Thursday, May 26, 2011

Checking Out (& In): Hotel Oregon

My latest journalistic triumph, a piece by which all other pieces on fun things to do in the summer will be judged. Published in the May 26, 2011 "101 Things To Do" special section published in Portland Tribune, et al.

Sure, we saw a UFO! McMinnville is rotten with them! Blot out the sun, sometimes, I was told (by the ghost of Heck Harper, at that)!

Nah, no UFOs (though, you know, I’m sure, that possibly the most famous photos of a UFO were taken over a farm near McMinnville in 1950; indeed, some consider the incident the dawn of modern UFO lore).

But like I said, we didn’t see any. McMinnville’s got enough to offer besides flying saucers. Like ghosts!

We spent the night at McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon (host of an annual UFO party, you know, because of the flying saucers I was just writing about). But in the 1980s, folks started observing supernatural incidents, like, uh, well, something like a spice jar of cinnamon winding up next to the onion powder when clearly it HAD been beside the cloves!  I’m not a true skeptic (I’m sort of pessimistic about my skepticism), but I can’t help wondering which came first: John the Ghost or “Ghostbusters” (1984).

Nevertheless, we didn’t catch a glimpse of Ghost John either. The only ghost-like thing I saw was my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I wish a UFO WOULD arrive and bust a hole through the cloud cover! (I’ve petitioned the Oregon State Legislature to replace our current state song with the Walker Brothers’ “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.”)

The promise (who made any promises?) of seeing UFOs or ghosts are, at best, tertiary (nay quaternary!) reasons to visit the Hotel Oregon! First, I recommend booking room 406, the Sally Nicholai room!

Why 406? Because that’s where we stayed. 406 boasts a private bathroom (some other rooms require a shared bath) with a claw foot tub, hot shower, leaning toilet. Leaned about 10 degrees to the right (or left, depending on your juxtaposition). That’s not a complaint. It’s an old hotel and thus, charming. No TV either (whoops! just lost a few readers...), but do you really need that darn thing on all the time? Play a game. We played Farkle as we sipped our pints of Irish Stout, poured from the provided large mason jar (into the two provided pint glasses). We filled it upstairs at the Rooftop Bar.

The Rooftop Bar is named after Rutherford Rooftop, a furrier and statesman from Glens Falls, NY, who... oh, wait, my wife tells me that’s not at all why it’s called the Rooftop Bar. And it’s the Roof Top Bar. Two words. And I’m a moron.

But what a view of downtown McMinnville! “Oregon’s Favorite Main Street” boast the lamppost banners, and who am I to argue? 3rd Street, for instance, easily met our criteria for a desirable street: book store, coffee bistro, old fashioned ice cream shoppe. And apparently a record store, which I’m kicking myself for missing (I was in such a rush to get back to the Roof Top Bar!)

There’s a basement, too, you know. Containing the Cellar Bar. Door was locked, though (else we couldn’t figure out how to open it). And the walls of the hallways are plastered with art. And plaster. But the art really stands out (the only object that stands out farther than the art is the giant urinal in the men’s room outside the first floor elevator).

Anyway, my wife and I had a terrific time walking around town, dining at the hotel, and sleeping comfortably in the Sally Nicolai Room. Waking well-rested, we breakfasted downstairs (yeah, I’ll have the Biscuits & Gravy). Checked out at 11am and drove back to Portland.

As the day was remarkably sunny, we stopped in Lafayette to tread the delightfully creaky floors of School House Antiques. It’s such an endless maze of vintage-infused nooks that I swore I spied the Minotaur admiring a Bakelite cake slicer.

But if that’s not “your thing”, stop at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum to see Howard Hughes “Spruce Goose.” Or for actual fun, the Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark next door, opening June 6.

But mostly, stay the night in room 406, the Sally Nicolai, of the Hotel Oregon. And do me a favor -- check out that painting of her on the wall. Is she wearing a pink hat or is her brain exposed? Ah, McMinnville!

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