The excitement of the last day of school is counting down until that final bell, ringing the official start of summer and sweet freedom. Could anyone imagine staying in school all summer and looking forward to a trip to the principal’s office? At McMenamins Anderson School, everyone wants to stay after class.
Bothell’s first junior high is a portrait of schoolhouse charm, a red brick building with a double-door entrance below the stone placard reading “W. A. Anderson.” Named after Principal Wilbert A. “Andy” Anderson, it was built in 1931. It served the Bothell area for decades as a school, then administrative offices, before it lay empty, slumbering into disrepair, nearly becoming a new business park before the Oregon-based hospitality and brewery company McMenamins swooped in, transforming it into a Hogwarts for beer and cocktail lovers.
McMenamins’ extensive renovation gave Anderson School a second life, opening in 2016 as a boutique hotel, restaurant, and brewery, complete with an indoor pool, movie theater, and several bars tucked throughout the campus. The nearly 5 1/2-acre property is McMenamins’ second-largest of a dozen locations throughout Washington and Oregon (Edgefield, a winery resort outside of Portland, is the biggest), focusing on preserving historic buildings and reinventing them as destination hotels and a showcase for beer, wine, and spirits.
Throughout summer, Anderson School plays host to the Great Northwest Music Tour, presenting free weekly live concerts. Headlining July is the second annual Anderson Summer School Brewfest, a tasting event on July 21 with fellow beer brewers and winemakers. Several thousand people attended last year, and this year’s promises to be even bigger, with the debut of Anderson School’s first canned beer, the Egyptian Cotton IPA.
Given the busy summer and the scale of the campus, who better to provide a cram session tour of the school’s various watering holes than Anderson’s beverage manager Sean Thompson and head brewer Brian Lawrence? Thompson, originally in the health care industry, had a love of mixing cocktails and sought out local breweries on his many business trips.
“Beer was my first passion. It was always about bringing a growler home on the plane,” he recalls. Thompson eventually switched gears to hospitality, getting a formal education as a sommelier before finding his way to Anderson School, which he describes as “literally everything I like and what I’d like to be involved in.”
Lawrence also started out in the wine industry in Napa Valley, but beer was his heart’s true calling, leading him to learn brewing from the ground up. He went to school and worked at notable breweries like Diamond Knot and Scuttlebutt before becoming Anderson School’s head brewer. Fourteen years of experience hasn’t diminished Thompson’s appreciation for beer.
“It’s a balance of science and art,” he explained. “Neither one works on their own; you have to have a combination of both. That’s the thing that excited me the most is that you can learn the science, which for the most part is absolute, and the art is how the person interprets what they want their beer to be, and then you put those two together.”
Tavern on the Square is the main restaurant and dining area, including the rare treasure of a patio open year-round. Originally the school’s cafeteria, it embodies the building’s Art Deco heritage, adorned with Tiffany glass-styled windows and ornate furniture. The seasonal fresh menu is full of Northwest favorites from land and sea, as well as produce grown on-site in the garden.
The brick schoolhouse, now housing more than 70 hotel rooms, retains its academic aura. The stairwell’s wide hardwood handrail bears the wear marks of students rushing up and down the steps, desperately avoiding the late bell. Vintage lamps decorate the ceilings and walls, casting a kaleidoscopic moody glow. Turning a corner, there’s brief anxiety seeing the sign marked “Principal’s Office,” but upon closer look, it’s clear why people want to get sent here. The Principal’s Office serves coffee in the morning, and in the evening becomes a tiny cocktail bar where it’s cool to sign the “Detention List.” Spirits and hand-crafted mixers sit backlit behind the bartop. A chalkboard of “Principal’s Sips” lists a rotating menu of exclusive ciders and signature drinks.
History permeates the campus; rooms are named after alums like U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and former Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, and stories of previous students are told in their own words, framed along hallways.
Images of the school mascot, a bobcat, feature heavily in paintings. It’s also the inspiration behind McMenamins’ Bobcat Pale Ale. Among the artwork is a stern portrait of a man sitting at a desk, with the foreboding title: “The Enforcer.” Thompson recalls seeing an older gentleman looking around, and asked whether he could be of any assistance. The man laughed and said, “‘You may know me as ‘The Enforcer.’” Turns out he was once the vice principal, and the nickname was because he would enforce the school’s dress code, making sure hemlines weren’t too short.
For those who prefer working with their hands over hitting the books, head to the Woodshop. Faint marks of hopscotch and Foursquare courts can be seen on the concrete before entering “shop class.” Several pool and shuffleboard tables fill the saloon-styled bar, making it an ideal hangout to order a beer sampler.
The on-site brewery is a 10-barrel system, larger than the typical six-barrel capacities of other locations, head brewer Brian Lawrence explains. It allows them to keep the whole campus stocked in McMenamins signature suds, as well as room to play. Lawrence remembers one beer experiment where edible glitter was used to make a small batch of sparkly beer. “It goes to show we like creativity,” he laughs. “We’re a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
One of Thompson’s favorite spots, The Shed, is a cozy gem alongside the patio. While not part of the original school, it’s constructed in a way that blends with the surrounding garden, appearing like a groundskeeper’s shed, but walking inside, it’s a quiet respite with a wood-burning fireplace and an equally warming collection of popular and rare whiskeys.
When Thompson has time, he’s behind the bar, mixing craft cocktails, or sitting in on regular Whiskey Talks, where visiting distillers hold informal discussions every other Wednesday. Also a favorite, he says, “It’s really about sitting down with someone over a drink and having a conversation. It’s a back-to-basics kind of thing, and that’s my favorite part of this place.”
Another funky addition was a tiki bar. The North Shore Lagoon’s South Seas Pub overlooks the full-sized heated saltwater pool, and it’s festooned with exotic, kitschy treasures, along with an astonishing collection of rums from around the world. The cocktail menu features tropical fruit juices and a seasonal punch designed to be shared by two or three people.
For all its whimsy, the school’s former life and historic integrity remain. Prior to its renovation, security guards patrolled nightly to prevent vandalism. Near the principal’s office, watchmen claimed to have regularly heard a metallic jangling around 11 p.m. Apparently the school’s janitor, with a cacophony of keys, would patrol the school at that hour, making sure everything was locked up and safe.
Today, the sounds of a busy hotel fill the air, perhaps drowning out any ghostly remnants of the past, or perhaps the spirits are at rest, knowing Anderson School has found new life and a new generation of keepers.
Second Annual Anderson Summer School Brewfest – July 21
Whiskey Talks – every other Wednesday
Great Northwest Music Tour – live music every Friday evening
Beer Tasting in the Woodshop – Thursdays