Hello from the History Department –

You may have heard about the diminutive 5th floor at the Elks Temple? – we even named a beer after it. But what it lacks in square footage, it makes up in lovely artwork by McMenamins artist Cleo Hehn, depicting several of the company’s most important influences and inspirations. The 5th floor captures history that stretches back to the mid-1980s and continues to bubble and resonate to this day.

On your next trip to the Elks Temple in Tacoma, take some time to appreciate the tale being told…

You have arrived – this space in which you are standing is all that remains of what was once planned to be the 5th floor. And then plans changed, as they tend to do. But look around! – we’ve packed a lot into this small space. Be forewarned: once you ascend or descend, even one step, you’ve left it all behind. So, before you go, here’s a story…

In the mid-1980s, John Zimmerman, a McMenamins regular at our Hillsdale Brewery & Public House in southwest Portland, alerted us about an estate sale featuring a number of items that might be of interest to us. He was right, of course – it was the estate sale of his father, Max Zimmerman, who had recently passed away. Max had been a well-respected, much-celebrated brewmaster for Blatz in the Midwest and then for Blitz-Weinhard in Portland. His house and most of the furnishings and goods within were being sold.

So, Mike McMenamin, our company co-founder, looked upon the many wonderful items at the old brewmaster’s home and gleaned some storied pieces – an old tank became a brewing mashtun; pages from brewery-related books now adorn pub walls; and bowls and glassware still serve family parties at the McMenamins household.

But perhaps most important, Max Zimmerman’s estate yielded one fabulous and incredible treasure: an unopened wooden case of 1945 Lanson French Champagne. Can you even imagine? 1945 was possibly the finest vintage of the century in France. It was the end of the war. It was French Independence. And the wine was in great condition but for two bottles; ten were perfect. Bubbles from heaven; we thank you, Max.

For ten years straight, this Champagne was the foundation ingredient of our legendary Barley Mill Pub Anniversary Ale, brewed at the Hillsdale Pub once a year, in which songs are sung and poems read and secret ingredients added into the brew. Remarkably, the last bottle of Lanson went ceremoniously into the Anniversary Ale in 1995, exactly fifty years after the end of WWII.1995 was also the year that Jerry Garcia, singer-songwriter and guitarist with the Grateful Dead, passed away. If you have been to one of our joints before, you may know that the Dead (with their iconic roses and Uncle Sam skeleton and dancing bear imagery) have long served as powerful inspiration – their music, lyrics and philosophy have danced and rambled their way right into our company culture, not to mention into our murals (look around you), stained glass, sculpture and beyond.

So, yes, 1995 was the end of an era, but the start of something new. As Mike McMenamin recalls, “During that ten-year stretch [from ’86 to ’95] we went from burgers and fries to delving into history, restoration, live music, movies, catering, gardens, brewing, winemaking – in effect, we were evolving into a company of giving and not just taking. I guess when you introduce a product to the mix like 1945 Lanson you can’t be doing any kind of a flyweight program. Working with vintage (great) pieces – light fixtures, buildings, architectural elements – coaches you in a way to get serious about what you are doing. To bring quality to the party, so to speak. It took awhile for us to realize this but by gum we’ve caught on.”

And what better place to embody that elusive, transitional magic than on a floor that doesn’t really exist? That, friends, is the story depicted here on the 5th. Cheers.

1 Comment

  1. Teresa Smith on June 19, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    This is wonderful! Such thought and artistry and the information is great. Thanks!

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