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Previous Pint Pleasures - May 1998

Guinness Eileen

McMenamin's, 200 Roy Street, Suite 105, Lower Queen Anne

It was a slow Wednesday afternoon when I recently stopped in at McMenamin's. Since this is my neighborhood brewpub, I try to stop by as often as possible. Sadly they had nothing cask-conditioned, which is my favorite way to drink American microbrews. Terminator Stout was on nitro, as it usually is. So I ordered a pint of Ananda IPA, which is so hoppy it's almost spicy, similar to many of the Northern California IPAs I've tasted. My favorite of the McMenamin's IPAs, Tasmanian, is available only at certain times of the year, but it's always well worth the wait. McMenamin's usual standbys include Hammerhead Ale (4.7% ABV), which is my favorite of the regulars (excellent on cask!) as well as Terminator Stout (5.1%) and Ruby Ale (3.3%). The seasonal brews on tap this afternoon also included Nebraska Bitter (3.6%), which I find a tad weak and disappointing, Say What Wheat, Whiplash Porter, and Weissen Bock. Other interesting seasonal beers include Black Rabbit Porter (4.4%) and St. Patrick's Day Raspberry Stout (4.9%).

According to the menu Ananda means "a transcendent state of joy". My first sip -- although not as perfect an experience as a first sip of cask-conditioned Tasmanian -- sparkled gold glitter across my tongue as my inner sinuses dreamt of French toast and hot scones. The brew leaves a layer of mylar across the visual palate, with rich mellow bass pipes flushing a pleasant breeze underneath. And the turquoise and green paisley swirls that curl down the throat awaken those long-sleeping tonsil scars (at least for me -- I've been missing my tonsils since the age of 4). Yes, Ananda IPA is hoppy like a bunny-rabbit hopped up on a quadruple short cappuccino.

McMenamin's on Roy Street -- the first of the Oregon chain of brewpubs to appear in Seattle -- also offers McMenamin's own Edgefield wines. As I recall, the Black Rabbit Red is quite good. The 16-ounce pints of their own beers are $3.00, half-pints $1.10, and pitchers are $8.25. Happy Hour prices are available 4:00 to 7:00 on weekdays, when pints are $2.00 apiece. And if you'd like a pint of something non-McMenamin's, they always have several guest pints on tap.

The food at this McMenamin's is okay -- fairly average, actually, except for the fries that are a bit greasy but always plentiful and good. And the desserts are from Caffé Ladro, so they're probably quite good, although I normally don't feel like sweets when I'm drinking beer. If you must have dinner here, I'd probably recommend the Portobello mushroom pasta, or perhaps a quesadilla or grilled cheese sandwich. But since I consider the food to be average and the beer to be often quite good, I'm not going to waste any more time talking about food. This is a place to drink beer.

The McMenamin's chain started out in Oregon, where they currently own 36 pubs. In 1995 they started expanding into the state of Washington and now offer 6 brewpubs, 4 in the Seattle area. All the brewpubs are designed with respect to the building they reside in. Since this particular McMenamin's opened in a brand new building with apartments on the top, the outside is fairly plain-looking. The decor inside, however, is much more interesting: the typical Deadhead-style murals and motifs cover the walls, ceilings, venting, and any other available surface. There are huge wooden booths, each one big enough to seat perhaps ten normal-sized people -- or two elephants -- comfortably. So hogging one all to my skinny measly self is always a treat on these quiet afternoons.

The eastern windows offer a view of Third Avenue North and the parking lots across the street; from the southern windows you can gaze upon our neighborhood's impromptu goose/duck/seagull/crow pond across the street from the Opera House and the Intiman Theatre. And there's one small table on the western wall that is a great place to seat Seattle visitors: you get a perfect view of the Space Needle. Since McMenamin's is so close to Seattle Center it's likely to be packed immediately before and after sporting events at the Key Arena, not to mention plays, concerts, ballets, and festivals at Seattle Center. But other times, like this particular afternoon, it can be a very quiet and peaceful place. It was also one of the few places open in the neighborhood during the New Year's 1997 blizzard.

Since this is my neighborhood pub -- situated a convenient two blocks from my home -- it's a perfect place for me to pop in for a quick pint. I used to run down here late at night with my neighbor Lou Anna when one, or both, of us had experienced a particularly stressful day. We'd also run down here late at night for a pint or two if we were feeling particularly bored, thirsty, or talkative. Of course I suppose we'd also come here when we were perfectly content and satisfied, too; it's just a good place to come late at night. If Lou Anna hadn't moved to Berkeley this year, we might well be heading down there tonight for a beer. Or even as I speak.

Neighborhood pubs are good for that, as many folks in the UK have known for years. I remember sitting in a crowded, noisy McMenamin's one evening with my visiting friend Mistah Rick after a hockey game. When the fans at the booth behind us got so loud and rowdy they were drowning out our conversation, Mistah Rick took the challenge, stood up, and loudly recited a passage from "King Lear". It worked; the sports fans quieted instantly, probably from completely bewilderment.

In Ray Oldenburg's book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through The Day (Marlow & Company, 1997), the term third place is described as "a generic designation for a great variety of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home [the First Place] and work [The Second Place]." Although McMenamin's on Roy Street isn't quite a "third place" as defined, it's probably the closest things I have to one (besides perhaps Caffé Vita over on 5th North). Even though I don't recognize regular customers or know anybody's names, there are two or three original bartenders at McMenamin's whom I always recognize and who usually recognize me -- and these are the ones who are serious about good beer.

While I'm on the subject of Oldenburg's book, he points out a French phenomenon that is evident in certain parts of Seattle but sadly lacking on Lower Queen Anne's Roy Street: that of the sidewalk cafe. He describes it as follows:

"Le bistro consists of an outdoor and one or two indoor areas, the most important being the terrasse, or the outdoor tables, chairs, and that portion of the sidewalk upon which this furniture is placed. Where the sidewalks are spacious, the terrasse area is expanded or retracted to meet customer need. In some of the more popular resort areas, terrasse seating may extend as much as fifty feet from the entrance proper.

"The dominance of the sidewalk area is evident in several ways. Cafes or bistros are often referred to as terrasses, and it is the unusual place that can succeed without providing outdoor seating."

In Seattle there are a number of bars and restaurants in Pioneer Square, as well as in certain parts of downtown, that feature these terrasses. On pleasant days they entice passers-by to enter the establishment and enjoy an al fresco drink or meal while observing the city and its sidewalk life. Many American cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, offer sidewalk cafes. I can't understand why my neighborhood doesn't have more. On busy event nights at Seattle Center a lot of traffic passes down Roy Street. The drivers are looking not only for places to park but for nice spots to have dinner or drinks before and after the events. There are a number of eateries in a five-block stretch of Roy, including Bahn Thai, the Mediterranean Kitchen, Ozaki, the Bamboo Garden, Thai Heaven, the Roy Street Bistro, and McMenamin's. But the only two places that offers sidewalk seating are Caffé Ladro, which is a coffeehouse, and Baskin-Robbins. Recently the Shoo-Bee-Doo Diner closed down after a surprisingly brief existence. I think the neon-decked diner was doomed because it simply had no profile; from half a block away you couldn't even see the place. If it had set out a few sidewalk tables it would probably still be there.

But enough of this; right now I'd rather be sitting in a sidewalk cafe than talking about one. Actually I'd rather be sitting in McMenamin's, sidewalk cafe or not, enjoying a pint of Tasmanian IPA or cask-conditioned Hammerhead, and perhaps a basket of fries.