Since we last saw the progress at McMenamins Elks Temple at the end of January, a lot has changed: drywall — and paint — has replaced what was previously mostly bare beams; hotel rooms have doors, windows, and, in some cases, toilets; and the building’s character has started to shine through as hundreds of antique light fixtures are carefully hung from the ceiling.
By the time the building opens to the public on April 24, there will be more than 1,000 of these unique and interesting light fixtures scattered throughout the 7-story building.
“This building probably has one of the most amazing collections of light fixtures on the west coast,” said Dan McMenamin, son of Mike McMenamin, who cofounded McMenamins with his brother Brian in 1974. “The light fixtures are from all over. You can never come up with enough light fixtures to fill a place if you did it just two or three months out, so we’ve had all of these for probably five years.”
There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than the hanging of chandeliers that weigh hundreds of pounds.
With opening less than two months away, drink and food menus are well underway. In the midst of construction, I got to try cocktail samples from two of the bars: a Mai Thai and a Pisco Sour from The Old Hangout Bar in the basement, and a Lavender Lady from the Spanish Bar located to the side of the concert venue.
The concept behind each drink pairs with the theme of each bar and restaurant in the building, so you can find tapas, bar food, rice bowls, pizzas, boozy milkshakes, and delicate cocktails all under one roof.
An enormous amount of progress has also been made to the 45 hotel rooms in the last month. One in particular caught our attention: The Graffiti Room, which pays homage to the graffiti artists that tagged the inside of the Elks Temple during its 33-year vacancy.
“We actually brought back graffiti artists who did work in here in their youth to do some of the artwork,” said Brian McMenamin, who led the tour with Dan. Doing this, he said, is in line with their intention to honor the history of each of their properties.
The Graffiti Room is one nod to that history for the Elks Temple. Room 201 — which still seems to be in progress as suggested by the box of spray paint on the floor — is covered completely in graffiti, including a few stray lines that cross over its west-facing window.
“Each of our properties is special to the community that it’s in, so we bring the community in by bringing their story in with elements like art,” said Brian.
In Tacoma, this particular element is an accurate embrace of the city’s signature grit.
As the next two months speeds by, more tarps will come down to reveal haunting murals and more light fixtures will go up to bring eclectic rooms to life. The construction process, which has been under way for 15 months on a building that the brothers have owned for over a decade, is finally reaching its conclusion.
“We’re over budget and out of time,” said Brian with a smile and a shrug. “But, you know, it’s a labor of love.”