floor of the ballroom, which boasts original Elks Temple elements including the floor and ornate trim at the top of the quirky paintings along the walls featuring Tacoma-inspired images of Richard Wagner’s opera, “Ring.”

The 21-plus mezzanine offers an additional 49 seats, with general admission access.

Equipped with a Bose sound system, the stage has welcomed the likes of Stephen Marley and Seattle’s own Mudhoney. The space also hosts events like the upcoming Sabertooth Micro Fest, a combo celebration of beer and “psychedelic stoner rock,” Grit City Brewfest and a ’90s night.

  • 200: the number of employees at McMenamins Elks Temple

The Tacoma McMenamins employs around 200 people, staff said in May.

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