Roughing it in style
by Amanda Castleman
cocktails in the wilderness, hiking boots in the boardroom: wild child Seattle balances work and play.
The Emerald City remains a strange mix of LA and the Yukon, pasted onto that northwest notch in the Left Coast. At parties, people don't one-up about work, so much as hobbies.
"I climbed Mount Rainier last weekend."
"Yeah, well, I'm sore from a yoga-and-wine retreat. I consumed my body weight in artisanal cheese and estate chardonnay out at the Columbia Gorge."
"You're all lucky. I can't drink. I'm training for the Honolulu marathon, which will get me in shape for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu."
Seattle, I should explain, is a lifestyle city. Folks relocate or linger here, because they love backpacking and kite surfing, sea kayaking and mountain biking, rock climbing and ultimate Frisbee. They want to drysuit dive the 50°F waters of Puget Sound, then buy some foraged mushrooms at the farmer's market. Maybe later they'll dust off the vintage coupe and jaunt out for some schmancy cuisine. You know, the type with açaí-tinis, white-truffle popcorn and wild-salmon foam infusions: long on style, short on the ribs. Not that calories matter -- with a steamy salsa class scheduled to top off the night...
Commerce purrs along, sure, but the fat cats powerlunch elsewhere. Except for the computer industry, of course. And coffee. Not to mention airplanes. Anyway, outside of a few glamorous highlights -- don't forget to add Grey's Anatomy to that list -- the Emerald City is just a regional epicenter done good. Its 600,000-odd inhabitants care more about snow-pack than stock options and society galas. Don't be fooled: Seattleites are plenty smart (The United States Census Bureau crowned their city America's most educated). But they obey the call of the wild here in ecotopia. "This may be the slacker-genius capital of the world," a native once observed.
I often borrowed the phrase "a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll" to describe my hometown. Yet that doesn't quite sum up a metropolis that idolizes Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, uber-geek Bill Gates, fusion chef Tom Douglas and Jim Whittaker, the first American to climb Everest and also the first employee of the legendary Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI).
Then I stumbled across a new book by fellow Seattleite Jennifer Worick: Backcountry Betty, Roughing it in Style (Mountaineers, 2007). "It's an essential field guide that will allow the most polished of women to feel comfortable, put together, and capable during those times when they find themselves off the grid and, gasp!, out of cell phone range," she wrote. Once I read her "Crystal-lite Mixology" chapter, I knew Worick had plunged beyond the mere cheerleading of Chanel-shoppers into the great outdoors. She'd inadvertently summed up the whole Northwest thang.
A little bit glam, a little bit grunge ... a whole lotta fun.
Lola, alongside Hotel ndra, serves a Greek-inspired menu with local ingredients
First thing's first, a travelgirl needs java. Especially in the city that re-defined the humble cup-o-joe into a venti, sugar-free-vanilla, soy, double-dry latté cold with whip cream. Though Starbucks hatched here, the split-tail mermaid may not be, well, everyone's cup of tea. A snarky barista made Carolyn Ossorio rethink her habits: "My husband, two kids, and I were spending over a thousand dollars a month at various Starbucks locations across the city," she admitted. "Under other circumstances, we could live comfortably, maybe even save some money for our future. But we can't due to our collective Starbucks addiction." Ossorio walked away. But after a year sans chunky mochachinos, she caved. "But I went back on my own terms. I went back for me; I learned from therapy to have no expectations," she joked. Many Seattleites aren't so forgiving. Weary of $4 blinged coffees, they're returning to the bean machine's humble roots: neighborhood cafés.
Roaster Neal Brown observed: "John Q Public in middle America, in the heartland, is just starting to discover coffee. And Starbucks is bringing it to him. But the more experienced people want a local roaster for freshness and they want a distinctive atmosphere."
Papua New Guinea masks and coastal raven carvings peer from the walls of Ancient Grounds. Just steps from the newly revamped Seattle Art Museum, this gallery shoehorns in a coffee bar, the city's most unusual and exotic. Deco art, gypsy jazz and poets preen at Victrola Coffee & Art. El Diablo, on the other hand, is splashy, silly and sensuous: devil murals decorate this Cuban enclave atop Queen Anne hill. Caramelized sugar sweetens the specialty double-shot, closely rivaled by batidos (fruit shakes).
Students hunch over books at Café Allegro, the city's first espresso bar, home to exposed bricks, scuffed floorboards, peeling posters and the institution that is Nathaniel Jackson. "He's probably pulled 10 to 15 million shots since 1975. I call him the Iron Barista," Brown marveled. With its 1950's diner décor, Espresso Vivace Roasteria is heavier on science than scene: this café introduced "latté art" -- the virtuoso cream-swirl patterns -- to America. The Financial Times, not prone to gush, declared it "the finest coffee bar in the U.S." Other artisan roasters include the breezy, boho Lighthouse atop Phinney Ridge, Zoka, popular among the slouchy laptop-tapping crowd, and Caffe Vita with its iconic neon Punchinello sign.
off to see the wizard
Yes, yes. We have Pike Place Market, where fishmongers fling salmon (made famous by the old Levi's commercial). The area's also packed with antique stores, apothecaries, galleries, buskers and bookstores. The original Starbucks is here, but forgo its available-everywhere and utterly generic roast in favor of one of the before-mentioned coffee homes, or try this option: fierce, black Market Spice Tea. And, of course, Seattle's home to the iconic Space Needle, built to tower over the 1962 World's Fair. More than one million visitors take the 41-second elevator to the 520-foot-high observation deck each year ($16 adult; try the $5 food- and wine-tastings for a chic snack at the top).
Tourist essentials out of the way, decide what fuels your trip to the Emerald City. Cutting-edge art and architecture? Kayaking in the shadow of skyscrapers? Or maybe, true to Seattle's style, you want a bit of both.
As the city outgrows its ripped flannel shirts, it's finally acquired an Art Museum worthy of the name. Last year, SAM tripled its exhibition space and added an 8.5-acre Olympic Sculpture Park on the waterfront, free to the public. The most arresting new piece inside the museum is Inopportune: Stage One by Cai Guo-Qiang. He suspended nine white Ford Tauruses over the lobby, each impaled by neon tubes, so they seem to explode sequentially (museum admission is $15). The Seattle Aquarium welcomes visitors in a more soothing fashion, thanks to its recent $41 million overhaul. A two-story tank stretches 39 feet across its reception space -- and often contains a diver, who sasses the crowd via underwater mike (admission also $15 for adults). Round out your downtown visit with a free tour of Rem Koolhaas's iconic Public Library, a $165 million, ten-story, glass-and-steel origami. The main stacks spiral like a seashell inside an ocean of light and color. Then for a well-spent $80, get the lay of the land with a "flight seeing" tour on a Kenmore Air floatplane.
The Artic Club Hotel Seattle opens in May, named after a social club founded for the first gold-rush businessmen
The old Gasworks -- now a park with grassy lawns and a vast mosaic sundial -- offers one of the best views of Seattle's skyline. The rusted boilers lend an odd, haunting beauty to the lakeside. Take some photos, then head west to pay respects to the seven-ton statue of Vladimir Lenin: an understated piece of Slovakian protest art. An American veteran teaching overseas mortgaged his house to bring the bronze home, before his death in 1994. The kooky chamber of commerce defends its central spot: "This sculpture is placed here in the Artist's Republic of Fremont, as a symbol of an artistic spirit that outlasts regimes and ideologies, and as tangible proof that art does outlive politics." Just up the street looms the Fremont Troll, a steely-eyed concrete sculpture, several stories tall, which crushes a real VW Beetle under the Aurora bridge. Absorb the city's great outdoors some more and rent a kayak from the Northwest Outdoor Center to paddle alongside Seattle's famous houseboats ($24-34 for 2-4 hours). Or savor a floating picnic in a classic, handcrafted dingy from the Center for Wooden Boats, also on Lake Union ($15-25/hour). On a drizzly day, take shelter inside The Fremont Avenue ferryboat, which conducts fun tours.
wine and dine
Seattleites live well on the fat of the land: foraged blackberries, wild salmon and Dungeness crab, washed down with regional microbrews and Washington wines. Foodies are serious here. They debate kimchi brands. Many probably have a hook-up for fresh lemongrass -- and beefalo meat too. And yes, they bulk-order organic produce, which sometimes arrives in a purple delivery truck that declares "Bite Me, I'm Local" (check it out at www.spud.com!).
Should the intimidation kick in, just remember: western Washington also brought the world baristas in lingerie working at naughty espresso stands like Bikini Bottom and Hot Chick-a-Latte. Even public radioland likes some dirt in its sandwich ... and a laugh at its own expense now and then.
The funky Dahlia Lounge has a seafood bar and bakery right next door.
"We wanted a place where women feel comfortable to sit alone," explains Sarah Munson, co-owner of the new wine bar Local Vine. "Here they can order a glass of wine -- or the whole bottle -- while they send off that last work e-mail over wi-fi and maybe snack on some small plates." The Belltown hotspot also offers 43 pours that cost $10 or less, as well as Pabst Blue Ribbon, the ironic cheap beer of choice in the Northwest (because "sometimes your palette just gets tired and needs a PBR"). The menu at this welcoming establishment runs from white truffled popcorn to Wagyu flank steak with blue cheese potatoes; it's bright and airy in the afternoon, intimate and fire-lit come evening. Boka is another good choice for travelgirls. The lightbox walls slowly work through the spectrum, as a convivial crowd savors treats such as sugar-cane-skewered crab cakes and short rib sliders on buttermilk biscuits, drizzled with horseradish cream. Mixologist Thomas Dodson's signature drink is the Thai Ginger, but lately he's most excited about the "Italian Job:" Hangar One vodka, prosecco and aperol, a rhubarb-based liqueur storming Milan this season. "Light on the alcohol, it tastes like an orange creamsicle without the cream. The bubblies give it a nice, clean apertif effect," he explains.
Lunch with a clean conscience at Farestart. The bright, pleasant restaurant trains homeless and disadvantaged servers in the ways of haute cuisine. Dishes include sunny-side-up vegetable polenta, tempura cod with beer-battered fries and a hazelnut-encrusted lentil sage patty (there are guest chef dinners on Thursdays). Another local favorite is Crow, a noisy, hip establishment north of the Space Needle, famous for its pan-roasted chicken. Finally, don't leave town without putting celebrity chef Tom Douglas through his paces: Dahlia Lounge is the funkiest of his eateries. Modern glass light-sculptures cast a subdued light over the garnet-colored walls of this chic restaurant, complete with a seafood bar and adjacent bakery, admired for its herb crostini and rustic breads.
The University of Washington once forbade pubs within one mile of campus. So the infamous Blue Moon Tavern slouches on the boundary, near the Interstate 5 on-ramp. A literary darling, this dive bar's patrons have included Richard Hugo, Dylan Thomas and Allen Ginsburg. Grubby and gritty, it's been rescued from the wrecking ball repeatedly. Equally authentic is Fremont's crusty George and Dragon: a crusty Brit-style pub serving Boddingtons, Newcastle Brown, Strongbow Cider, European soccer matches and even a quiz night. For more choreographed eccentricity, catch some tapas and burlesque-cabaret at Can Can: a Moulin Rouge experience near the Pike Place Market. The ever-evolving, frequently off-color skits might include contortionism and fan-dancing. Then welcome dawn at Beth's Café, the grandma of all greasy spoons, which serves 12-egg omelets round-the-clock.
rest and recharge
The Emerald City's hotel scene is finally catching up with its sophistication, and two properties under construction will seal the deal. Opening early in 2008, the Arctic Hotel captures the Gold Rush boom-time vibe with walrus-carved columns bristling on its historic façade. Even more luxe will be the new Four Seasons, a 21-story hotel-condo hybrid, truly a sign that Seattle's coming into its own.
In the meantime, take shelter at the minimalist chic Hotel 1000 downtown. You'll never hear knocks or shouts of "Housekeeping!" here; this high-tech bastion scans each room for body heat, then alerts staff not to disturb guests. The minibar is equally intellectual: wired into the billing system, it charges for any item removed for more than 30 seconds. Dramatic pedestal tubs -- big enough for a cuddly couple -- overlook the cityscape. Best of all, this hotel is steps from the Seattle Art Museum and has monthly pairings of food, custom-designed cocktails and a curator's lecture on a masterpiece (In The Studio suggests a $10 donation; it happens on first Wednesdays at 5:30PM). Even nonresidents can stop into the delicious "Spaahh" for a 1,000 Hands Massage (90 minutes, $160) or a "happy hour pedicure" (30 minutes, weekdays from 11:30AM-2:30PM; $32).
The art fireworks continue at The Sheraton, enlivened by a $130 million renovation in 2007. In addition to a Sweet Sleeper bed, each of the 1,258 rooms now boasts original artwork by Dale Chihuly, the figurehead of the world-famous Northwest glass scene. Finally, the Hotel Ändra blends Scandinavian chic with Belltown's boho roots. Hot orange Arne Jacobsen swan chairs grace the lobby "living room," complete with a split-grain granite fireplace and cords of wood.
The area around Sea-tac airport contains many barebones $69 doubles. Don't be seduced by a fab price tag: this seedy area is a 40-minute bus ride from downtown. Aurora Avenue -- old Highway 99 -- also has budget options. But the corridor is the city's sleaziest; travelgirls should avoid it. A better option is the University district, despite its Ave rats, packs of feral, homeless teens who panhandle. Here rises the 158-room Hotel Deca, grungy only by location, following a recent $2 million revamp. It added iPod-docking alarm clocks to its retro 1930's grace, not to mention the elegant District Bar, the lone grown-up watering hole in the area. Built for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon Exposition, the 27-room College Inn remains popular almost a century later. Warning: "European-style" translates to "shower down the hall," but it's charming and cheap, with singles from $50-55.
Hipsters may prefer the offbeat and bijou charms of the Ace Hotel, which also shares some baths among cheaper rooms downtown. The spartan décor grandstands with hardwood floors, original murals, loft-like ceilings and "Green Hornet type secret invisible doors, blended into the white tiled walls."
Seattle's come a long way, baby, since its sleepless days, and continues to change faster than local hipster Sanjaya's haircut. But -- true to form -- its future lies somewhere between the city's trans-fat ban and the new Trump Tower, which The Donald plans to crowd into the burgeoning skyline.
Comfortable, put together and capable, the Emerald City's roughing it in style.
seattle standout: ballard
where old school meets scando-chic
Ballard, once a sleepy Scandinavian fishing quarter, has grown hip. Alarmingly hip. Quite possibly the hippest 'hood in the whole ironic-hipster city of Seattle'. Gourmet dog-treat boutiques jostle greasy spoon diners. Wine bars dot the wharves and warehouses. And bland condominiums replace the Craftsmen bungalows that once lined Seattle's northwest slopes. Yet Ballard somehow blends history, humbleness and hype quite happily. For every yuppie in trendy Carhartt trousers is a pipe-smoking craftsman with hammer snags in his hand-knitted sweater. Nowhere else sums up the Emerald City's glam-grunge tipping point better. The neighborhood has arms wide enough to embrace it all: the commercial fishermen's terminal, a 1,500-boat marina, the wharf railroad, the locks -- one of Seattle's top tourist sites -- art galleries, dive bars, cupcake cafés, pho houses and a shiny, space-age $10,000 hot dog cart catering to late-night gig-goers. Perhaps the balancing act shouldn't be surprising; however, urban legend claims Ballard craftily matched its saloon licenses to the number of churches during its boomtown days.
An endearing, hokey vibe remains, despite the hip clubs, pubs, shops and eateries. Modest brick buildings line the Historic Landmark District, still reminiscent of an oak-dappled frontier town. And the most exciting thing going is not only wholesome, but free. The 1917 Hiram Chittenden Locks link salty Puget Sound with freshwater Lake Washington via Lake Union.
Some 90,000 vessels a year bob through the Ship Canal, which also welcomes sockeye, chinook, and coho salmon, as well as steelhead trout. The fish migrate upstream through a 21-step "ladder." Six lighted windows display the creatures, often patchy and molting as they struggle back to their native waters. Less than one in a thousand survives to spawn at its birthplace. Adults mainly return from June to November. Young salmon (smolts) coast downstream during May and June.
Herschel, the infamous sea lion, made headlines here in the '90s, treating the fish ladder as a smorgasbord. Officials caged ten fellow opportunists and shipped them south. They swam back. Twice. Underwater noisemakers and a plastic killer whale failed to spook off the determined diners. Finally the worst offenders -- Hondo, Bob and Big Frank -- were Fed-Exed to serve life-sentences at Sea World in Orlando. Two more troublemakers near tribal nets mysteriously disappeared. The steelhead run collapsed, ending the free lunch, but sea lions sometimes still frisk in the western waters.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a visitor center at the locks (3015 NW 54th Street, 206.783.7059; www.nws.usace.army.mil). The adjacent Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden features ornamental trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants (206.783.7001/7059).
Archie McPhee may be the kitsch capital of the country. Top sellers include bacon air fresheners, wind-up hopping lederhosen, plastic pig catapults and the librarian action figure, based on Seattle's Nancy Pearl. The wacky warehouse also stocks day-glow plastic bugs, Japanese candy, punching nun puppets, tiki-headed doorknobs, a parachuting stunt monkey and Tickles Tapeworm snack boxes. Unfortunately, the "Free Ballard" shirts -- protesting its brutal 1907 annexation by Seattle -- are only available in large (2428 NW Market Street, 206.297.0240, www.mcphee.com).
The owners of Local Vine wanted a place where women would feel comfortable to sit alone.
eatin' and drinkin' in ballard
Ballard's best eggs-n-cakes option is Vera's (5417 22nd Avenue NW, 206.782.9966). Tattooed waitstaff dote on the diner's core clientele: largely blue-collar workers of Norwegian and Swedish descent. Café Besalu, on the other hand, evokes a European neighborhood bakery. Small, bright and always bustling, this patisserie draws a thick crowd around 10AM, when the feted puff-pastry quiches emerge (5909 24th Avenue NW, 206.789.1463). Handmade, organic loaves -- like sour cherry pumpernickel and hominy -- draw many customers next door to the Tall Grass Bakery as well.
Try Madame K's for kooky exuberance and the artichoke-parmesan paté pizza. Plush curtains still mask this former brothel, where the bawdy back-story takes center stage and a bed looms over the bar (5327 Ballard Avenue NW, 206.783.9710). Across the street lies La Carta de Oaxaca, a sleek, chic nuevo nod to "the land of the seven moles." Start with a Del Maguey mezcal and savory spoonfuls from the salsa bar, followed by tamales de mole negro, "western Washington's finest," according to The Seattle Times. Customers crush into the unreserved space quickly, so plan ahead (5431 Ballard Avenue NW, 206.782.8722).
Old Ballard meets the naughty new at the Coppergate Tavern, which serves Scandinavian tapas against a background of retro porn, like black velvet nudes. The wooden bar mimics a Viking ship; its sail a vast collage of 1940's, '50's and '60's cheesecake shots. Surprisingly, the un-airbrushed images celebrate female sensuality in all its shapes and sizes. Even more surprisingly, Norwegian small plates are good, despite all the "whiter shade of pale" jokes! (6301 24th Avenue NW; 206.782.8303).
Fu Kun Wu, at the back of Thaiku restaurant, is possibly the city's most evocative bar with birdcages, porcelain curios and apothecary accoutrements: The cocktail menu reflects this herbal adventurousness, even hinting at aphrodisiac effects (5410 Ballard Avenue NW, 206.706.7807). Nearby, tiny Hazelwood -serves as an unofficial clubhouse for musicians and other offbeat characters. Crash the party and order up its signature drink: Irish whiskey, honeyed peppermint tea, and amaretto, served with a truffle and a Nat Sherman cigarette (2311 NW Market Street; 206.783.0478).
Shift gears and snuggle into a red vinyl booth at The Viking Tavern. This cheerful watering hole has cheap pitchers and a rare long shuffleboard. It also sells farm-fresh eggs and boasts the state's smallest legal kitchen -- a mini-fridge, smoker and microwave -- turning out Nordic Nachos, Sloppy Svens and slow-smoked pork butt (6404 24th Avenue NW, 206.784.3662). Hattie's Hat also veers between bar and eatery, but the meatloaf's luster dims beside the smoky, surreal atmosphere. The décor -- from the corny Easter bonnet logo to '50s glitter kitty paintings -- is kitschy, but pure: fossilized, rather than applied with irony. Rockabillies, dock workers, artists and suits crowd together at the frontier-style wood-carved bar (5231 Ballard Avenue NW, 206.784.0175, www.hattieshat.com). The neighboring Tractor Tavern showcases local and national bands most evenings. This "nice diesel place to hear music" leans towards alt-country (5213 Ballard Ave NW, 206.789.3599, www.tractortavern.com).
Perhaps the late-July Seafood Fest motto best sums up this neighborhood-at-the-crossroads. Events include a lutefisk (jellied cod) eating competition, a couture coverall contest and music from punk to predictable cornball accordion (2208 NW Market Street 206.784.9705, www.seafoodfest.org). The festival's motto says it all, really: "Beer. Fish. Ballard. You betcha!"
Editor's note: Author Amanda Castleman lives in a writer's garret in Ballard. While open to diversity, she struggles to welcome purse dogs to her neighborhood. Her website is www.amandacastleman.com
* Pike Place Market Spice Tea 85 Pike Street at First Avenue 206.682.7453 www.pikeplacemarket.org
* Space Needle 400 Broad Street Seattle Center 206.905.2100 www.spaceneedle.com
* Ancient Grounds 1220 First Avenue 206.749.0747
* Victrola Coffee & Art 411 15th Avenue E. 206.325.6520 www.victrolacoffee.com
* El Diablo 1811 Queen Anne Avenue 206.285.0693 www.eldiablocoffee.com
* Seattle Art Museum 1300 First Avenue 206.654.3100 www.seattleartmuseum.org
* Olympic Sculpture Park 2901 Western Avenue
* Seattle Aquarium 1483 Alaskan Way, Pier 59 (near base of Pike Place Market) 206.386.4320 www.seattleaquarium.org
* Public Library 1000 Fourth Avenue 206.386.4636 www.spl.org
* Kenmore Air floatplane tours 950 Westlake Ave North 425.486.1257 www.kenmoreair.com
* Local Vine 2520 Second Avenue 206.441.6000 www.thelocalvine.com
* Boka 1010 First Avenue 206.357.9000 www.bokaseattle.com
* Farestart 700 Virginia Street 206.443.1233 www.farestart.org
* Crow 823 Fifth Avenue North 206.283.8800
* Dahlia Lounge 2001 Fourth Avenue 206.682.4142 www.tomdouglas.com
* Arctic Hotel 3rd Avenue and Cherry Street 206.340.0340 www.arctichotelseattle.com
* Four Seasons www.fourseasons.com
* Hotel 1000 1000 First Avenue 206.957.1000 www.hotel1000seattle.com
* The Sheraton 1400 6th Avenue 206.621.9000 www.Sheraton.com/Seattle
* Hotel Ändra 2000 Fourth Avenue 877.448.8600 www.hotelandra.com
* Café Allegro 4214 University Way NE 206.634.2310 www.cafeallegromusic.com
* Espresso Vivace Roasteria 901 East Denny Way 206.860.5869 www.espressovivace.com
* Lighthouse 400 North 43rd Street 206.634.3140 www.lighthouseroasters.com
* Zoka 2200 North 56th Street 206.545.4277 www.zokacoffee.com
* Caffe Vita 1005 East Pike Street 206.709.4400 www.caffevita.com
* Gaswork Park 2101 North Northlake Way 206.684.4075
* Vladimir Lenin statue North 36th Street and Evanston www.fremont.com
* Fremont Troll sculpture Highway 99 and N. 36th Street Northwest Outdoor Center 2100 Westlake Avenue North 206.281.9694 www.nwoc.com
* Center for Wooden Boats 1010 Valley Street 206.382.2628 www.cwb.org
* The Fremont Avenue ferryboat 801 North Northlake Way (under the Aurora Bridge along the Burke Gilman Trail) 206.713.8446 www.seattleferryservice.com
* Blue Moon Tavern 712 45th Street NE 206.675.9116
* George and Dragon 206 North 36th Street 206.545.6864 www.georgeanddragonpub.com
* Can Can 94 Pike Street 206.652.0832 www.thecancan.com
* Beth's Café 7311 Aurora Avenue North 206.782.5588 www.bethscafe.com
* Hotel Deca and District Bar 4507 Brooklyn Avenue NE 206.634.200 www.hoteldeca.com
* College Inn 4000 University Way NE 206.633.4441 www.collegeinnseattle.com
* Ace Hotel 2423 First Avenue 206.448.4721 www.acehotel.com