Tuesday morning, half an hour or so before the Eureka Inn's big grand reopening shindig. A few workmen pass back and forth in the grande old damme's neatly but sparsely refurbished lobby, on their way to one task or another. A very eager and enthusiastic young woman manned the front counter, unsure about when the dignitaries were supposed to be arriving. She said that just one room had so far been booked for that night, the historic hotel's first night in business since 2004. This would be the softest of launches.
After a few minutes, out came Inn owner Libo Zhu, dressed to the nines for the occasion. His front desk receptionist, whose love for the building seemed to match its owner's, fawned over him for a moment. He smiled his big smile. Everyone who has met Zhu seems to be instantly struck with the notion that they have just met the world's nicest fellow. But then another notion strikes: Is the poor guy in over his head?
The man himself makes no bones. "We're looking for financing," he said from behind the counter, eyes searching his interlocutor's face to gauge whether his meaning has survived his badly broken English. "We need to polish the hotel. If we get money, we will be all the way back quickly."
Zhu closed escrow on the Inn the very day that Merrill Lynch crashed, he said, and he wouldn't be able to spend much more of his own savings in restoring the place. Already he has addressed the building's chronic plumbing problems. There's a new boiler and a new laundry facility, he said. Still to come, though, are the restaurant, the bar, the meeting rooms and finishing touches on the half of the Inn's 100 rooms that are not yet open for rental. He opened the Inn for now, with rooms at bargain prices, because he needs the cash flow.
More to the point, though: He needs capital. There have been some talks with the Hilton chain. Zhu said that they want to see the Inn brought up to snuff -- not total Hiltonian luxury, just a decent level of customer comfort -- before they think about investing. He has high hopes.
And they may be well founded, for all I know. But I made a suggestion to Zhu on Tuesday, and now I would like to make the same suggestion to the public at large: Instead of the Hilton or Hyatt or Holiday Inn, turn your attention to McMenamins, the extraordinary hotel, restaurant and entertainment chain out of Oregon. For one, the McMenamin brothers are far more likely than the big boys to take an interest in the historic Inn. Also, they are far more likely to know what to do with it, because they've done similar things with similar buildings all over the Pacific Northwest. Lastly: Eureka as a whole would reap massive cultural and economic rewards from welcoming a McMenamins, rewards that go far beyond the flat bed taxes that the likes of Hilton would offer.
Anyone who's ever stayed at a McMenamins hotel -- most of which are just as old and historic and central to their communities as the Inn is to ours -- will tell you that it is an extraordinary experience. Here you are in some grand old building, which looks as it did 100 years ago -- and yet it is full of youth and life! It's not a stuffy museum, a tribute to a glorious bygone era; it is that era revivified. People are dining, drinking, dancing, going out for a night on the town in high style.
How does McMenamins do it? Simple: They know their audience. Unlike the Hilton or what have you, they don't assume that their places are for the extraordinarily rich and/or old. They keep their accommodations simple, as they used to be -- European-style, rather than reverse-engineered for every ridiculous modern American convenience. They serve quality food that average people can afford. They don't book cold, retro jazz Muzak combos; they book touring bands that someone under 40 might be excited to see. In every town they are in, they are centers of living culture.
We are hungry for just such a place. In years past, this community has come together to rally for Trader Joe's, or Costco gas pumps, or for Google's high-speed fiber optic lines. None of those things, up to and including Google fiber, would bring anywhere near the massive cultural benefits that a Eureka Inn/McMenamins alliance would bring to the county. I hereby pledge to do whatever I can do to make such a thing happen, and I'm asking for your pledge to do the same.
The campaign begins here! Draft McMenamins!