A Playground of Food and Booze

Photo courtesy of McMenamins

With the Anderson School, McMenamins goes big in Bothell

As of mid-October, the home of Washington’s Garden of Earthly Delights is Bothell. Yes, Bothell: the white-picket-fenced bedroom community 25 minutes northeast of Seattle you mistakenly drove through that one time on your way back from Stevens Pass. Heretofore Bothell hasn’t been much of a destination to anyone but the 33,000 people who reside there. That’s about to change now that McMenamins has come to town.

Unlike Sub Pop or Red Hook, McMenamins doesn’t enjoy the status of an iconic regional brand, but it is exactly that. Founded by two brothers in 1985 with a single brewpub in Portland—one of the first of the microbrew boom—McMenamins now operates more than 60 beer-centric locations in Oregon and Washington. (Check out Six Arms in Capitol Hill and McMenamins Queen Anne, the company’s enduring locations in Seattle.) Their beers, which are almost always brewed on-site, are mostly British-style ales, highlighted by the famous Terminator Stout. They’re uniformly good, occasionally excellent.

But early on McMenamins had a broader vision. Their ventures now include distilleries, restaurants, movie theaters, concert venues and boutique hotels spread far and wide across two states. Each of these locations adheres to a signature aesthetic, a funky, post-hippie mélange of Deadhead iconography, tarot-card chic, steampunk whimsy and fairytale-cottage comfort. It’s a particularly Northwest vibe specific to the post-Reagan era, but thanks to the company’s reverence for history, the feel is timeless.

To that end, McMenamins is also in the business of preserving historic structures. Eighteen of their locations are on the National Register of Historic Places. The new Bothell spot, which occupies a three-story brick school built in 1931 plus a few surrounding buildings, is not. But in developing the property, McMenamins made sure the school’s institutional memory remained. This food-n-booze playground—called the Anderson School—is as much an outpost of the ever-expanding McMenamins empire as a thread in the fabric of local history.

Anderson School sits on five acres just off I-522 in downtown Bothell. It comprises a hotel, first-run movie theater, 700-person event space, small brewery, several restaurants and bars, and a giant indoor soaking pool. The buildings orbit a central courtyard where tall old pines loom and, on the evening of my visit, fires burned in several wrought-iron pits scattered under the trees, scenting the air with wood smoke. At the Wood Shop—a spacious wood-paneled sports bar and game room that was once an actual wood shop—I ordered an Oktoberfest Lager (excellent) and took it to go. You can stroll around the grounds with a full pint glass in hand, like a real adult.

Each of the hotel’s 72 guest rooms is half a former classroom, now named after someone from local history. Their names are painted on the doors and their stories printed and framed nearby: Columbus S. Greenleaf was the first white settler in the Bothell area. Roger Fisher and Steve Fossen, the guitarist and bassist for Heart, grew up in nearby Kenmore. Charlotte Davis coached the first U.S. Olympic synchronized swimming team in 1984, taking them out of Bothell and to the gold in LA. (More on that in a minute.) Bernie Ackerman taught music at Bothell High for 30 years. Tonight, Ackerman, a robust 85 years old, posed for photos in front of a painted portrait of himself hanging in the hallway outside his namesake guest room.

“Who is that dude?” he laughed at his younger self. Down the hall, he pointed out another portrait: Patty Murray, Washington’s first female senator, Bothell High class of 1968. “She played oboe for me,” Ackerman said.

The rooms are modest and cozy, each appointed with different fresco-style murals, vintage-looking furniture and hand-painted headboards. A central staircase connects the floors (if you attended public school, you know the type) and at the top of the stairs is a tiny bar, maybe 50 square feet, called the Principal’s Office, because that’s what it was. Inside, a young woman served espresso, wine and draft beer and cider, all made by McMenamins. You’re never more than a few steps away from fresh draft beer here.

Between the event space—which used to be the gym and will now host live music several nights a week as well as weddings and conferences—and the movie theater, I lost count of the unique, ornate chandeliers throughout the compound. Between outdoor fire pits, the massive hearth inside The Tavern on the Square, the “upscale restaurant” that occupies the former cafeteria, and The Shed, the elfin, fireplace-lit bar in the middle of the courtyard, I stumbled on multiple opportunities to enjoy a libation beside a roaring fire. The idea behind these intimate spaces is to offer a place for discovery and to force people to commune with the environment and each other—beer in hand, of course.

Across the parking lot is a sprawling concrete box that once contained an Olympic-size pool where Davis coached her champion synchronized swimmers. Now it’s the South Seas Lagoon, a five-feet-deep saltwater pool warmed to an amniotic 90 degrees. Bamboo accents and emerald-green foliage surround crystal-blue water; torrents splash down into the pool from long bamboo chutes overhead; the skylights are actually open to the sky. One floor above, a richly detailed tiki bar looks over the water through plate glass windows. Here they serve Polynesian-style food and 50 kinds of rum from around the world, including several made by McMenamins.

Hanging out next to the pool, Barbra Shelton, the middle-aged, newly hired pool manager, was taken with the grand-opening hoopla. Along with her dive-coaching duties at several area schools, she’ll lead swimming classes for locals and guests at the Anderson School.

“As tight as Bothell is, we’ve never had a hub,” she said. “That’s what this is.”