So much is happening in McMinnville — from hot new restaurants to eclectic boutiques and art — that something exciting seems to be on the horizon every time you look. About an hour southwest of Portland, this mostly quiet enclave in North Willamette Valley wine country has become a destination in its own right.
Take the MACK Theater: The historic icon was once one of the largest cinemas in the country, a 6,500-square-foot palace with 700 seats, chandeliers and rich velvet curtains. Now the same team that brought McMinnville the outstanding 36-room Atticus Hotel in 2018 is deep in a project to reopen the theater, along with the historic Hotel Yamhill next door.
“It’s just a giant time capsule in really great shape,” says Brian Shea, a McMinnville local and partner in the project. “People are excited to see it come back to life.”
It’ll be a few years yet before either reopens, but get them on your radar now. In the meantime, Shea and business partner Ben Perle say there’s no shortage of new happenings that make McMinnville a great choice for a getaway. Here are a few places to start.
Masterful Chefs Come to McMinnville
Chef Matthew Lightner, named one of America’s finest by Food & Wine magazine, brought molecular gastronomy’s foams and sculptures to Portland’s acclaimed Castagna. In July 2022 he opened Okta in McMinnville, an homage to fine food in a region full of fine ingredients. The restaurant has its own farm nearby — complete with its own fermentation lab — focusing on Oregon products. Look for fanciful creations with ozette potatoes, icicle turnips or meat smoked over oak. That humongous basalt boulder inside the restaurant? It was brought to the area by the Missoula floods, the ancient event that makes the Willamette Valley so fertile. When you’ve had your fill, you can retire to the adjoining, eight-suite Tributary Hotel.
Another celebrated July 2022 opening, the welcoming farm-to-table bistro called Humble Spirit, is already known for its cookies. Yes, cookies. Did you know that before 1994, the Oreo’s unforgettable filling was made with lard before being replaced with artificial fats? Chef Brett Uniss did, and so he created an Oreo-like cookie made the way the world intended, with real fat from animals raised on nearby Tabula Rasa Farms. Pair it with a glass of unhomogenized milk that still has a whiff of the grass the cow fed on. It’s the perfect dessert after comfort food like braised vegetables, their signature burger or whole trout.
Another place to try — this one located in a 10,000-foot renovated warehouse — is Mac Market. At Free Tasty Friday, held every Friday in the summer and early fall, stop by for free samples of foods made from the Willamette Valley, from jams to beers. There’s also an on-site kitchen and cafe that serves breakfast pastries in the morning and full meals later in the day. For globally inspired and locally sourced dishes like shrimp and pork-belly curry or chickpea fries, stick around for dinner.
Pairing Wine and Vinyl Downtown
Evan Martin of Martin Woods Winery has an undeniable passion for Willamette Valley wines but also for music, especially vinyl. These come together in his HiFi Wine Bar, a hangout and tasting room with cushy couches, a pool table and a grand piano — a place Martin calls “the best-sounding room in Oregon.”
“It’s a place for audiophiles,” he says, with “super-high-end equipment, not geeky, but stuff that actually matters and works.”
During the day, the wine bar serves as Martin’s tasting room for his eclectic selection of single-vineyard pinot noirs, chardonnays and other varietals. Come evening, it’s a spot where — if there’s no live music that night — DJs from Portland come down to showcase rare pressings of midcentury jazz bands or eclectic hip-hop. Choose from about 800 records in-house to queue up on request.
While you’re getting lost in that high-fidelity sound, you can dive deep into some pretty astounding cellar offerings and pair them with a curated menu that changes weekly: Oregon hazelnut baklava with, say, a glass of Hungarian Patricius Aszú 5 Puttonyos. Otherwise keep it local with one of their Willamette Valley rieslings.
Vintage Baseball and Excursions Around Town
After so much indulging, cyclists may want to hop on a bike and take in some views of the Coast Range with a challenging 39-mile gravel ride that starts and ends downtown. The McMinnville Round About runs in a loop west of town and includes pavement as well as gravel.
Enjoy baseball? What about old-school baseball? The Yamhill County Historical Society puts on a vintage exhibition game using rules from the 1800s. In 2022 the game unfolds on September 10, but check with the museum for future dates, too. If you’re rained out, check out live performances at the Gallery Theater, which is small enough for no bad seats but big enough to let you get lost in comedies, dramas and musicals.
There’s plenty of shopping to do, too, from Third Street Books to Velvet Monkey Tea Shop. Don’t miss Left by West, a clothing-houseware-art store featuring work by co-owner Zach Hixson, the artist who did the artwork in all the rooms at the Atticus. If you want to try your own hand at art, he suggests going by The Merri Artist for supplies before heading out to paint in Miller Woods, one of his favorite spots.