Set in a former elementary school, McMenamins Kennedy School now serves as one of Portland’s most delightfully unusual lodging options, complete with a soaking pool, movie theater, several bars and restaurants and an on-site brewery. As you explore the classrooms-turned-bedrooms and boiler-room-turned-bar, keep an eye out for whimsical details in the century-old building.
Once a site for 20th-century carnivals, McMenamins Kennedy School retains its reputation for A+ fun more than a century later. Today, the former elementary school is one of the city’s most entertaining spots, offering bars, a movie theater, lodging and more. Don’t worry about getting lost on your first day: Here, wandering the halls brings rewards — not write-ups.
Kennedy School History
Located in Northeast Portland near the Alberta Arts District, the Kennedy School’s Italian Renaissance-style building was originally constructed in 1915. It served as a public elementary school until 1975, when it closed and sat vacant for decades. The McMenamin brothers — founders of Oregon’s first post-Prohibition brewpub — began restoration efforts in 1997, when the building was on the brink of demolition. Today, traces of the Kennedy’s scholastic past are hidden in its decoration: Elementary workbook pages are repurposed as wallpaper, old class photos and yearbook pages are framed and hung, and murals depict former students and teachers.
Kennedy School Food & Drink
Delicious drinking and dining options await at six venues tucked throughout the Kennedy School’s spacious 4-acre grounds. The main eatery is the laid-back Courtyard Restaurant, situated in the former cafeteria and touched-up with a plant-filled patio and a towering fireplace.
Across the hall, the rum-happy Cypress Room occupies a one-time classroom and serves snacks, tropical cocktails and “transfer student beers” from the likes of Oregon’s Fort George and Ninkasi breweries.
Seeking something more intimate? Escape to the classic cocktail stylings of the shoebox-sized, tapestry-covered Detention Bar, or to the operatic soundtrack of the equally tiny Honors Bar. If you’re still looking to get into trouble, make a beeline for the two-story Boiler Room, which keeps the fun rolling past bedtime with pool, shuffleboard and an old-fashioned jukebox.
Extracurricular Activities at Kennedy School
On top of endless in-house bar-crawl options, the Kennedy School’s much-loved amenities also draw neighbors and visitors alike. Learn about the process behind McMenamins’ pints with the on-site brewery tour (and don’t think too much about the fact that the brewery is located in a former lavatory). Alternately, make it a spa day in what was once the teachers’ lounge, now the outdoor soaking pool. Open until 11 p.m., the 100-degree, ceramic-tiled saltwater pooloffers soakers an oasis to unwind.
Catch second-run films in the 300-seat Kennedy School Theater, where sofas and armchairs sub in for traditional theater seats and the Theater Bar stealthily serves drinks and food throughout the show. Bring the youngest in your crew to the “crybaby matinee” every Tuesday–Thursday, where all ages (seriously) are welcome. Historical lectures and live music frequently liven up the gym, as does monthly drag queen bingo with Portland legend Poison Waters.
Take your time exploring the hotel’s skylight-lit hallways and hidden turns, which double as art galleries featuring Indonesian wood panels, mosaic scrolls and eerie paintings with titles like “The Art of Teaching.” And unlike in your grade school days, wandering the bench-lined halls with a drink in hand is encouraged.
Staying at McMenamins Kennedy School
Wiped after a long day at school? Settle into one of the Kennedy School’s 57 guestrooms, each decorated with an imaginatively hand-painted headboard. Rooms in the School Wing occupy former classrooms, with chalkboards and cloakrooms still intact. Meanwhile, the 22 newer rooms in the English Wing provide a touch of bookish inspiration for overnighters, with names drawn from literary inspirations like local author Beverly Cleary.
Dogs are welcome in designated rooms and outdoor dining areas, so bring your furry friends for the fun. Best of all, hotel guests are granted an all-access pass to the soaking pool and theater, so you won’t need to set foot off campus to make your trip one for the yearbook — er, memory book.
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