Wine, dine and save time to recline in Woodinville
The name says lodge. Right there on the sign: Willows Lodge. The location, er, doesn't. Woodinville? Right-over-there-from-Seattle Woodinville? Strip-mall-wineries-and-Molbak's-and-what-else-is-there Woodinville? Oh, come on ...
Seattle Times Travel editor
If you go
Willows Lodge is at 14580 N.E. 145th St., Woodinville. From Interstate 405 at Totem Lake, take Exit 20 (southbound) or Exit 20B (northbound) and go east on Northeast 124th Street. Follow 124th for about ¾ mile to 132nd Avenue Northeast and turn left at light. Follow 132nd for about 1.3 miles to stop sign of Northeast 143rd Place. Take a right. At bottom of hill, stay to the right to stop sign and onto Northeast 145th St. Willows Lodge is on the left.
Rooms and rates
In describing its rooms, the lodge uses the terms "Nice" (overlooking the entry drive and restaurants), "Nicer" (on courtyard interior) and "Nicest" (also on courtyard interior, but with jetted tubs and heated towel warmers in bathroom). There are four Nicer Suites — a bit larger than nicer rooms — and one Nicest Suite, a one-bedroom suite with separation between living room and bedroom.
Prices range from $179 to $699, depending on the room and the season. Always check online, as lower rates can be available.
The Willows Lodge Web site lists 10 packages, including dinners at the Barking Frog or The Herbfarm, a picnic or a spa special. Call for details, and compare prices to actual rates.
Fireside Cellars is open from 4-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Happy hour begins at 4:30 p.m. Local wine tastings available and a limited food menu from the Barking Frog. 425-424-3900 orwww.willowslodge.com/culinary-fireside.php
Barking Frog is open daily for breakfast (brunch on weekends), lunch and dinner. Look for occasional special dinners. 425-424-2999 or www.willowslodge.com/culinary-barkingfrog.php
The Herbfarm is open for dinner Thursday through Sunday. Menu changes frequently. 425-485-5300 or www.theherbfarm.com
Willows Lodge: 425-424-3900 or toll free 877-424-3930; www.willowslodge.com
Willows Lodge pros and consPRO: Willows Lodge is an easy drive from Seattle (maybe 25 minutes on a good day) and obviously a snap if you're in the Eastside. It's the closest lodge we've been to that still gives a sense of escape from urban madness.
CON: The Fireside room isn't open on Sundays, for food or for tasting. A bit of a drag on a lazy Sunday afternoon when it would be nice to try some wines or have a snack.
PRO: There aren't many lodges or resorts where you find two such award-winning restaurants within walking distance and a third (albeit small) inside the lodge itself that features food from one of them and a chance to sample wines from the valley without having to drive all over to find them.
CON: There is development coming. Construction has begun on the 24-acre Woodinville Village, a complex of wineries, shops, restaurants, hotel and condominiums across an already busy Northeast 145th Street. The rooms at the south end of Willows Lodge get some traffic noise from the street when balcony or patio doors are open, though all is quiet when they're closed. It's bound to get worse.
A top-notch resort is only as good as its staff. So as we put Washington's top destination getaways under our microscope, we're showing you not only the places but also some faces of the people who make the experience.
WOODINVILLE — The name says lodge. Right there on the sign: Willows Lodge.
The location, er, doesn't.
Woodinville? Right-over-there-from-Seattle Woodinville? Strip-mall-wineries-and-Molbak's- and-what-else-is-there Woodinville? Oh, come on.
But, yes, there is Willows Lodge, on five acres up against the tiny Sammamish River just south of the center of the small city.
And on its seventh birthday, celebrated this fall, it may have something to teach its fellow lodges, more stereotypically situated at the mountains, forests and shore. After all, a lodge has to start somewhere.
Indeed, Willows Lodge has a history. It has the name of the lodge built in the area in the early 1900s by one of the state's lumber magnates, C.D. Stimson (of Seattle's Stimson-Green Mansion).
It has magic. Houdini once visited C.D. and did a little card trick for him that left an ace stuck in the ceiling of the original Willows — for 20 years. (The new lodge even hosted one of the official, annual Houdini birthday séances in 2003. The artist of wizardry did not appear — but don't hold that against the lodge.)
And it has pigs. Well, actually, the pigs belong to The Herbfarm restaurant, which sits right across from the lodge entrance. They are Basil and Borage, two small Vietnamese potbellies who are good on leash and who will eye you happily from their home in the gardens at the south end of the lodge.
Of course, there's more. Plants, trees and a garden that have grown up. Access to some 30-plus wineries, some an easy walk away; two restaurants across the entry drive; Redhook's huge Woodinville Brewery right over the hedge; even the Sammamish River Trail across the river that connects walkers, runners, bicyclists and skaters to Marymoor Park to the south, Woodinville proper to the north, even to the Burke-Gilman Trail and thus to Gas Works Park in Seattle some 20 miles away.
But that's too tiring to ponder.
Let's rest, and look at the lodge.
There are some 84 rooms and suites at the lodge, all with balconies or outdoor seating areas (at ground level). Their views vary, depending on the side of the building — south to Mount Rainier, east over the Sammamish River, north up the valley or west (where mine was) over the parking lot (though things could have been worse than staring at the front doors of The Herbfarm and the Barking Frog, the other restaurant on the grounds, and debating dinner options). There is wood everywhere in the rooms, in thick shelving along the walls and at bedside, in the bathroom and in accents and trim. The colors of the walls are muted browns and greens, practically begging you to relax in dim comfort. Depending on the direction the room faces, they can be a bit dark on dark Northwest days, but what's wrong with hibernation?
My room officially was listed as a "nice room," with a stone-faced gas fireplace, tablelike desk with two chairs, easy chair with Ottoman and a very comfortable queen-sized bed (credit the Australian lamb's-wool pads). The chest of drawers is in the closet, a nice touch, saving space in the room, leaving the bedroom and bathroom open and cupboard-free. There are light switches and light fixtures everywhere (and finally and blessedly instructions on where all the switches are and how to use them), providing good options for reading, resting and romance.
Speaking of ... there's an eclectic selection of in-room goodies right above the desk. Try to resist looking at every item. For example: a disposable camera ($10), a Pez dispenser ($3) and an intimacy kit ($5). The latter contains two condoms, two towelettes and a package of lubricating jelly. Did we mention hibernation?
Additionally, best cup of coffee I've ever had that wasn't delivered or that I didn't bring in myself. There's a nifty tea kettle for heating water and a French press coffee maker into which you can dump a world's-record-size pack of Starbucks coffee.
(I found the room for $210 a night, online. I booked it for a Sunday night, which turned out to be another blessing. By later Sunday afternoon, after a day of trail-running, wine tasting, some beer and a hamburger, the grounds and lodge were incredibly quiet and absent of people. I don't know where they all went, but it was great.)
Another large room, lots of tile and wood. A large countertop with very little on it, so you can spread out, products and all. Doorless shelves below the counter hold slippers, robes, etc., to keep them out of your way. Dispensers distribute soaps and creams (everywhere in the bathroom), another blessed relief from pesky small bottles that either selfishly hang onto their contents despite repeated banging or seem to delight in losing their caps.
The shower has a push-button on-and-off switch and a digital readout to tell you just how warm (or cold) it is, made for stepping in at just the right moment. And it worked.
There's also a two-person soaking tub and other features that make the bathroom more intimate to the room and its occupants. The large picture-window-sized space over the soaking tub is wide open to the room — no shutters. And there's a lightly glazed, partial glass wall dividing the huge shower from the tub, though the glazing gives way to a revealing clear-glass design in places. You'd better like to watch each other a lot!
The lobby is large and modern rustic, manned by at least one house dog — usually snoozing — and equipped with a large, two-sided fireplace and more stone and more wood. There is some seating here, but perhaps the best is behind the fireplace in a much larger space that also serves as the Fireside Cellars, open Monday through Saturday late afternoon and evenings, with local wine tastings and a small food menu. In good weather, the room can be opened to the outdoors.
A small library is upstairs, immediately over the front desk. There is a spa on the grounds, with fitness room and outdoor massage tents between the lodge and the river. South of the lodge there is another public area. The grounds teem with Northwest plants and are home to several sculptures, and there are a number of walkways, fountains and quiet retreats.
The place practically screams at you to relax (to toss in a little irony). Inside, the abundance of woodwork, stone and subdued lighting — and a king-sized fire — will either beg intimate conversations or naps. I took my cue from Juliet the basset hound in the lobby and passed out.
Outside, the gardens were designed to fit the Willows setting, and now that trees and plants have had a few years to mature, have become more contemplative.
The rub here is that there is so much to do off-site that the amenities might go begging. Resist once in a while.
There's almost too much to do here, in fact, to have what many believe is a classic lodge experience — sitting and relaxing and enjoying a retreat, mountain or sea air, substantial food, nothing more.
There's a 2,000-foot spa on the grounds with treatments and packages ranging from $35 to $600 — that would be a manicure on one end to a 3 ½-hour "riverside cabana" experience for two (actually it's behind some foliage and then there's the river), including massage, facial, pedicure, champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries.
Bicycles are available for riding, free.
You can reserve a picnic lunch for $15 (sandwiches, chips, cookie, fruit, etc.). Need something to carry it in? You can buy a Willows Lodge picnic backpack with blanket and space for wine for $85.
You can wander, run, bike, hike, skate the Sammamish River Trail, no more than a five-minute walk from the lodge.
Wine, anyone? There are nearly 40 wineries in the Woodinville area, many of them open for tastings. Information on who serves what abounds. Within walking distance are Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Winery and Novelty Hill/Januik.
Beer instead? The Redhook Ale Brewery is across the parking lot and over the hedge. There are tours and food — and, gulp, even some wine served.
Raise your hand if you haven't heard that The Herbfarm is about the best restaurant in Washington state and one of the tops in the country. Raise your hand if you can afford to go there. (Well, somebody can. It can be a several-month wait for a table. It also can be a jaw-dropper to know that there are guests who say they return several times a year.)
There are three eateries on the Willows grounds: The Herbfarm, the Barking Frog (no slouch in the ratings department) and the Fireside inside the lodge itself, which offers local wine tastings and a limited food menu (from the Barking Frog).
Herbfarm dinners usually cover nine courses, include several wines, run for hours and change regularly. Cost usually is between $159 and $189 per person, although a handful of special dinners exceeds that.
We didn't include dinner at the 'Farm in this visit, but you can read a practically orgasmic review of the place from Seattle Times restaurant critic Nancy Leson online at seattletimes.com (use the "find restaurants" tool to search for Herbfarm).
We instead visited the Barking Frog, right next door. It's open all week long and offers breakfast (brunch on the weekends), lunch and dinner — and in-room service for the lodge.
A glance at Leson's review should give you plenty of information on The Herbfarm.
Dinner at the Barking Frog at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night was quiet (maybe five tables of diners by that time), relaxing and very good. A dinner of Grand Marnier Prawns (with GM aioli), grilled sea bass with a mascarpone and lobster ravioli, two glasses of white wine and espresso reached $90 — for one. Not in The Herbfarm league but not inexpensive by any means.
Much of the Frog's menu also is available for room service. You'll pay a service fee and an 18 percent gratuity.
By the way, lunch at Redhook brewery's Forecasters Pub (through the bushes and across a huge parking lot) cost about $20, and that included the Redhook's Gourmet Beer Burger and a pint. I was happy.
Terry Tazioli: 206-464-2224 or email@example.com
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