Let me just start out by saying that Seattle is my favorite city in North America, and that includes the likes of Hell (Michigan), Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! (Quebec), and My Large Intestine (Texas). Founded in the 1850s as ‘Duwamp,’ the name was changed in honor of Chief Si’ahl of the spectacularly spelled Dkhw’Duw’Absh tribe because they were pretty sure nobody would ever buy an album of a band from Duwamp.
Seattle initially flourished from the lumber and Chinese race riot industries. It later became a launching point and market center for the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s and a development center for the Dot Com Gold Rush in the 1990s. It is located in Washington State on a strip of land sandwiched between Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains, both of which provide a natural barrier from the state’s Republicans. Those old enough to remember Kojak might also remember Seattle as having the nickname ‘The Queen City,’ but it was changed to ‘The Emerald City’ after the untimely death of Freddie Mercury.
Any visit to downtown Seattle should start at Seattle Center, which is the converted grounds of the1962 World’s Fair, the purpose of which was to show the Russians that we had the technology and public will to build tall, pointy buildings. The very Jetsonesque Space Needle is one of those buildings. It dominates the Seattle Center area and is perhaps the most recognizable man-made structure on the West Coast outside of Joan Rivers’ face. Eating at SkyCity, the revolving restaurant at the top, is worth doing once but I recommend going for lunch instead of dinner because you can get the same bread for much less bread.
Next door to the Space Needle is the EMP Museum housed in a hyperbolically postmodern building that could easily be mistaken for a giant pile of laundry. It houses a variety of pop culture exhibits but nothing inside is as interesting as the building itself. Go instead to the Chihuly Garden and Glass to the north and you will be amazed at how much that Chihuly guy really blows.
If you take the Disney Monorail south to Pike Street, you will find yourself in the heart of Shopperpalooza and enjoying such Seattle originals as Eddie Bauer, Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack, Nordstrom shoes, Spa Nordstrom, and The Nordstrom Café. While in this area, be sure to say hello to the guy carrying the cardboard sign that reads, “need $ for weed.” He’s been wandering the Pike Street area for a couple of years now and can be very friendly for a couple of bucks.
At the west end of Pike is the coincidentally named Pike Place Market, a must-stop for any Seattle visitor. Here you can get everything from flowers to flavored honey to scallops the size of your goiter. Pike Place is where you will find the very first Starbuck’s, inventors of the $4 cup of coffee. I’m not sure how this works, but the original Starbuck’s store is located just south of the original Starbuck’s store location. The lines at the original store are usually unusually long so if you would prefer not to wait, try my trick of going to one of the other 37,463,922 downtown locations.
Before you leave the market, stop by the Pike Place Fish Market on the corner of the main arcade building behind Rachel the bronze pig. These are the guys whose gimmick is to have you smooch your purchase, then physically throw it to the back for packaging. If nothing else, stop by just for the halibut and Tacoma pound or two.
If you go down the concrete steps in front of Rachel and turn right, you will find yourself in Post Alley in front of the distinctive and somewhat nauseating Market Theater Gum Wall. This is where it is acceptable, nay encouraged, to spit one’s masticated Chiclets out and onto the side of a building. The Gum Wall has the distinction of being named among the world’s germiest tourist attractions behind only the Blarney Stone and Charlie Sheen. It is a great place to stand and conTIMplate things like “How remarkable is it that each individual contribution, no matter how small, can be welded into an accomplished community able to gross out people from all walks of life?” or “How the heck did they get it way up there?”
Continuing down the alley you will find yourself a tongue’s width from the waterfront just a lick away. Here is the tourist/strolling date center of Seattle where you can ride a Ferris wheel or a carrousel and satiate your souvenir shot glass needs.
Once the walkway starts getting industrial and a little bit scary, turning back into town will put you in the heart of Pioneer Square, the Old Town, Gaslight, Red Brick area of downtown, site of the Duwamp settlement and the original Skid Row. Here you will find unique antique boutiques, pretentious art galleries, and culinary deliciousness. If you are homeless or politically active or both, you will feel right at home in Pioneer Square and will have no problem engaging in conversations about capitalist oppression or the spare capital you might perchance possess in your pocket.
For today’s obscure movie reference, I think if I lived in Seattle I would weigh about 500 pounds and you would have to keep bringing me a bucket. The food is the bomb, and I say that despite the risk of subjecting my blog to DHS monitoring. I could go on and on here, but in order to avoid litigation from Stephen Bishop I will simply recommend some of my downtown favorites.
If you are up for an adventurous breakfast try the 24-hour 5-Point Cafe whose slogan is “Alcoholics serving alcoholics since 1929.” I actually prefer Top Pot Doughnuts just down the street for my morning gut extender, as their doughnuts are “hand-forged.”
For a touristy meal, there are a couple of great eateries in the Pike Place Market that will give you a great Seattle experience. One is the patio at Maximilien where you can consume French foodstuffs while overlooking the moist, aquatic waters of Elliot Bay. There is water all over the place in Seattle and they almost rub it in your face by repeatedly bringing you free refills. If the weather isn’t that great, opt for Matt’s in the Market that overlooks the Farmer’s Market and the giant clock with which you can time your waiters. They have a thought-provoking and evolving menu based on what’s for sale across the street. Be sure to get reservations though, as Matt’s fits about the same number of people as your hotel room bathtub.
If you are eating on the waterfront, Ivar’s has the best chowder, clams down. For pasta, do the counter at Il Corvo in Pioneer Square. They are only open for lunch however, so you may find the dinner serving sizes a little chincy. And my favorite beatnik coffee shop is Cherry Street Coffee House which if I recall correctly, is on Cherry Street.
Word is that if you’re looking for a steak go to the Metropolitan Grill, but I don’t know for sure because going to Seattle for steak is like going to Laramie for sushi. The seafood is off the boat and off the heezy so that’s where I concentrate my gastronomic efforts. If you only have one chance at it, go to The Boat Street Café. You’re welcome.
If spending less than a month’s salary is your thing, one of my favorites is The Brooklyn on 2nd Avenue. The typical Seattle beards and ponytails are limited here and it’s always fun to hang with the relevant liberal hipster yuppie crowd. Admittedly, much of my affection for The Brooklyn stems from a celebrated, almost mythical dessert I had there 20 years ago that legend has christened only as The Chocolate Box. The fervent quest for its equal continues to this day.
I see that my motivation to continue is waning, so I will finish up. Did I mention how much I like Seattle?