Feast for the Eyes

The owners of the Taprock Northwest Grill in Grants Pass spared no expense in creating a good first impression for their customers, resulting in bragging rights to some of the most awe-inspiring — and perhaps most expensive — doors in the state.

The 12-foot, 1,000-pound, bronze double-doors, created by Pete Sedlow and Lindi Ledger of Grants Pass and featuring grizzly bears fishing for salmon in the Rogue River, cost a quarter-million dollars, says owner Dave Thomason. Depicted in the doors are varying hues of water, bears and sky, framed by tall Ponderosa pines and a swaggering timber peak, all speaking of the might and beauty of the Northwest.

Thomason and his banker, Brady Adams, president of Evergreen Federal Bank and visionary for the project, didn't stop there, adorning the restaurant with vaulted timber ceilings in several dining rooms, two decks over the Rogue River, a sprawling, rock-strewn water feature and scads of paintings, all by local artists and artisans.

Locally quarried stone fireplaces are framed in what looks like a big, rugged tree trunk — but it's fashioned of cast concrete. All the stonework was done by Joseph Johnson of Grants Pass, who started out as a teen in one of many Elmer's Restaurants owned by Thomason.

"I didn't anticipate the greatness of it as I saw (the restaurant) taking shape," says Thomason. "I saw it was going to be fantastic. It came out a perfect match with Northwest lodge style and the Northwest kind of food here. It's more than just a restaurant; it's part of the community experience here."

The menu features regionally grown fruits and vegetables in season, Rogue Creamery cheese, beef from Northwest ranches, oysters from the Puget Sound. Prices range from $6.99 for sweet onion rings to $9.75 for a Tillamook cheddar and bacon burger to $11.50 for Alaskan halibut tacos and $25.99 for a Double-R Ranch 8-ounce tenderloin and shrimp. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers a full bar and occasional special discounts on meals. (Visit www.taprock.com for full menus.)

As for the startup investment — the place cost $5 million — Thomason says he never could have swung the deal and still made money, but he and backers "wanted to achieve the wow factor, right down to the light switches, no expense spared."

Adams, serving as a guide during a February visit by North Middle School student government leaders, said Taprock's door is "the best door in Oregon. We did it because we wanted to make it a signature piece, larger than life, the highest quality. It's beyond cool; it's a community asset."

Though sumptuous in a practical Northwest way, the lodge has a mission of offering affordable fare so that, Adams said, "it's an opportunity for everyone, from the poorest to the richest person in town to get together and have a positive experience."

Rather than using an urban architecture firm to design the building, Adams had local artist Bob Eding do a painting showing his ideal of a Northwest dining lodge on the river, then handed it to an architect to execute.

Gracing the grounds is a stunning, life-size, bronze elk ($150,000), flanked by bronze lynx, fox and, in the water park, a leaping salmon marking the spot where two American Indian burials were found during construction. The bodies were reinterred with tribal blessings and a plaque noting, "In loving memory of all our Tribal ancestors who rest here in our ancient homeland."

In the student tour group, Grace Connely called Taprock's doors "artistically awesome," while McKenna Musser said "they make me feel gifted to live in this town."

Perhaps in reference to the many wild creatures hidden in the doors, student Stephanie Norrick said, "Their weight is filled with many secrets."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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