Monday, September 21, 2009

Edgefield: A libation Disneyland that evokes a time and place that never existed

TROUTDALE, Oregon – It is an example of either the promise or irony of American capitalism – perhaps both – that a former poor farm in suburban Portland, Oregon is now a veritable Disneyland of adult beverages.

This is not, of course, how the McMenamins company bills the place. On a vast but somehow intimate complex of 74 acres in Troutdale, Oregon, the company’s Edgefield includes restaurants, lodging, a spa, theater, stores and conference facilities and a of tiny par three golf course that requires only a wedge and putter. But the clear attractions are a brewery, distillery and winery that provide libations within a short stumble of nearly any location on what used to be the Multnomah County Poor Farm.

McMenamins runs hotels and brew pubs throughout the greater Portland area and its management is clearly very clever, indeed. Back around the turn of the 20th century, Edgefield was the place to which poor people were sent if they couldn’t pay their bills. They lived on site and worked the surrounding farmland.

Back in the 1990s, McMenamins turned the place into a destination spot, ingeniously planting a couple small vineyards to make the ambiance complete. The grounds are covered in an immense variety of plant life, and the old buildings – on the National Register of Historic buildings – have been beautifully restored. But let us talk of booze.

On site, the McMenamins brews huge quantities of beer, ferments similarly large quantities of wine, and distills gin, whiskey and various other high-proof liquors. While the place has a family quality about it, the per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages on location must be off the charts. There are 10 pubs and bars on the premises.

Do not misunderstand – making a point of the availability and variety of libation is not a complaint. It just is what it is.

The afternoon and evening of our visit, a Saturday in last summer, the place was jumping with at least one wedding and a number of other events. Most summer weekends there is a concert at an outdoor venue at Edgefield, and we’re not talking some lounge singer or washed up has been. Most of the acts are first rate and well known, attracting up to 5,000 people. There are even a glass shop and pottery shop where they make their own products.

Lest you think that Edgefield is some sort of five-star, hoity-toity place that looks down its nose at the sorts of people who once inhabited it, you should know that a good share of the rooms do not have a bathroom “en suite” – you must trudge down the hall for those facilities. The restaurants are varied, but the menus generally are modestly priced. In general, most things are inexpensive and not aimed at the country club set.

Also, to be fair, McMenamins clearly takes great care and undoubtedly spends a lot of money in creating and sustaining this environment and the others the company has established. If you pay close attention, you can see how Edgefield is constructed combining gardens, artwork and meticulous restorations to evoke a particular feeling of nostalgia for a time and place that likely never really existed, and that is part of its genius. Even the parking lots are relatively small and carefully spaced to create a sense of intimacy despite the fact that, on our visit, every space was full and there must have been many hundreds of people on site.

In short, Edgefield feels like an everyman’s resort, accessible and affordable but impeccably groomed and carefully managed to great effect. And that’s not a bad thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment