The Journey to Become a Cosmic Tripster: A Passport to fun with McMenamins
The Journey to Become a Cosmic Tripster: A Passport to fun with McMenamins
It’s the journey not the destination that really matters—unless you’re on a quest to become a “Cosmic Tripster” with McMenamins pubs and historic hotels—in which case both are equally amazing! I’m sure you must be wondering what the heck a Cosmic Tripster is exactly, and if you do not live in Western Oregon or Washington you might not know about McMenamins either—so let me enlighten you.
McMenamins was a family venture that started in 1983 by two brothers, Mike and Brian McMenamin. They opened the Barley Mill Pub in Southeast Portland Oregon, and have since grown to include 57 properties and counting throughout Oregon and Washington (mcmenamins.com). The McMenamins have a knack for buying old historic properties and converting them to hotels, pubs, theaters and such all with the unique McMenamins style which I would call artsy-eclectic. One of their special qualities is that they try to preserve or in some way honor the buildings’ histories. “Our goal is to keep the past in the present, to celebrate and connect us all with the people and events that have helped define each McMenamins property. To that end, we research, interview and compile materials to identify and commemorate our properties and their surroundings” (www.mcmenamins.com/history). For example, one of their largest properties is the Edgefield hotel, which used to be a poorhouse. You can wander around the grounds and hotel sipping one of McMenamins signature brews and read about the history of the property on the walls in the hallways, parlors and guest rooms. Much of the artwork also helps to tell the stories of old. This is true of several of their locations that we, my husband and I, have visited so far.
McMenamins builds some of their locations from the ground up and a few are in strip malls, but even if they don’t look like much on the outside, when you step inside you can identify a McMenamins property just by the style. But it’s not just the interesting décor and whimsical artwork adorning the walls that make McMenamins unique. In the October 31st 2013 news release announcing the Cosmic Tripster passport program, Jessica Lyness had this to say about the company:
Still independently, family-owned, McMenamins is the fourth-largest producer of microbrewed beer in a region famous for the craft, and also distills spirits, roasts coffee, turns grapes to wine and ferments cider. The company is appreciated for its concert venues and love for art and historic buildings, with several of its properties on the National Historic Register. (mcmenamins.com)
This seems like a pretty full plate for a family owned business, but McMenamins makes it all work quite successfully. But enough about the company, this article is really about tripstering after all.
A Quest of a Different Kind…
In mid August 2014, my husband and I were taking a trip to Victoria B.C. and the Olympic National Park in Washington state. We were not able to leave Salem until after 4 pm on Friday afternoon so on our first day of the trip, after fighting rush hour traffic from Salem to Portland, we were tired, hungry and needed a break. When we could stand no more, we took the first exit we came to which happened to be Mall 205 on the east side of Portland. Most of the choices at that exit were fast food except for the McMenamins Mall 205 Pub. We decided to go there since we liked McMenamins food and atmosphere, and that’s where it all started for us—we were introduced to the McMenamins passport and tripstering. The passports cost $20 apiece (currently $25), but you get many cool prizes for participating that more than make up for the price of admission. The McMenamins website states, “You can earn a world of prizes (valued at $200!)on your quest to fill your passport: burgers, tots, appetizers, gift cards,pint glasses, growlers, T-shirts & more” (mcmenamins.com/1958-mcmenamins-passport-prizes).
Here’s how it works: Purchase a passport, fill out your information in the front, include a picture of yourself for ID, then start collecting stamps from each of the McMenamins locations. You can use your regular ID until you get a photo for the passport, and they suggest you register your passport on their website. That way if you lose it, McMenamins will replace it for free, minus any stamps already collected, of course. There’s no purchase necessary, with just a couple of exceptions, and you can take as long as you like because there’s no expiration. The only catch is if another McMenamins opens while you’re working on your passport, you must also collect the stamps for that location. Easy, breezy! The locations are separated into distinct zones so each time you collect all the stamps in that zone you get to claim your prize. When you fill out the entire passport you get the grand prize along with the super cool designation of being a Cosmic Tripster. While you’re working towards that end, you’re known simply as a Tripster. According to the McMenamins website the grand prize consists of:
Three overnight stays at any three of McMenamins historic hotels for two
A pair of tickets to a concert at the Crystal Ballroom
Drinks at happy hour prices, Sunday-Thursday, for the first year after you’ve completed your passport
Exclusive passport merchandise to show that you did it
A Cosmic Tripster Key. Consider this key your ticket to getting into exclusive passport events, from tours of new properties before they’re open, to dinners and tastings and event discounts (UFO Fest!) and who knows what else we’ll come up with.
The Grand Prize is valued at nearly $500—not including the happy hour prize because who knows how much that’ll save you over a year!? New Tripsters will receive invitations to the annual Cosmic Tripster Party in spring 2015.
We’ve met some fun and interesting Tripsters so far on this journey, and I’ve noticed that people generally fall into one of two categories when it comes to strategy. Either they want to see how fast they can get through the passports, or they want to take their time and experience as much as they can along the way. My husband and I seem to have settled into the later, although admittedly, the excitement and challenge of completing it fast does have its temptation. The beautiful thing is there’s simply no right or wrong way to be a Tripster. We chose to take our time for two reasons. First: time and cost. We can spend a lot of money in a hurry on all that great food and drink, hotel stays, concerts etc., and it takes quite a bit of time traveling to all the different McMenamins locations. Second: moderation. We try to strive for moderation and balance in our lives, as well as enjoying our experiences to their fullest. It’s a “stop and smell the roses” mentality.
Our Experience so far…
We’ve had our passports for about three months now, and are enjoying filling them up with stamps and collecting some fun memories along the way. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve experienced so far: Our first stamp came from the Mall 205 Pub in Portland, as previously mentioned. This property was actually in a strip mall and not one of their more memorable locations, except for us, because that’s where we started our journey. On that same trip, we hit two more spots on the way to Victoria, the Olympic Club Hotel in Centralia Washington, and the Spar Café in Olympia Washington.
That night, on the first day of our trip, we stayed in the small town of Centralia at the Peppermill Empress Inn, where we had reservations. To our delight, we found out there was a McMenamins in Centralia, so after dropping our luggage in our room at the Peppermill, we went searching for the Olympic Club Hotel. The Olympic Club is a very cool old hotel nestled in between a row of other historic buildings in downtown Centralia, which has managed to retain its turn of the 20th century charm. If we would have known about tripstering before we planned our trip, we could have stayed there, but as it was, we had to be satisfied with collecting stamps (three at this location) and enjoying some margarita pizza, brews and a bit of fun with the “photo hunt” stamp.
For the photo hunt, Tripsters are given a written clue which is posted at the front desk, in the form of a riddle that you must solve to find the mystery picture. Once you think you’ve found it, you take a photo of yourself with the picture and show it to the staff. If you’re correct you get a stamp, if not, it’s back to the drawing board. The staff will help with additional clues if needed, but I think it’s more fun to try and figure it out on your own. This was a surprisingly entertaining game!
We needed one other stamp, at the Spar Café in Olympia Washington, in order to complete our “Centralia /Olympia” zone and earn our prizes (T-shirts). The plan was to stop in Olympia on the way home from our trip, have dinner and collect our final stamps. But that morning, as we were approaching Olympia, my husband remembered we wouldn’t be coming back through that way. On a whim, we went to the Spar that morning. We didn’t actually buy anything at this location, which I felt a little uncomfortable about, but the staff didn’t think anything of it. The waitress said, “Oh, you’re Tripsters!” and hurried to stamp our passports and get the box of t-shirts for us to pick from. Everyone has been so nice at each stop, which is part of what makes tripstering such a great experience!
The Lighthouse Pub in Lincoln City, on the Oregon coast, was not old but still had that funky McMenamins charm. It was two stories, as many of their pubs are, and had a distinctive nautical theme. We did a photo hunt in order to claim our prize since it was the only pub in its zone. The photo hunts are in historic hotels unless there is only one pub in a zone, in which case, the photo hunt is added in order to get the prize. It was a blast running around looking for the mystery picture, and I felt so proud because I was the one to solve the riddle on that occasion—my husband couldn’t figure it out. Not long after, we ran up to Vancouver Washington while we were in Portland for the day (Vancouver is just across the bridge), and had lunch at the East Vancouver Brewpub. Although we enjoyed the food and drink as always, this wasn’t a particularly memorable location. It does, however, count for half of that zone—only one stamp away from a basket of heavenly Cajun tots!
We’ve gone to both McMenamins in Salem, which completed that zone, and earned us each a prize. Since we live there, we decided to split one prize (a delicious steak sandwich) and save the other for another day. The first location in Salem was Boon’s Treasury. We were already familiar with this place because we went there before we were Tripsters. My husband and I have enjoyed their food and atmosphere in the past, and this time was no exception. We’ve grown quite fond of McMenamins Cajun tots since we started our quest, so we split a large order along with some sliders and beer off the happy hour menu. Boon’s Treasury is a turn of the century building that used to be a bank in its prime. I really enjoy all the old exposed brick at that location.
About a month later, we visited their other Salem property, Thompson Brewery and Public House. This was an old Victorian home built in the 1800s that was converted to a pub. I remember going there many years ago, before McMenamins acquired it, when it was a German restaurant. It has retained that old world charm I remembered, with a twist, of course.
Now, it’s an eclectic mix consisting of "far out" modern posters decorating the walls alongside nostalgic remnants of the home’s past history. It was at Thompson Brewery that we were introduced to Black Widow Porter. This seasonal brew, which they bring back for a limited time around Halloween, was created at this location.
Our next adventure was a wine tour package at the Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, which turned out to be a wonderful weekend getaway. The tour lasted about three hours and consisted of three local wineries, where we sampled select wines and learned a bit about wine making as well as the proper way to drink it. We didn’t get a stamp for the tour, but it was fun and informative just the same. We did, however, receive stamps for the soaking pool (wonderful warm water in a garden landscape, beautiful any time of year) a photo hunt (always loads of fun and a challenge too), and the usual stamps one collects for simply being there. Something I haven’t talked about yet is the experience stamps.
These are separate from the normal stamp collecting and are optional. Each time you collect four experience stamps, you receive a $20 gift card. We managed to get three experience stamps at the Grand lodge which brought our total up to four, so in addition to getting our prizes for that zone (a hotel is usually a zone by itself since there’s so much to do), we also got a gift card. Not too shabby! You can earn experience stamps by playing games, trying a flight of wine, beer or spirits, taking a soak etc. We received ours for playing pinball, trying out the soaking pool (described above) and the hotel stay itself.
When we got home from our weekend, we realized my husband accidentally left his pillow in the room at the Grand Lodge, so the next weekend we drove back to Forest Grove to retrieve his pillow and visited a couple more spots along the way, John Barleycorns in Tigard and Cornelius Pass Roadhouse and Imbrie Hall in Hillsboro.
McMenamins built John Barleycorns in 1996, but it looks much older when you walk in. We learned from our waitress that it was the first location to be built from the ground up.
First, the brewpub’s namesake, John Barleycorn, is a centuries-old icon for whiskey, and more generally, alcoholic beverages of all varieties. Since the 1500s, the saga of John Barleycorn has been told countless times by pontificators, propagandists, storytellers and musicians, ranging from Scotland’s 18th-Century poet, Robert Burns, to the rock band Traffic. (mcmenamins.com)
At this location, we shared an order of Mahi Mahi tacos and a hummus plate, both excellent choices, and we each tried a new brew. All our selections were off of the happy hour menu, a habit we’ve recently adopted as a way to save money so we can go tripstering more often. After we left John Barleycorns, we stopped to pick up my 18 year old stepson in Beaverton where he lives with his mom, so he could go with us to the next location and spend some quality time. So, now with my stepson in tow, we continued on our journey to Cornelius Pass Roadhouse. This spot was indeed a fun surprise.
The property is quite large with several buildings. The original farmhouse, which we learned had been in the Imbrie family for six generations, is used for special events and both indoor and outdoor spaces can be rented for special occasions; in fact, there was a wedding reception taking place while we were there. The Imbrie Hall Pub was built in 2001, but from all repurposed lumber so it still felt aged.
Rooted in the former pioneer farming mecca, now the high tech haven of Hillsboro, this former six-acre farmstead is today a colorful oasis with buildings and barns that date to the mid-1850s. Here you'll also find one of McMenamins' top-producing breweries, and the modern-day Imbrie Hall Pub (built from the timbers of Portland's historic Henry Weinhards brewery). You may also enjoy the cozy wee bar known as the Little White Shed, along with plenty of outdoor summer seating. (mcmenamins.com)
They also have a distillery on site that we were lucky enough to tour that day, and receive an experience stamp, of course. We learned some history and interesting facts about the process of making spirits. It surprised us to learn that the still they use to make the alcohol is from the turn of the century, somewhere between 1890 and WW1 from Cognac France, used to make, you guessed it—cognac.
My husband and I split a distillery flight of whiskey for another experience stamp and shared a basket of our new addiction, the Cajun tots. Two of the whiskey samples were created at Cornelius Pass in the old still from Cognac, and the third was from Edgefield, a sister property. While my husband and I were enjoying our tots and whiskey, my stepson was busy devouring a juicy firehouse burger, some of his own Cajun tots and freshly made apple cider (there’s an apple grove on the property). We then took a personal tour around the buildings, looking at the interesting artifacts they had collected as well as the McMenamins signature art. It was a full and enjoyable day, leaving us with a warm and happy feeling. As we drove home that evening, we discussed our ongoing strategy and laughed about the adventures we’ve had so far while looking forward to all that was yet to come as we continue our journey towards becoming Cosmic Tripsters. The grand prize will be pretty cool as well!