To prepare for my visit to Rain City I reviewed numerous inputs; the N.Y. Times' "36 Hours in Seattle", the Seattle Times' "36 Hours in Traffic: Fact-checking The New York Times’ ‘36 Hours in Seattle’", subscriber feedback, TripAdvisor, Fodor's, and of course Tony Bourdain.
During his stay in 2017¹, Tony dwelt on such diverse Seattle topics as tech boys, serial killers, internet porn, grunge music, and weed. While I only find one of these topics mildly interesting, it made me realize I needed to try and get to know the city and not just the tourist attractions.
The trip from the airport was seamless. Less than 15 minutes after exiting the plane, I had boarded the Link, which is Seattle’s light rail system. Once onboard I knew I was in Seattle because there was a sign that said “This is a Hate-Free Zone . . .“ And $3.00 and thirty minutes later was exiting in downtown Seattle.
The Paramount Theater is a 2,807-person theater that opened in 1928, that hosts Broadway theater, concerts, dance, comedy, silent film, and jazz. I only mentioned it so I could mention that I saw the play Hamilton there. I’m blogging about it for the same reason people post on Instagram, not to share the joy, but to enable the envy. The show was straight fire. It actually made the American Revolution seem so cool that I’m thinking of getting myself some knee socks, buckle shoes, and a tricornered hat. I won’t tell you how much I paid but it was money well spent as Mrs. AAR can now die a happy (but less fiscally encumbered) woman.
The epicenter of Seattle tourism is Pike Place Market and unless you have the soul of Anthony Bourdain you cannot help but visit. It was worth the first walk-through, but soon enough the throng of sightseers made the place claustrophobic, and when a Chinese tourist stopped short in front of me to take a photo of an "ALASKAN KING SALMON $22.50/pound", it all became a just a little too much.
If you enjoyed the intimacy the market setting offers by standing uncomfortably close to thousands of tourists, then go across the street so you can stand on a very long line of tourists to buy coffee at the oldest Starbucks in the world. I instead crossed the street to La Panier, which offered me a nice cup of coffee and the world's tiniest and tastiest eclair, which I then consumed directly back across the street on a deck overlooking Puget Sound.
Kerry Park possibly offers the best view of downtown Seattle. Some say to visit at sunset, but I think closer to beer o’clock on a Sunday may actually work best . . .
Note: If you take the bus to Kerry Park (as I did) make sure to exit at the Highlands Drive stop, if you exit earlier you will defeat the purpose of taking the bus in the first place, and will have to walk up a very steep hill.
Amazon Spheres are three conjoined spherical conservatories that serve as an employee lounge during the week and as a tourist attraction on the weekend (by appointment only). Filled with a ridiculous amount of tropical flora, a little fauna, stunning architecture, and some very comfortable chairs. It makes every visitor realize that their employer doesn’t really give a damn about providing employees with a suitable workspace to enable first-rate creativity and collaboration. Admission is free (Thank you, Jeff Bezos!).
A couple we met at the Amazon Spheres said that the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) had free admission that day, which would make our planned visit extra nice. At the SAM admissions desk, my wife asked for "free admission", but was informed that it didn't exist, though they did offer a veteran's discount. I produced my Veteran ID Card and we received two free tickets in return. After we were out of earshot, I said to my wife "You're a Jedi Master!" ("These aren't the droids you're looking for . . . free admission . . . move along") and made a note for her to ask for free admission at the next museum we visited.
The SAM was featuring an exhibition of abstract expressionist paintings that use to decorate the walls of a Seattle house owned by a filthy rich couple. The exhibition contains some really good stuff by Rothko (x2), Pollock, de Kooning, Gottlieb, etc., all centered around an impressive Kline. There were also, of course, two portraits . . . of the couple - his by Alice Neel, hers by Andy Warhol.
The Frye Art Museum "emphasizes" nineteenth-century painting and sculpture from the private collection of the eponymous owner of a meatpacking plant. Some interesting stuff, though I’ve never been in such a large museum without knowing a single piece or artist, though this may say more about my artistic knowledge than the museum’s holdings. Interestingly enough the one piece I found most interesting, just happens to be the museum's most famous work - funny though, when the museum administrator told me this, he didn't get as nearly excited as I did.
Smith Tower is the most beautiful building in Seattle and is part of a metaphor for life, as it sits directly across the street from the ugliest building in Seattle. While the views from Smith Tower are not as breathtaking as from Kerry Park or the Space Needle you can enjoy them in a more refined atmosphere. There are nice 360-degree views to be had from inside the 45th-floor bar or the outside walkway that encircles it. Note: The exterior fencing may give some of your photos a jailhouse vibe.
The Olympic Sculpture Garden offers a free guided tour on most Sundays @ 1:00 pm. Ours visited a number of the statues, which of course included a Calder (this time a stabile). The tour ended at the statue of a man and a child facing each other, with either one or the other obscured by a water spray - it changes hourly. It is supposed to remind you of people unable to communicate with each other, which in turn reminds me of some families I’ve known.
I enjoy libraries more than most and probably more than is healthy. So when I heard about “the most important new library to be built in a generation, and the most exhilarating", I knew I needed to visit the Seattle Central Library. It's soaring, light-filled, with lots of angles, art, and interesting city views from the top floor.
That being said the coolest part of the place was the Short Story Dispenser which dispenses 1, 3, or 5-minute stories - depending on the reader's free time (or more likely their attention span) on what looks like a grocery store receipt. Check out a dispensed 3-minute story here - that anyone who ever went to high school will appreciate.
I love the free walking tour, which is very popular in Europe, less so in the US. The Seattle Free Walking Tour gave a great overview of the Emerald City while providing a little context, history, and color. While technically free, a partaker would be a cad if they didn’t at least slip their tour guide a Hamilton.
Bainbridge Island is a 35-minute ferry due west of downtown Seattle and a perfect destination for a day trip - see "8.84 Hours on Bainbridge Island" for details.
We supped at various locations in the downtown area with Victrola Coffee Roasters being the best. They all offered a fine medium hot coffee and medium cappuccino, though just being in Seattle seemed to make them taste that much better.
Our tour guide Joe (see above) mentioned that Pike Place Chowder is a great lunch spot. They have two locations: one at the eponymous market and one a half mile away on the fourth floor of the Pacific Place Mall (where the locals soup). It was an easy decision and subsequently, the mall was hit for a bowl of the “Nations Best Clam Chowder". And I have to agree. The fact that there was a Japanese restaurant next door and Comic Con was being held across the street, made for interesting people watching. An AAR Must Chowder.
The #1 Restaurant in all of Seattle is a pizza joint in West Seattle (four years running). After buying a ticket via the Kings County Metro app, the C Bus to West Seattle was boarded. Next stop Pizzeria Credo! A Del Golfo pizza (Shrimp, San Marzano Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Ricotta, Red Chili Flakes, and Pesto) was ordered (but not by me). Owned by a Frenchman who previously owned a nightclub in my old hometown of Washington, DC. Merde, a frog making the pizza!? It’s not NY pizza - though still quite tasty. I would classify it as Neapolitan, either way, it's all a little too fussy if you ask me. But the #1 Restaurant in all of Seattle?! It could make a traveler wonder about TripAdvisor’s veracity and usefulness (though at least it wasn't a crêpe joint).
The Umi Sake House is a good place for some happy hour sushi. Especially if you like poop, which is called Uni in Japanese.
The Fog Room is a good looking rooftop bar where good looking people drink good looking cocktails made with the sexiest ice cubes that have ever floated in my Flackhattan (the word “FOG” is imprinted on each one), and take good looking sunset photos of Puget Sound.
On our last day, a visit to Uncle Ike’s in Capitol Hill was in order to pick up some "medicinal" gummies for the road. Afterward, a celebratory beer was in order so I did what I always do when I’m in a strange neighborhood. I typed "beer near me" into my cell phone. And the next thing I knew we were sitting at the bar at the Hilltop Bar. I knew this was the place for me when I saw a photo of a sailor displayed above the bar like a photo of the Queen displayed above the bar, in a bar, in Belfast (the Protestant section, that is).
The place is kitchenless, which worked out really well as earlier that day at Pike Place Market I had run across two of the most expensive nectarines I had ever seen ($4pn). They were now washed down by a Rainer tallboy and an Operation: Yoga Pants Gluten Free Golden Ale, all while Mrs. AAR exclaimed "this is livin' baby!"
Pioneer Square is the oldest neighborhood in Seattle and is quite fittingly where the term Skid Row originated. It is also a symbol of how people view travel, with some subscribers telling me to avoid it (and in some cases downtown in its entirety) as it was overrun with homelessness and just plain dangerous.
This had the opposite effect on me as now I needed to investigate further.
After spending a fair amount of time poking around the place, I realized that while it had some grit (I had never previously seen a man smoke crack before), it was filled with a food truck serving MexiCuban fusion cuisine, miniature golf, and cornhole - how dangerous can a place be that features outdoor dueling pianos playing some James Taylor? I decided to investigate further at a place called The Meyer - it's a dive bar that as fate would have it shares my Mother’s maiden name.
Over a beer named Nazi Punks Fuck Off, an homage to the eponymous Dead Kennedy’s song, the bartender assured me Pioneer Square was safe. She mentioned that she never felt scared, though it's the city and common sense needs to be applied. She then asked where I was from, when I said “Kansas City” in a (very) mild New York accent, she replied, "no you're not." I then said "originally, New York", to which she replied knowingly, “you'll be fine.”
I used Dicta #3 of The After Action Report: The Lodging Protocol and used booking.com to book the Palihotel for $283/night + tax (fully cancelable). Then after doing a fair amount of research determined that the Palihotel was located directly across the street from the Pike Place Market - which could be just a little too touristy for my blood. So I then booked the Mayflower Park Hotel for $240/night + tax and then canceled the Palihotel.
I saved 10% on my stay at the Mayflower Park by using a promo code on booking.com that was provided by Capital One Shopping.
The Mayflower Park Hotel is located on the edge of downtown and Belltown - only a block from the Westlake Link station that provides airport access. A perfect location for first-time Seattle visitors. It's independently owned and operated, which makes the hotel quite distinctive:
1. Built in 1927, it maintains that old-world feel and charm. A dated but not worn look with a charming lobby - something right out of a George Sanders movie.
2. A well-staffed front desk with a generous helping of doormen, bellmen, and valets.
The only minor drawback was the small rooms and the smallest hotel bed I ever slept in. At 60", it technically was a queen, but not even honeymooners want to sleep in a bed that small.
Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details that while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.
¹ I watched Bourdain tour Seattle in Parts Unknown season 10, episode 8 for free via this rather dubious link, you may only want to view it on an Apple device for virus protection purposes.
² Rainer is the name of:
a. a large, active 14,411 ft stratovolcano in the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, located in Mount Rainier National Park about 59 miles south-southeast of Seattle. Due to its high probability of an eruption in the near future, it's considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
b. a beer that was formerly brewed in Seattle, but is now owned by Pabst Brewing Company and toll brewed by MillerCoors in California. It is drunk by Sheriff Walt Longmire exclusively in the A&E series Longmire.