Monday, July 19, 2010

Centralia first stop (Olympic Club)

  I stopped off in Centralia last month to check out the two brewing operations there, and began with McMenamin's Olympic Club downtown. Talk about ambiance: this place absolutely takes the cake! It's a hundred-year-old railroad hotel (Amtrak still stops just a block away).  Quoting from one of their fliers, about its first decade, before Prohibition:
  The Olympic Club's opulent furnishings of mahogany paneling, ceramic-tiled floor, tiffany-style lamps and Belgian crystal glassware lured many folks in the door, but it was the club's other attractions that brought them back.  Early advertisements refer to the Olympic Club as a 'gentlemen's resort,' and this was no exaggeration. Under one roof, men could get a good shave and haircut, eat a well-cooked meal of soup and steak, enjoy fine Cuban cigars and a wide selection of liquors, and partake in spirited games of pool and poker (not to mention other distractions provided by the women working in the adjacent, upper-story Oxford Hotel)....Incredibly,too, the club's turn-of-the-century setting remains virtually unchanged, with most all of its original furnishings in place and in working order--including several pool tables.  Truly, the Olympic Club's only notable 'modernization' of the last eight decades is that women are now welcome. [Downstairs!--ed.]
  You walk in through an entry parlor and see the main bar, a massive twenty-foot stretch of mahogany  At the end, a huge cast iron stove guards the way to the dining area and the seven pool tables.  One of them is set up for snooker, said to be a harder game than regular pool.  The pool area is lined with old photos of customers on the site back when, and booths for more private dining.  The one small brew kettle on the site is past this area:  a staff member told me it is used to make small batches of seasonal brews to satisfy the state minimum production requirement for a brewpub license.  Most of the McMenamin brands on tap come from the brothers' larger production breweries elsewhere
  As you proceed down the hall, you pass a separate bar area, called the New Tourist Bar.  While this appears to be a full-service bar, one of its distinct functions is to sell movie tickets.  At the end of the hall is a small cinema.  Original art lines the walls and sofas with tables (for your beers or other beverages) are provided for the patrons.  Pick up their eight-page brochure, A Walking Guide to the Art & History of the Olympic Club Hotel and Theater to get the stories behind these paintings.  They show several movies a day, including G-rated stuff in the afternoon.  I saw a mom bringing her kiddies in to watch Furry Vengeance while I was there.
  Most of the art is upstairs, in what is again a functioning hotel after falling into disuse for decades. I was surprised at how low the room rates were.  I was not able to roam the halls: The overnight guests are allowed their privacy until 11 a.m. and after that a tourist has to be accompanied by a staff member upstairs. An overnight stay at the O.C. is definitely on my agenda for a future outing.
(Visited 06/11/10)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

O! Upstream in Omaha

     Stopped by the Upstream Brewing Co. in Omaha on the way back west. This is a high quality quaffing experience in Omaha's Old Market district: a section of fifteen blocks in the downtown area where old warehouses and the like have been converted into restaurants, galleries, etc. The brewery is in a hundred-year old firehouse.  Three large doors for fire trucks have been redone in glass windows to let plenty of light inside. A historic district plaque says the building was originally designed in chateauesque style with an arty French-style roof. This unfortunately caught fire in 1913; the firefighters were sunning themselves at ground level until a passerby alerted them to the flames overhead.
     Today's brewers have better luck than the firemen of yore.  They make a goodly set of brews: eight are permanent and four are rotated with the seasons.  Their website lists all the regular offerings and the bieres du jour. On my visit two of the seasonals were definitely whimsical: Sequim Lager and Children of the Peppercorn. The former was named for our Sequim here in Wash. (and yes, the staff gave it the correct one-syllable pronunciation, like squid), where they had ordered some lavender to add with the hops during the boil.  I guess lavender isn't just something ladies put in sachets any more; I tasted some added--very lightly--to scallops recently and the effect was nice.  In a lager, I don't know:  The straight taste is as much medicinal as beerlike. The brewer had recommended serving this with a slice of lemon, to be frequently used.  My server told me this was not the sort of place that serves up orange slices with the hefeweisen, praise to them.  (I don't know about you, but I prefer my hefe straight, so as to see what flavors the brewer put in it.)  The lemon does put the Sequim Lager into another dimension and makes it enjoyable.
      The peppercorn ale had a distinct coriander taste on top of the pepper.  I didn't enjoy it quite as much as some of their standard taps (the Firehouse Red took a GABF silver in the bitters group and was very fine; so was their Pale.)  The brewers are definitely bold experimenters.  Port Townsend is a long way from Omaha, but I am writing these guys to tell them to think seriously about entering Water Street's Strange Brewfest there next January.
      One last note:  while Omaha's famous steaks are generally expensive and prices in general seem similar to what things cost in the northwest, Upstream does price happy hour (3 to 6 p.m.) pints at $2 for their own brews.  Cheers, Upstream!

Friday, July 2, 2010

East Coast trip (first brewery) : Albany

While waiting for a grandson to enter the world in Albany, NY (which he did, in fine shape on 07/01), I stopped by the Albany Pump Station, a grand old building with some nice brews. Their site sets out all the information about the Evans name, the "since 1786" on their labels, and the building they are housed in. But no pix, so I get to try a word picture. The building is a high brick structure with the interior dominated by two huge black chains hanging from the ceiling way up there. A bar runs the length of the first floor, with many tables running to the back. The second level is single sets of tables hugging the wall in an atrium style, so those on the first floor have a good view of the tanks and the ceiling. The site is hard by the Hudson River, with just a noisy freeway in between. Walking to the Pump Station past the historic Quackenbush Square on a cobblestone passage gives one a sense of the past. Albanians keep coming back to eat there; the kitchen has a good rep.
1786 was the year someone opened a brewery in Hudson, NY, about 30 miles downstream. As the link says, that brewery was purchased by one C.H. Evans in 1860 and operated by three generations of Evanses until prohibition closed it in 1920. A descendant of the family started the current brewery in Albany in the 1990s. They were running ten taps on the day I visited. They have the most banners up on the wall for their Kick-Ass Brown, which has collected two GABF golds and one bronze since 2000. The pint I tasted had a wonderful malty complexity; the kind where the finishing taste is something completely different from the first taste.
(Visited 06/24/10)