Review: Geiser Grand Hotel and Baker City Oregon
If you’re looking for a fabulous experience full of history, elegance, and a bit of the old west, head on over to Baker City Oregon. Established in 1862, Baker City has a long and vibrant history behind it. The Oregon Trail passed right through it (before it was a town), was eventually settled, became a bustling gold town, and nearly became Oregon State’s capitol. Baker City was once the only town beyond The Dalles east of the Cascade mountains. Typical of most Western towns of the era, Baker City consisted of saloons, general stores, blacksmiths, a jail, brothels, and a China town with opium dens. But as the town matured into a city, things cleaned up and an air of sophistication moved in, mainly in the form of wealthy mine owners and politicians. These “aristocrats” of the day required a bit of elegance, and thus The Geiser Grand Hotel was born.
The Geiser Grand Hotel in 1889
The Geiser Grand Hotel was first opened in 1889. It was the most majestic building in all of Baker City at the time (and still is in my opinion). Constructed out of brick and native tuff stone quarried at nearby Pleasant Valley, this hotel was built to stand. It was originally built by the Warshauer brothers, Jake and Harry, in 1889, and went by the name Hotel Warshauer until purchased by the Geiser family in about 1900. Though I don’t have pictures of the inside from that era, I’m told that most of the wood working, staircases, basement cellar, and glass windows are the same today as they were then. Based on its beauty today, I’m sure that its visitors at that time were as equally impressed as I am now.
Typical of buildings of that era, the hotel had gaslight fixtures. Marks from those lamps can still be seen on some of the woodwork. However, Geiser Grand also offered electricity, a complete marvel in its time. In fact, it was one of the first hotels in Oregon to offer electricity.
The original hotel offered 70 rooms, which had shared bathrooms, as well as some extravagant (even in today’s standards) fine dining. I’m guessing that the hotel only catered to the rich in its day.
The Geiser Grand Hotel Today
The hotel fell into complete disarray after it was closed and abandoned in 1968. The basement became flooded, the roof fell apart in areas, pigeons filled the top floor with a foot of droppings, and bricks/stones literally fell off the building and onto the street. It became such a hazard and eye sore that the city nearly demolished it to turn the lot into downtown parking space. But just 30 days prior to scheduled demolition, a visionary savior name Barbara Sidway stepped in, purchased the property, and began a lofty $7 Million renovation of the hotel.
The renovation was done to exacting historical society standards, and has won numerous awards for such. Some of the buildings now key features, such as the center stained glass window ceiling, were based on only memories and descriptions of local residents that visited the hotel when they were young. The amount of work to restore this building into its incredible luster today is truly remarkable. Thank you Barbara!
Sunset Magazine says the Geiser Grand is “the finest hotel between Salt Lake and Seattle.“ That’s a pretty lofty claim based on all the beautiful hotels throughout the Pacific Northwest, but I may agree with them if they mean it provides the finest air of historical luxury and atmosphere between those cities. Seriously, my one night stay made me feel like I was living a rich man’s life of the early 1900′s. The food, the detailed craftsmanship of the era, and the entire feeling of the hotel was something unlike anything I’ve experienced before. A walk in time from 100 years ago. What fun.
The Geiser Grand Hotel Features the Best Food in Baker City
As I read through the menu in my room, I was a bit let down by it. All the dishes just sounded so ordinary and unexciting. But I picked out a few items that sounded good and went down to the dining room to order. Sitting under the beautiful stain glassed ceiling was classy for sure, but I was a bit unsure what I was in for with the food. Well, what I discovered was that the food is exceptional, they just need a little better menu writing to indicate it.
Exceptional Dinner at Geiser Grand Hotel
We started our meal out with their featured appetizer, Wild Mushrooms in Marsala. The menu says that it has been featured in Bon Appetite magazine, and after tasting it, I believe it. This dish was terrific. There were 3 grilled cubes of perfectly seasoned polenta, all topped with a generous serving of wild mushrooms (porcini and portabella I believe). These were cooked with garlic, rosemary, and green onions, then reduced with a Marsala cream sauce. It was fantastic. The mushrooms had a great flavor, and the Marsala cream sauce was surprisingly lite. The dish needed a touch of salt, but was terrific all the same. Definitely order this dish during your visit to Geiser Grand Hotel.
Our entree selection came with choice of soup or salad, and I went with the New England Clam Chowder soup of the day. They only serve this traditional cream-based chowder on Fridays. The rest of the week they serve a Manhattan tomato-based chowder. It had a strong bacon flavor, and a surprisingly strong potato flavor. There wasn’t a real prominent clam flavor to the chowder, but it was loaded with the most delightful fresh and soft clams. It was seasoned well, but was even better with some added fresh cracked pepper. Good chowder. Glad I chose it.
For my entree, I ordered their weekend special, Mesquite Smoked Prime Rib. Oh good heavens! This was awesome. Tender, juicy, perfectly smoked (subtle but prominently there at the same time), and so very good. The aus jus and horseradish sauce that accompanied it were also exceptional. I’m normally not a big prime rib guy, but I would gladly eat this version again and again. It was served with some buttered and herbed vegetables, as well as some mashed potatoes. This surely must be the best steak offering on their menu, as it is the best prime rib I’ve ever had.
We also tried their Oregon Blue Cheese Steak. This 10 ounce certified angus beef steak was very tender, juicy, and flavorful. Taken from the top of the sirloin and then grilled to perfection, it would have been great on its own. But they covered the entire thing with a wonderful bleu cheese and broiled it until the cheese formed a brown crust. Talk about tasty! It wasn’t as good as the prime rib, but was great in it’s own right.
Geiser Grand Hotel Bread Pudding with a Kick
The menu says, “Extraordinary – our signature dessert.” Whiskey Bread Pudding is what it’s called. Burn your mouth and get you buzzed is what it does. Well, not really, but wow! There must be a whole shot of whiskey put into the whiskey sauce poured all over this stuff. Delicious, but strong. The bread pudding itself was exceptional. It was very moist, but not soggy like so many other bread puddings often are. It had a wonderful cinnamon custard, loaded with raisins, which I think may have been macerated in some rum. A few pecans thrown into the mix added a nice crunch and textural balance. Despite my fear of our candle flame igniting my alcohol ridden dessert, this was probably the best bread pudding I’ve ever had at a restaurant.
Comfortable Night’s Sleep at Geiser Grand Hotel
Full of deliciousness, we headed back to our room to go to sleep. The king size bed was pretty comfortable, and again, the 100-year old styling was fun. The 15-feet tall ceiling was one of my favorite features, that and the honeycomb tiled bathroom. Cozy, beautiful, and ritzy. I liked it!
Despite the supposed hotel hauntings, no ghostly visitors interrupted our evening. Maybe next time though.
Freaking Awesome Breakfast at Geiser Grand Hotel
Morning greeted us with a light dusting of snow outside and a beautiful view of the nearby snow-covered mountains. After lounging around a bit and taking a hot shower, we headed downstairs for breakfast. We were surprised to find another eating hall that was closed up the night before. This hotel just keeps going and going. Anyway, we took our seats and scanned the menu. So many tasty treats. Here’s what we ordered:
This is their Grand Hot Chocolate. They make their own cocoa mix in-house. Do you know how long I’ve been trying to find a place that does this? Well, this is the first I’ve found and I loved it! It was very dark and bitter, but sweet and mild as well. It could have used some more sugar, but was very nice all the same, especially with the whipped cream mixed in. I’m not sure kids would like it, but us grown ups surely did.
My girlfriend ordered the House Corned Beef Hash. It was pretty good, though my breakfast choice was better. The best thing about her dish though was the corned beef. They put a large helping of it in with the potatoes, onions, and peppers, and it was very tasty. They marinate it in a Deschutes Black Butte Porter, cube it up, then fry it to a caramelized perfection. Served with a couple of perfectly poached eggs, it was good, and enough calories to last the rest of the day.
Best Eggs Rockefeller Ever
I’m a total slut for Eggs Benedict, but thanks to the Geiser Grand, I’ll never be satisfied with it again. Good heavens. Their Eggs Rockefeller rocked my world. Full on mouthgasm. First off, the eggs were poached perfectly. Perfectly! That is hard to find. Plus those eggs were very high quality, with very vibrant colored yolks. They rested atop some steamed spinach, on top of grilled Canadian bacon, on top of a fresh tomato slice, sitting on top of a toasted English muffin. Then the entire thing was covered in a cheesy Mornay sauce made with Swiss Gruyere cheese (awesome by the way). Heaven heaven heaven! It’s worth the 2-hour drive from Boise just for this dish! Geiser Grand, you’ll be seeing me again soon.
What a wonderful stay at Geiser Grand. I strongly recommend this place for a little weekend excursion to anyone. And at around $120 a night, it is well worth the experience. We packed up our things, sadly said goodbye to our room, and then checked out to explore Baker City.
Historic Buildings Abound in Baker City
We were going to do a little window shopping at all the cute little small town shops in downtown Baker City, but the snowy breeze was too much of a deterrent for us. Instead, we hopped in the truck and just drove around town to admire all the beautiful historic homes and buildings. The town is full of awesome craftsman style homes, many of which were built in the 1800′s and early 1900′s. Most look to have gone through some beautifully done remodels. A few were for sale, and very reasonably priced, if you want to move to Baker City that is. This was a great activity which helped us to admire Baker City even more. But after a while it was time to move on, so we headed off to our main attraction for the day.
Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City, Oregon
Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, and being LDS, I know a lot about the Oregon Trail and the pioneers. But the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center taught me a few things that I didn’t know, as well as refresh my memory on some historical facts I’ve known for a long time. What a beautifully done exhibit hall. Everything was so very lifelike and well put together. It truly makes you appreciate what the early pioneers had to go through and why they did it.
I couldn’t help but leave with a somber air of respect and even gratitude. Humbling. We have so much in our life now compared to our forefathers. It’s kind of ridiculous how we worry so much about getting the next car or material toy when you compare it to the worries of the pioneers: “Will my child die in the cold tonight?” “Will my oxen make it through another day to get us to the end of our journey?” “Did we pack enough food to survive this grueling journey?” etc. And all this for the hope of claiming a plot of land to settle and farm, or to escape religious freedom. It’s amazing. I encourage anyone traveling along I-84 between Boise and Portland to stop in Baker City to spend an hour or two experiencing the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.
The Bald Gourmet travels to Baker City Oregon, eats and stays at The Geiser Grand Hotel, and is humbled by the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.