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Building on a legendary name

Hamley Steakhouse: “The Taj Mahal of Pendleton”

By Emily Olson

East Oregonian

Published on September 8, 2017 4:29PM

The Hamley Steakhouse and Saloon

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

The Hamley Steakhouse and Saloon

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Photo contributed by Hamley’s Steakhouse

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The longer you sit in Hamley Steakhouse and Saloon, the more details emerge from the decadence.

A stained glass chandelier lights the entry, drawing the eye with a mosaic of gold and blue. An entire bank wall, plucked from a condemned Montana building, borders one side of the saloon. An authentic turn-of-the-century bar anchors the space, looking more bourgeois than belly-up. In front of the building lies a paved portion of what was once the Oregon Trail. Below the main dining room, accessible by a curling stone staircase, sits a wine cellar fit for a knight’s round table. When it first opened, Hamley Steakhouse sold $1,500 bottles of wine.

“It’s the Taj Mahal of Pendleton. I’m very proud of it,” said co-owner Blair Woodfield. “But the question is, why isn’t it in a bigger town?”

Hamley, part of a three-building complex covering a city block, boasts a genuine Old West atmosphere in Round-Up City. The restaurant’s appearance attracts a sea of cowboy hats during Round-Up, but looks alone are not enough to ride out the slower seasons — it’s the food, events and commitment to the community that make Hamley a year-round cornerstone of cowboy town.

As kids in cattle ranching families, Blair Woodfield and Parley Pearce knew all about Hamley & Co. The brand’s high-quality, hand-made saddles have been a staple of western tradition since 1883, when William Hamley left Cornwall, England, for America. The Pendleton store opened in 1905. It thrived until the 1980s, when the business was sold to a man from Portland.

As the brand declined, Woodfield and Pearce stepped in for a rescue. Drawing on entrepreneurial backgrounds in retail and food industries, the men revamped the store to fit its legacy as the oldest working saddle shop in the United States. The western store opened four days before the 2005 Round-Up.

Woodfield and Pearce purchased the abandoned building next door, which had been built as the county courthouse. Dreaming of a steakhouse that embodied the Old West, they hired local craftsman to design a stunning interior and scoured the nation for fitting fixtures.

The space opened nine months later, in 2007, to a welcoming, optimistic community. But it didn’t quite meet expectations.

“When they first opened up, it was very hoity-toity. And it was horrible,” said Jan MacGregor, longtime steakhouse manager. A string of top chefs couldn’t figure out a menu that fit the Pendleton clientele. The plate was decorated, the portions minimal. As Woodfield put it, “It was all hat, no cattle.”

Hamley attracted crowds during Round-Up, but the grand venue echoed with lack of diners during most of the year. Woodfield knew they needed a change.

Today’s menu features a section titled “Traditional Ranch Cookin’” billed as “dishes from the ranch — just like Mom used to make.” It’s Woodfield’s own mom that contributed many of the recipes, which include everything from country fried steak to liver and onions. And of course there’s a USDA Prime 14-ounce rib eye, an 8-ounce top sirloin and prime rib “slow-cooked all night,” MacGregor said. “And we give hearty, ranch portions.”

Hamley added televisions to the saloon and invited performers to fill the lawn with music on Friday afternoons.

And they use the venue’s additional rooms, like the wine cellar and upstairs Slickfork Saloon, to host events like wedding receptions and office parties for up to 350 guests. It’s the only space downtown that can host that many, MacGregor said.

Those spaces are highly coveted during Round-Up. In a single day, the Slickfork will host alumni groups from both the University of Oregon and Oregon State University. MacGregor gets calls for the wine cellar, but people hold on to the spaces year after year. “Everything is all booked,” she said.

In giving Pendletonians a fine space to congregate, the restaurant serves a critical role in the community. They’ve further fostered that role by regularly donating to youth fundraisers and local charities, MacGregor said.

“They’ve awakened the downtown area for locals and tourists both,” said Pat Beard, who manages the Pendleton Convention Center and formerly managed Hamley’s Western Store. “It’s a gathering place, watering hole and event center all in one. It’s a special place.”

During this year’s Round-Up, Hamley Steakhouse will use the lawn to cater to the 21-and-older crowd, converting the space into a beer garden Thursday through Saturday. The upstairs Slickfork Saloon will feature local band Little McKay Creek at 9 p.m. on Friday.

And the steakhouse bar will stay open late each night, for those cowboys looking to glimpse the details of the Old West for themselves.

What to expect during Round-Up:

No reservations, but short wait times. The Steakhouse uses a limited menu, additional seating and extra wait staff so you can get fed and get back to the festivities.

Insider’s tip:

If you’re new to Pendleton, pair prime rib with a stop by the Hamley & Co. saddle shop (open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily) for the full Western experience.

Location:

8 S.E. Court Ave.

Hours:

Saloon opens at 3 p.m. starting Wednesday

Steakhouse starts serving dinner at 4:30 p.m.

Must be 21 or older after 9 p.m.



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