JUNE THROUGH SEPT.: 6:30 P.M. MON.-FRI.; NOON AND 6:30 P.M. SAT.; 11 A.M. AND 5:30 P.M. SUN.; $49.99-$69.99
1-800-876-RAIL or www.spiritofwashingtondinnertrain.com
You're probably thinking . . .
One of two things: "Renton! Dinner Train!" or the cutting-edge, more fashionable, "Renton?! Dinner Train?!"
Here's what you get
In one dining car alone, two birthdays, three wedding anniversaries, and an all-ages family outing were under way. You know who's celebrating what because a big-hearted announcement comes over a loudspeaker that's been piping in Pachelbel ("At table one, we have four generations of Moores!"). That's the Spirit of the Dinner Train, kids, so stay away or lighten up and go with it.
You have to drive to Renton—in demonic rush hour traffic, by the way—before your dinner on the majestic choo-choo; once you reach it you'll be joined by a contented bunch of everyone you'd expect (take the crowd from a Neil Diamond concert, subtract the ironic, tattooed hipster contingent, and you're set). You're getting the spangly sweaters, the sparkly nylons, the leather bomber jackets, and the Spirit of Washington staffer in the multicolored vest offering to take your photo in front of the train. I am a child of suburbia: These are my people, and I was not fazed.
The actual train itself, no kidding, is a treat. I wouldn't be the first to suggest that something about a train makes you wonder why you ever bother traveling any other way, and even a prefabricated excursion like this has genuine charm and at least a suggestion of the old-fashioned "elegance" that the brochure promises. You've only paid 60 bucks for this shindig, so you can't expect champagne, espionage, and Marlene Dietrich smoldering in the hallway, but hell—drunken conversation with a friend over some good dessert port while riding the rails is nothing to sniff at.
My friend and I boarded at 5:45 p.m., and by 6:20 we'd polished off the satisfying selection of breads and spreads and were downing $6 drinks with names like Gandy-Dancer (a "special recipe" including banana liqueur). The engine started to chug around 6:30 p.m., and about 10 minutes later, on our way to a relaxing bender—for an extra $25, we complemented our food with a handy three-course wine assortment—our server came by with a nice little salad tossed with toasted almonds and a good poppy seed dressing. It was the best part of the meal. The main course—I had a serviceable prime rib, my friend partook of the rather iffy crab cr갥s—was modest at best. It won't kill you, it's better than airplane food, and it'll be forgotten the minute you're back on solid ground for the accompanying wine tour.
A word about that: "Wine tour" is an overstatement. On a sunny day, the train ride out to the Columbia Winery is pleasant but, no surprise, the detour itself seems mostly an excuse to stop and buy T-shirts, high-priced tchotchkes, and, of course, wine. Don't expect Lucille Ball stomping on grapes; the entertainment is about five minutes of an unenthused winery employee showing you steel vats and rattling off snoozers like "the average life of a barrel is six to 10 years" before showing you the door to the gift shop and free wine-tasting bar.
Back on the Spirit of Washington, it's all better (and most of the three-and-a-quarter-hour trip is on the rails). There are worse ways to spend an evening than dining on a train. More booze and a tasty chocolate confection over raspberry pur饠sent us home buzzed and remembering those sparkly nylons.
Save this one for . . .
Mom, Grandma, or a date with a strong sense of kitsch.
I'll always remember . . .
The kids at the park near the winery who skateboarded alongside the train to acknowledge our passage by triumphantly giving us the finger.