“I’ve never been there myself, but I hear it’s lovely.”
Such is the typical response from even the most well-traveled New Yorkers, when asked about Seattle, Washington. And who can blame them for not venturing out to this faraway neck of the American woods? Granted, they’ve heard great things. From its grunge heyday in the early nineties, right on through to its legendary lattes and tech-sector prowess, the gem of the Pacific Northwest has been blessed with one of the best P.R. campaigns of any American city. But it’s just so damned far away.
Of course, for those of us who have ventured there, Seattle strikes an attractive balance between small-town charm and big-city sophistication. Its residents, at once friendly and aloof, sparkle with just the right mix of urban cynicism and Portlandia crunch. It’s all part and parcel with living in a city so far off the beaten path, not even Lewis and Clark bothered to pay it a visit. In Seattle, no one can hear you scream, and that’s just fine with Seattleites.
We recently made a trip to Seattle’s liveliest neighborhood, Capitol Hill, where the coffee is spectacular, the views of the city are picturesque, and the hipsters and gays still live together in near-perfect harmony—that is, until they’re all priced out by former Microsofties with gym memberships. If you find yourself willing to make the climb to this charmingly gritty residential district, here are five places not to miss.
1. Victrola Coffee Roasters and Espresso Vivace Espresso Bar
Yes, two coffee shops in a dead-heat tie. There’s a reason why Seattle is famous for its brew. First, Seattleites need it: When the sun goes down at 15:00 during the wintertime, and the moments that preceded that we’re overcast, Seattleites need the buzz. Second, while we’ve had the best from Paris to Addis Ababa, there is no question: Seattle makes the best cups o’ joe in the world. And those beautiful fern-like froth designs are commonplace — don’t see one topping your cup? Don’t even touch it; walk across the street and have a professional barista craft you a jazzier jamocha.
Victrola, with its battered wooden tables and walls packed with works from local artists, this is the sort of place you could spend all day reading and studying, and it seems that’s what half of Capitol Hill does every day. And when your laptop dies, you can use the opportunity to head out to one of the sidewalk chairs and flip through Seattle’s terrific weekly rag The Stranger.
Farther down the hill, Vivace, which has been around for over twenty years, has a wonderfully helpful staff, stocks local papers as well as The New York Times, and if the weather forecast hints at a promising three minutes of sunshine, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of it through its glass garage doors. This is also a terrific spot for lap-topping but dear God, show up with an Acer or a Dell and expect cappuccino spit-takes; Seattle coffee shops are strictly a Mac affair. In-between sips, admire the stunning mural (“An Italian in Algiers”) and the under-counter espresso art while breathing in their on-site roasters.
2. Big Mario’s New York Style Pizza
When New Yorkers see a “New York Style” anything sign anywhere outside of the Empire State, it’s all we can do to keep from laughing and throwing a fuckin’ brick in ya stupid window. While clocking into Mario’s after a night of hooch and ordering up a slice, we were laughing to ourselves, “Hey, hey, Mah-rio — faahk you! With your bullshit ‘New York,’ whatevah. Yeah right.” And then we had a bite, and several more, and after two more slices, we were all, “Mah-rio kicks some fahkin’ ass, OK?”
Seriously. Mario’s New York Style Pizza is perfection: a crisp, thin, perfectly structured pie with bubbly crust and an excellent slick of robustly flavored tomato sauce swirled on top and plopped with prime toppings. There’s a full bar and the atmosphere is cozily dive-y. Half the pizzerias in New York would do well to suck Big Mario’s fahkin’ dick as far as we’re concerned. (Big Mario’s – 1009 East Pike Street)
3. Volunteer Park
The country’s first landscape architectural firm, The Olmsted Company (the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted of New York’s Central Park), opened the forty-eight-acre parkland with such features as lily ponds, a tremendous glass and steel Victorian conservatory, a band shell, and water tower that is open to the public and affords breathtaking panoramic views of the Seattle skylines. Save time to view the mansions on the park’s edges — they’re quite impressive.
4. Coastal Kitchen
For people who believe it’s all right to be seen in public before 14:00 on a Sunday, which we normally do not, this is the perfect place for brunching. The wooden booths are comfortable, the coffee is terrific (of course) the service friendly and the food hearty. The goat cheese rumble with sage and caramelized onions (a bit like a loose omelet, which would make it a bit like scrambled eggs ), as well as the hazelnut-cinnamon pancakes are stand-outs. ( Coastal Kitchen 429 15th Avenue East — they Tweet rather than Facebook, which we find incredibly annoying)
5. The Elliott Bay Book Company
Yes, Seattle has real-live bookstores teeming with tomes made from actual dead trees. While most book havens have been felled by the popular uprising of electronic devil books, it is refreshing to be surrounded by people whom we can once again judge based upon their reading material. The original Elliot Bay Bookstore was an inspiration for the cafe on Frasier but this newer incarnation is simply an inspiration — period. They even happen to have in stock several copies of Glittersnipe’s co-founder’s newest book, Tortured Artists — just so you know. (Elliott Bay Books – 1521 Tenth Avenue)