I spotted this sign from I-5 a few years ago, on our travels. I was intrigued.
Arrowhead sign! Chinook Room? Gigantic letters spelling RESTAURANT!
Last summer, Don and I made a stop on our drive from Portland to Washington.
This time when we pulled in, I notice a few palms in front. That seemed odd for the state of Washington. But Kalama is named for a native Hawaiian, who settled here in the 19th century. Palms fit the theme.
We could see a little more of the building, when we approached from the parking lot.
It seemed to be sandwiched right in between the freeway and the mountainside. The Columbia River was just on the other side of the freeway Such a pretty area.
Elvis and Jack
The faces of Elvis and Jack Benny, were hanging out behind the roses.
I couldn't wait to hear the stories about when these two "famous visitors" came to Columbia Inn.
There was lots to see as we headed towards the door.
Neon signs and an American flag. A totem pole along near a retro "cocktails" sign.
At 1:30, the cafe was empty of diners. Don and I peeked around quickly at the available dining areas. Love those octagonal windows!
And rounded walls! This place had a bit of a mid-century look, although I think there was a fire at some point that prompted some updates.
You have to love a menu with a slogan. "Bringing families together one meal at a time since 1955" You also have to love a menu with special prices for diners 55 and up!
I ordered a half sandwich with a cup of beef noodle soup for $10.95. That wasn't actually too tasty and not much of a bargain. Don's omelet was a little better. But this little dining adventure was not really about food.
You can see the OYO Hotel behind Don, through the window. There was a fun story behind that.
Columbia Inn in 1962
The Oyo Hotel looked pretty dull today, but I found an internet story about the motel in 1962, when it was called Columbia Inn. It was evidently in the middle of the night when Elvis arrived at the Columbia Motel. They were on their way to Seattle to film "It Happened at the the World's Fair".
Elvis and his gang rented rooms. In the morning he ordered a feast of breakfast foods from the cafe, to be delivered to the motel. It was the biggest dining bill that the restaurant ever had. (Biggest phone bill as well!)
Grandpa Spot Elvis
I asked our waitress and she had more scoop for us. She was too young to know much about Elvis, but her ex-boyfriend's grandfather did.
He happened to be on his bike delivering papers, early on that morning in 1962. He spotted activity in the motel parking lot and quickly alerted friends. She said the fans flocked and Elvis was actually gracious, greeting and signing autographs.
The Other Guy
The other "famous person on the sign, didn't have quite as big a story.
Jack Benny was traveling back in the day, when he stopped to use the phone. Oh those pre-cell-phone-days! He ended up sticking around for a slice of pie and a cup of coffee. He didn't have cash, so he wrote a check and teased that he knew the pie was free. "I know you'll never cash this check!" Cute!
After eating I had to get a peek at the Chinook Room. I know there's a lot of history in this lounge. There's also a lot of history with the Chinook Native American people in this region.
But no history was revealed. The area mostly just looked like a bar. There were no signs of the old Chinook Lounge, that might have had some interesting decor, back in the fifties.
Instead of Northwestern Native art, or even some kind of tropical Hawaiian theme, there was just a little sports decor. Oddly, the decor was upward, located in clear windows, in the ceiling.
Columbia Inn Memories
Our little dining adventure was not about the food, or even the inside decor. I'll always remember the retro exterior and our sweet conversation with our young server. When I asked about how hard it had been with the pandemic, she tried to be positive. She luckily got married in March 2020, right before they had to shut down the restaurant. She talked about the support of the town, especially when they were able to open for carryouts.
Pandemic talk led to school closings... which led to her own high school memories. "You know the movie Twilight?" She asked. Then we heard how her local high school was transformed for a whole semester, to be the school in the movie. What a hoot to hear about her memories of the stars, in her very school. I didn't even think to ask if they ended up with any Twilight dining guests, during that period!
So off we went, thinking about this small town with it's small cafe. So many interesting happenings for a little community. Glad we got to hear a few stories!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.