Arbiter: Elisa Mader
Location: Seattle, WA, U.S.A.
A guide to off-beat fun in the Emerald City
Overview and Cultural Index:
Seattle, Washington, is a thriving seaport, economic center and cultural Mecca nestled between Lake Washington and Puget Sound. Despite its reputation for rain, Seattle sits in Olympics’ rain shadow and offers as many (dry) outdoor activities as indoor attractions. The city lies in an area of great natural beauty, with the dramatic peaks of the Olympic Mountains visible to the west, the Cascade Range to the east and Mount Rainier to the south. Seattle also owes its nickname, the “Emerald City,” to the region’s dense evergreen forests. With a population of over 600,000, Seattle forms the core of the U.S. 15th-largest metropolitan area.
The Native American tribe now known as the Duwamish lived in this area for thousands of years before George Vancouver explored it in 1792 on his Pacific Northwest charting expedition. In the mid-19th century, pioneer settlers established a village called Duwamps in the present-day Pioneer Square area of downtown Seattle, eventually renaming it after Sealth, the chief of the local Duwamish and Suquamish tribes. Under the anglicized form “Seattle,” the city was incorporated in 1851.
Seattle transformed over the years from a lumber town to a bustling hub for miners during the Klondike Gold Rush, and later to a major shipyard and transportation center. After World War II, Boeing’s aircraft production dominated local industry and remains a major employer to the present day, alongside tech giants such as Microsoft and Amazon.com and companies in biotech, “green” technologies and entertainment.
Birthplace of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix and origin of the grunge movement in the 1990s, the city enjoys a long history of musical innovation and creative vitality. Home to major cultural festivals such as Bumbershoot and Folklife, Seattle enjoys a lively music scene as well as a reputation for arts and crafts, particularly in glass blowing, through the work of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly and the Pilchuck School.
Not only is Seattle a very “green” city, it possesses a strong organic and locavore food culture. Farmers markets abound, as do excellent restaurants and culinary artisans that serve up fresh produce and sustainably raised meat products from surrounding agricultural areas such as the Yakima and Skagit valleys.
Seattleites’ drink of choice? Coffee! Starbucks’ corporate headquarters is located in Seattle, and you can visit the flagship Starbucks across from Pike Place Market, if you are willing to brave long lines of tourists. The city offers plenty of smaller, independent roasters and neighborhood coffee shops, however, and you never lack for options when you want a caffeine fix.
- Victrola – Victrola Roastery and Cafe showcases the art of coffee at its sleek, bright café on Pike street. Nudge past macchiato-sipping hipsters to join in regular public coffee cuppings. Victrola’s 15th Avenue E location displays local artists and hosts live performances. The newest café is located on Beacon Hill.
310 E Pike Street, Capitol Hill
- Zeitgeist – Zeitgeist, near Pioneer Square, embodies the quintessential coffee house with its high ceilings, old-world ambiance and canvas after beautiful art canvas displayed on the brick walls. A popular haunt for artsy types and a First Thursday Art Walk participant, Zeitgeist also offers yummy nibbles and exquisite coffee sure to please picky coffee aficionados.
171 S Jackson Street
- Cherry Street Coffee House – Cherry Street’s five downtown Seattle cafes differ in atmosphere, from the ultra-urban vibe, the museum location, to the dreamy Middle Eastern chic of the 1st and Clay coffee shop. All offer delicious coffee and a top-notch food selection, including hot soups, daily specials, and generous sandwiches.
1st & Seneca
- Caffe Ladro – Caffe Ladro Espresso Bar & Bakery serves fair-trade, organic and shade-grown coffee in thirteen locations throughout Greater Seattle. Indulge in the fresh pastries, baked by Ladro’s own bakers. Try the cardamom coffee cake or the pecan tarts.
- Trabant Coffee and Chai – This hip café offers a many exciting teas, chai drinks and tasty coffee from 49th Parallel, a Vancouver-based roaster, all prepared with artistic flair by friendly baristas. Its University District location (1309 NE 45th Street) is a student’s paradise, and the sleek new Pioneer Square cafe (602 2nd Avenue) hosts coffee tastings.
Restaurant Hang Outs and Good Food:
Seattle loves its food. Every neighborhood boasts its own farmers market, the year-round University District market being the crown jewel. Seattle has artisan charcuteries like Salumi and temples to seafood like the oyster-lover’s pilgrimage destination, The Walrus and the Carpenter. Cosmopolitan Seattle is home to purveyors of every ethnic cuisine. Here are but a few:
- Araya’s Place – Araya’s, a tranquil and elegant culinary haven in the heart of the U District, produces some of the best vegetarian and vegan Thai cuisine in Seattle. Famous for its generous daily lunch buffet with outstanding spicy tom yum soup and veggie pad thai, Araya gives excellent value for money.
1121 NE 45th Street
- PHO Than Brothers – This chain of pho restaurants takes cheap, delicious eats to the next level. Than Brothers offers up bathtub-sized bowls of steaming noodle soup, garnished to taste with bean sprouts, fresh basil and green chilies, with vegetarian, chicken, and beef options. Don’t forget to eat the complimentary cream puff. Better yet, give it to me.
- Paseo – As Paseo, what is the worst thing about waiting in line for heavenly sandwiches and Caribbean fare? Having to decide between the juicy grilled pork sandwich, the Havana seared scallops and the rest of the mouthwatering menu. The best thing? You will never be disappointed with your selection. Cash only!
4225 Freemont Ave
- La Isla – La Isla pours mean rum cocktails and dishes up unforgettable Puerto Rican cuisine. Its specialties strike a delicate balance between sweet, salty, and spicy, and come loaded with garlic. Sample the award-winning salmon a la parilla, the pulled pork (pernil) and the pastelon, Puerto Rican lasagna with sweet plantain layers.
2320 NW Market Street
- Red Mill Burgers – Red Mill Burgers deserves its national reputation for mighty fine burgers. The restaurant’s Phinney Ridge and Interbay locations make flame-broiled burgers oozing with juice, and then pile them high with toppings such as fire-roasted Anaheim peppers and their trademark Mill sauce. Order the onion rings; even onion-ring haters love Red Mill’s version.
- Café Presse – Café Presse’s chefs tantalize diners with seasonal dishes, French bistro classics like steak-frites, and impeccably prepared Gallic basics such as one-filling omelets, croque monsieurs and a killer Bibb lettuce salad served with hazelnuts and a light vinaigrette. Wash it down with a carafe of their house wine and dream of Paris.
1117 12th Ave
- Tamarind Tree – The Tamarind Tree restaurant, a hidden gem in International District, serves impossibly fresh Vietnamese specialties in a swanky, intimate atmosphere. Among the delicious, beautifully presented offerings from the extensive menu: Vietnamese crepes and special vermicelli noodle bowls with crisp egg rolls and meat skewers. Reservations are a must.
1036 South Jackson
- Marcello Ristorante – Elegant, family-run Marcello Ristorante dishes up fresh, authentic Southern Italian cuisine in the quiet Roosevelt neighborhood. Standouts on an outstanding menu: the gamberi rosé (succulent tiger prawns in Madeira cream sauce), gnocchi Gorgonzola and veal in a port wine sauce with figs. Marcello’s choice Italian wine list, impeccable service and intimate atmosphere make it ideal for special occasions. Leave space for the tiramisu!
7115 Roosevelt Way NE
Arts and Music:
Seattle’s art scene is thriving. Galleries and music venues are flourishing in fun and funky Fremont and Ballard, but so are those in gritty industrial Georgetown. Seattle’s artistic exuberance surfaces at its major festivals such Bumbershoot and Folklife, and during the madcap Solstice Parade. World-class performers grace Benaroya Hall downtown, and major exhibitions come to the Seattle Art Museum. Here are a few suggestions to whet your appetite for Seattle culture.
- SAM, SAAM and the Olympic Sculpture Park – The Seattle Art Museum Downtown (1300 1st Avenue) houses world-class permanent collections, from Native and Mesoamerican art to modern installations, as well as organizing special exhibitions for masters from Michelangelo to Warhol. The Seattle Asian Art Museum (1400 E Prospect Street) focuses on East Asian and South Asian artwork, notably ceramics from China and Japan and Chinese terra-cotta funerary pieces. The Olympic Sculpture Park (2901 Western Avenue) weds modern sculpture and landscape in a stunning setting overlooking Puget Sound. Among the park’s carved, welded, polished and painted masterpieces are Alexander Calder’s “The Eagle” and Mark di Suvero’s “Schubert Sonata.”
- SIFF – The Seattle International Film Festival runs annually from mid-May to mid-June and showcases hundreds of fresh feature films and shorts from around the world. The Festival has been introducing cutting-edge films to cinema lovers since 1974. SIFF also screens movies and holds events year-round at the SIFF Cinema at McCaw Hall and the SIFF Film Center in the Alki Room, both at the Seattle Center.
- Teatro Zinzanni – Teatro Zinzanni near the Seattle Center promises “Love, Chaos & Dinner”: a gourmet five-course dinner and three hours of thrilling acrobatics and sassy cabaret. The company introduces three new shows a year and also offers brunch performances. Most shows tend towards the vaudeville and burlesque, but Teatro Zinzanni runs some kid-friendly circus entertainment as well.
222 Mercer Street
- Easy Street Records – Easy Street Records, Seattle’s Mecca for music lovers, overflows with LPs, CDs, fanzines, band paraphernalia and rock kitsch. This is the place to discover new acts. Easy Street invites musicians for signings and in-store performances, so it’s worth checking the events calendar. Ask the friendly tattooed and pierced staff for recommendations.
Easy Street Records
20 Mercer Street
- The Crocodile – The Crocodile, a Grunge-era establishment that opened in 1991, remains Seattle’s premier small live-music venue. Seattle greats like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney have played here, as have R.E.M., Yoko Ono, and Cheap Trick. Rock out to fresh newcomers and established live acts almost every night of the week. Sonic Boom Records in Ballard and Capitol Hill sell advance tickets to most Crocodile shows. Cash only!
2200 2nd Avenue
From hipster bars in Ballard, Fremont and Capitol Hill to student watering holes in the University District to swanky Belltown wine bars, Seattle has plenty to offer by way of nightlife. For starters, try soothing your thirst in these fine establishments.
- Zig Zag Café – Warning: don’t drink your way through Zig Zag’s stellar cocktail menu. You will want to. This eclectic, hip little establishment below Pike Place Market will tempt you with its “Drink Without a Name” (vodka, Cointreau and green Chartreuse) and other glibly named beverages such as “Satan’s Soulpatch” and “One Legged Duck.” Partake in Zig Zag’s signature flatbread pizzas or seafood specials too, or you’ll have trouble negotiating the steps up to street level.
1501 Western Avenue
- Clever Bottle – Clever Bottle in Belltown oozes sophistication and features an incredible daily happy hour, 5-7 p.m. Its menu items celebrate craft cocktails and the best locally produced foods—a “Salumi Salami Plate” and “Beecher’s Mac and Cheese.” Clever Bottle lets you in on the region’s best-kept secrets with local liquor flights and specialty bourbon and whiskey tastings.
2222 2nd Avenue, Suite 100
- The Viking – The Viking has been a Ballard landmark since 1950, when the now-hip neighborhood resembled a Scandinavian fishing village. The bar brings Old Seattle to life, with vintage bar stools, booths and a jukebox, and even shuffleboard. The Viking also smokes its own meats and serves a mean beef-and-bean specialty, the “Sloppy Sven.”
6404 24th Ave NW
- Re-Bar – Dark and dirty Re-Bar serves as a much-beloved hub of alternative art and music culture in Seattle. You can attend poetry slams, theater productions and live music performances, or hit the dance floor at “Flammable,” Re-Bar’s longstanding house music night. Enjoy the edgy industrial vibe and hope Robin Williams shows up again.
1114 Howell Street
- Stumbling Monk – You may not be a monk, but you certainly may be stumbling after a night sampling the Stumbling Monk’s dazzling selection of Belgian beers, from fruity lambics to powerful Trappist brews. The bar regularly rotates its specialty beers on tap and offers both familiar names like Chimay as well as rare ones, at reasonable prices. Bring your friends and play some board games. The gloomy atmosphere makes you feel like you’re really in Belgium.
1635 1/2 E Olive Way
Everything Else and Honorable Mentions:
- Rent a rowboat on Lake Washington – The University of Washington Waterfront Activities Center rents canoes and rowboats. Located on the waterfront behind Husky Stadium, on the southeastern side, the center provides the perfect launch site to explore the waters of scenic Lake Washington. You can also paddle through the wild marshes north of the Washington Arboretum and catch a glimpse of a great heron in flight.
Waterfront Activities Center
3900 Montlake Blvd. NE
- Walk along Alki Beach – When the Seattle sun makes a rare appearance, crowds of roller bladers, joggers, dog-walkers, bicyclists and sun-worshippers throng to Alki, a 2.5-mile strip of sandy beach from Alki Point to Duwamish Head with stunning views across Elliott Bay towards downtown Seattle. Alki’s lively waterfront cafes and restaurants, such as nouvelle Tex-Mex eatery Cactus (2820 Alki Avenue SW), put Alki at the top of the list for favorite Seattle summer hangouts.
- Explore Volunteer Park – Stunning 48.3-acre Volunteer Park, located in the heart of Capitol Hill, affords gorgeous views of Puget Sound, the mountains and downtown Seattle. You can catch a perfectly framed glimpse of the Space Needle if you peer through Isamu Noguchi’s striking donut-shaped granite sculpture “Black Sun,” in front of the Seattle Asian Art Museum (1400 E Prospect Street). Nature enthusiasts can also visit the Volunteer Park Conservatory (1400 E Galer Street), whose five striking greenhouses house rare bromeliads, palms, ferns, flowering plants, cacti and botanical oddities like the corpse flower. Volunteer Park is popular for picnics, walks, and live music.
1247 15th Avenue E
About Elisa Mader:
“Seattle-based writer and editor.
Art lover.Foodie. Bookworm.”