30 Years at the Corvallis Pub

“We used to be very busy at the Corvallis Pub in those days, as well. I’ll never forget telling people it was going to be an hour-and-a-half wait for a table and another hour wait for food, and they say, ‘Great! throw me on the list.’ You know you have a good thing going at that point.”
– Wade Williams, formerly at Corvallis Pub, now at McMenamins on Monroe

McMenamins Corvallis Third Street Pub turns 30! Wow! It’s been tremendous getting to know and serve all of the locals over the years here, as well as the rest of you from all corners of the earth, sharing stories, live music, fun events, great beer, wine, spirits, and food. We’re so grateful to you and also to our staff, some of whom have been working here for 10 and 15 years – and even a quarter century. We can’t wait for the next chapters to unfold and we’re excited to have you join the fun!

The Corvallis Pub debuted in 1991, but its foundation runs deeper: A century earlier, this riverfront neighborhood was home to many of the community’s early settlers. Pioneer Robert Buchanan had come to Benton County in the early 1850s, establishing a farm just south of present-day Corvallis. Then in the mid-1880s, he and his family moved to a new “town home” here on the future pub site. Today, Buchanan descendants own and operate Tyee Wine Cellars, on the old family farmstead south of town.

Beginning in the late 1960s, a new wave of development changed the face of old town Corvallis. A much larger, more modern bridge was built across the Willamette River into downtown, and old structures such as the Buchanan home came down, replaced by new commercial structures.

The building that rose on the former Buchanan home site looked exactly like an “olde British pub;” unbelievably, however, it initially housed a realty office. That “error” was corrected in 1972, when it was reborn as the Tower of London Pub. It quickly became a favorite for many locals and visitors. Specialties were fish and chips, other traditional pub food, and drinks.

Mike McMenamin recalled that he and Mary Alice were students at Oregon State at that time, and they did go to the Tower of London occasionally, but it wasn’t a student hangout. Closer to campus, Price’s Tavern, was where you’d find the college crowd out for a beer or two, he said (however, Mike, definitely took notice of the Tower’s array of vintage concert posters that adorned the walls there at the time). The Tower was more for parents, faculty, and business folks – especially from the local Hewlett Packard plant – wanting a full lunch or dinner. And of course, on OSU home football game days, the pub was packed.

After a successful run of a decade or more, the Tower of London’s owner, Gary Baker, ran into financial troubles that brought a halt to the business. And in 1988, after 16 years, the Tower was no more.

Meanwhile, Mike McMenamin and brother Brian had been keeping an eye on opportunities for a pub in their old college town. Nothing seemed like the right fit, though. But when the former Tower of London building became available, that got the brothers excited!

Just before the April 4, 1991 opening of McMenamins Corvallis Pub, the company had an employee party to celebrate. For inspiration and fun, Mike played a recording of the great John Coltrane’s side-long album track, “Olé.” It sailed, reverberated and cast a spell around the pub’s varied spaces and demanded to be repeated… 15 times, at least! We’ll never know for certain, but it would seem that Trane’s spirited opus remains to this day within the walls of the Corvallis Pub.

The grand opening didn’t go without some hitches (to say the least): Old fans of the Tower came out in droves, and orders for fish & chips were through the roof. There was a two-hour wait for food…and the batter wasn’t sticking to the fish. And that was just one of the challenges that general manager Mike Raleigh recalled with a half smile/half scowl.

Scott Mitchell, who managed the pub in the mid-90s, recalled some peculiarities among Corvallis folks he encountered. There seemed to be a general refusal to cut stems off the spinach leaves. Then there was Jim, a local fruit vendor that supplied the pub. He insisted on personally driving as far away as Spokane to pick up produce. Scott appreciated the quest for the best quality and price, but wondered if it really penciled-out for Jim.

The Corvallis Pub’s Oktoberfests have always brought a crowd and lots of fun, featuring live music, a special menu and beers. But in 1995, all attendance records were smashed because of the fantastic performances by local Oregon musical heroes, Higher Ground and the Pagan Jug Band. It may still stand as being the busiest day in the pub’s history.

Similarly, St. Patrick’s Day has become a “must-do” among the many friends and regulars of the pub. Wade Williams, Corvallis manager in the early 2000s, has a strong and ultimately positive memory of the first time a bagpiper came to perform at the pub on St. Paddy’s Day. “When he started playing,” Wade recalled, “it was a little shocking in that small front bar area. I asked that he go outside and play instead. Realizing that was a pretty harsh request, I then asked the customers to come out and listen to him. And it turned out to be a really cool moment!” And remains an enduring, and quirky, tradition at the pub.

Dan McMenamin, the first of the McMenamins’ second generation to come to work within the fold, has some great stories of his first days at the Corvallis Pub, when he was at Oregon State University. Jeff Campbell, a longtimer at the pub, was about to break ties to go to Stanford University. For Dan’s training, “Jeff turned around from the grill, squinted at me over his glasses and said, ‘There is the slicer. Instructions are on the wall. Don’t hurt yourself. It’s not rocket science.’”

Then, Dan continues, during his first day serving, one of the other pub veterans/trainers said, “Here is a notepad. There is a table. Go help them.” Later there was a Dad’s Weekend in town and the pub got slammed. Dan got called in to do extra prep and he proceeded to slice his finger open on the slicer. “We needed all the help we could get,” he recalled, “so I put on this finger sleeve thingy, and a lot of cotton gauze and duct tape… essentially creating one of those giant foam fingers, like they sell at the ballpark. It was ‘Number 1 Prep’ the rest of the day and open season on teasing the new guy!”

While we do put employees through their paces, so as to provide the best service possible to our customers, we also feel like we are gathering with friends each day. There develops a strong relationship between the pubsters and those folks who come in frequently, if not daily, for a meal, a drink, or just to share time with us. Here’s to our Regulars, including Mike & Denny, Ray & Sheri, Patty & David, and Barney!

“These people felt so comfortable at the pub that it was hard for them not to throw more wood on the fire. They really felt that they were in their own living room with friends.”
– Jackie Lagerquist, formerly at Corvallis Pub, now at McMenamins on Monroe, marveling at how many longtime regulars that the Corvallis Pub has.

And finally, one very special shout out to Randy Lettkeman, the most-tenured pubster at Corvallis. He is coming up on 25 years there! Sláinte!

 

1 Comment

  1. Steven Michael Anderson on April 28, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    Happy Birthday!

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