It is sometimes the case that after you imagine something for a very long time, when you finally experience the reality it far exceeds everything you had hoped for. Having dinner at the Columbia Gorge Hotel was not one of those times.

Simon Benson, of Benson Bubbler fame, built this hotel on the site of an old shipping lodge once used by the sailors moving freight upriver. When he started construction he envisioned a place decidedly up market of its former incarnation, and commissioned the art deco mediterranean style hotel. Its grandure was famous enough to attract Hollywood types during the golden age seeking a secluded getaway nestled in the majestic beauty of the Columbia River Gorge.

The drive was absolutely beautiful on a hot summer evening. The setting for the hotel is similarly spectacular. Perched on a cliff in Hood River it commands a vista unrivaled. My companion and I arrived near sunset and it was the ideal time of day to enjoy the light playing on the butter colored stucco. The grounds are lush and beautifully landscaped with native trees and plants. The lawn and garden area seem ideally suited for an intimate romantic wedding.

The hotel still retains much of its original glamour. Sadly this glamour is covered with a patina of exhaustion. To be fair, it is the off-season so the hotel was nearly deserted, and it might be that they make a slightly less valiant effort of polish the silver on account of it. After a brief wander around the grounds we made for the restaurant, which had virtually no patrons, and were seated on the terrace which afforded us a lovely view of the river and a pleasant breeze.

Unfortunately that is the sum of anything positive I can say about the experience. The service was terrible bordering on ridiculousness. Our server told us midmeal that he was the bartender and thus couldn’t answer basic questions about the menu, and didn’t know what the special was. He also forgot to bring me the glass of wine I ordered until I reminded him, didn’t ask if we wanted soup or salad but assumed salad and when this was pointed out brought the soup in addition unasked for. Between that, the omnipresent yellow jackets, and the pile of used dishes he opted to stack behind us rather than clear away I was quite unimpressed..

And then the food. Mine was merely unremarkable. A Cobb Salad isn’t exactly rocket science, so I’m not giving that much credit for failing to ruin it. Though I will say the dressing was vaguely cloying. The calamari was tolerable, at best. However, my dinner companion’s entree was downright vile. Good fish properly prepared has a delicate overtone of the sea; this tasted like the underside of the harbor dock.

On the whole, I am pleased that I made the effort to go, but it was almost entirely for the sake of going, rather than any part of the experience being worthwhile. The spectacle of the setting is hard to compete with, but much like the Lodge at Multnomah Falls, I feel this is an example of lazy proprietorship; relying on the natural beauty of the surroundings to counter an unremarkable menu, poorly executed.

Thumbs Down.