It was an unusually cold and fog-less night with no threat of rain as I parked my old BMW Z4 with the top down in front of 565 Broadway and walked a short distance to the famous giant old white Tacoma building that for decades served as Elks B.P.O.E. #174.
The building was constructed in 1916 and is now called McMenamins Elks Temple. After decades of serving as one of the largest Elks Clubs in America, the building went dark. It fell into a state of disrepair, ultimately becoming an active target for vandalism on a grand scale. The antlers on the elk heads that decorated the outside of the building were destroyed by vandals.
Rumors have it former presidents of the Elks Club, who have long since died, often return to haunt the building after dark.
McMenamins, known for its unique establishments throughout the country, bought the derelict building and then performed a miraculous renovation bringing the building back to its old glory. No one else seemed to be able to accomplish what seemed impossible. McMenamins is a strong force to be reckoned with demonstrating the adage, “The difference between that which is doable and that which is impossible, is the impossible takes just a little longer to accomplish.
The building with McMenamins at the helm features five restaurants and five bars. Each of the five locations is full of lively customers, but not so crowded as to prevent just one or two more from joining in on the fun.
My reason for traveling to the building was because I had met a new friend, Donny Boston, at the Topside Coffee Cabin (TCC). Donny and I traded phone numbers with the promise to meet sometime.
A few days later, Donny called and asked if I would like to join him at the Old Elks Lodge in Tacoma. I agreed, and we arranged to meet just inside the door of the hotel lobby.
I arrived early and tried out what I call the King’s chair while waiting for Donny.
It was not long before I spotted Donny’s smiling face coming through the hotel lobby archway.
I asked Donny which of the five bars he wanted to try. He got this funny look on his face and said, “Follow me.”
We ignored the elevator climbing several flights of stairs towards our unknown destination. As we turned the corner at the top of the stairwell, we came to what I thought was a dead-end to the staircase. On the stair landing to the right, was a restroom with W/C initials on the door which communicate the old term water closet. Straight ahead was a nicely decorated paneled wall.
This is where my story takes a turn towards the macabre. Donny comanded that I follow him as he pushed open a secret door that led us through what I initially thought was a solid wall.
We walked down a dark hallway painted with a psychedelic motif. I became uncomfortable, but then thought to myself, what could go wrong?
Donny explained that we were going into a fun, hidden, secret bar. Once inside, I noticed the usual din of barroom conversation. Twenty or so patrons were sitting at tables drinking as they talked and laughed.
We grabbed a small round table in the corner. I ordered an Old Fashioned, which our bartender, David, told us was the house specialty. Donny ordered a Whiskey Sour.
As my eyes adjusted to the dark ambiance of the secret bar, I noticed there were no windows. When I looked back from where we had entered the bar, I could no longer see the doorway we had used to access the secret bar. Moments ago the door had been right there.
What I saw next really struck me hard. I began to panic and felt a shortness of breath. I had to fight, not passing out. It was like a nightmare. Every single person in the bar had only one arm. When I was in college, I had a friend, Dean, who at age 12, had been struck by a train leaving him with only one arm. A missing limb would not have unnerved me, but every single bar patron was missing their left arm.
I took a big gulp of my Old Fashioned. The room began to spin. I started to feel light-headed. The place went dark, and I passed out.
When I came to lying face down on the floor, I looked at my watch. Four and a half hours had slid by. Everyone in the secrete bar had disappeared including all the customers, Dave the bartender, and Donny.
I low crawled across the floor, and upon reaching the wall, I felt along the edge until I found the hidden door that allowed me to access the psychedelic hallway. Still half-dazed, I found the next secret door, which allowed me to walk back through the wall into the stairwell that returned me to the King’s chair.
How can this phenomenon be explained? What does my having a missing left arm mean? I, being the analytical person I am, can only come up with one explanation. My readers might come up with an alternative idea to explain my surreal and tragic life experience.
Here is what I figure. McMenamins Elks Temple is one of the best choices in our entire country to see and be seen along with the best place to eat and drink because unlike restaurants such as Chef Masayoshi Takayama’s Columbus Circle in Manhattan, New York City, or our own Canlis Restaurant in Seattle, both of which charge an arm and a leg, McMenamins Elks Temple only charges an arm.
You have to hand it to me. I single handedly wrote a creative pre-Covid-19 story that, if for only a moment, I hope takes your mind off being held as a Covid-19 prisoner over at your house.
Do you realize how hard it is to type a Westside Story with only one hand on the keyboard?