The second leg of the trip didn't involve wineries, but we still enjoyed wine...in Seattle. With our only reference point being multiple seasons of Gray's Anatomy and Starbuck's, we decided to do the tourist thing. No out-of-the-way, off-the-grid fine dining or boutiques for us here. We did the monorail, the Space Needle, the harbor boat tour and Pike Place Market, discovering that Seattle is a pretty cool place. The fact that we had two perfect, sunny 71 degree days in early October may have influenced our opinions, although everyone we met went out of their way to tell us that the weather was a little exceptional.
Our 6 a.m. commuter flight from Walla Walla found us on the ground in Seattle at 6:45, with an entire day to explore. We chose the Kimpton Alexis Hotel, based on a great experience at the Kimpton Muse in New York last June and we were not disappointed.The concierge steered us to Lowell's, in Pike Place Market, for one of the best breakfasts we've ever had, at a table overlooking Puget Sound. Dungeness crab eggs benedict, served over rosemary foccia toast, with crispy hash browns and their famous bloody marys and mimosas did a lot to offset the pain of the early start to the day.
We followed our leisurely breakfast with exploration of Pike Place Market, the famous, sprawling, multi-faceted and unique retail market that encompasses more fresh fish, flowers and produce than you can imagine. Well over 100 years old, it occupies over 5 levels, containing restaurants, markets, and lots of unusual retail stores including the very crowded, first Starbuck's location.
After exploring Pike Place, we descended to the waterfront. Did we say there is a reason Pike Place has 5 stories...the descent to the waterfront is fairly steep. In fact, the overall hilliness of downtown Seattle surprised us. The Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour, departing from Pier 56, gave us a fun and informative view and education of Seattle from the water.
Our enthusiastic narrator pointed out not only the major landmarks, but filled in some of the history of lesser known facts about Seattle's skyline. For example, would you have thought that the Space Needle, built for the 1962 World's Fair, is privately owned? It seems that the city of Seattle was unwilling to put up the money for something they thought would be obsolete at the end of the Fair. And that the architect and contractor, with help from promotion-minded city banks, put up the money for what now has been a "cash cow" for 52 years.
We wound up our day with a leisurely walk through the streets surrounding Pike Place and enjoyed a late lunch at Etta's Seafood, Tom Douglas' first Seattle restaurant. In the unexpected sunshine at a table on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, we each shared a whole Dungeness Crab and cups of incredible clam chowder, along with a bottle of very good Adelsheim Oregon Pinot Gris. We are guessing that Etta's would be even better for dinner based on the menu.
We continued the tourist adventure on day two, first with a stop at what was a shrine for Linda, the original Nordstrom's shoe department. This was followed by a ride on the monorail from downtown to the Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, multiple museums, arenas and halls...the grounds of the 1962 World's Fair.
The big surprise was the one of the recent additions that we passed through just before entering the monorail station, the Frank Gehry designed, EMP Museum. A magnificent space by one of the world's greatest architects, it was endowed by Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, and designed to showcase what we assume are all things that Paul Allen thinks are cool. And it was cool. It was pretty much a museum devoted to to rock and roll history, with a whole level showcasing memorabilia from almost every science fiction movie made in the last 70 years. It was all there, from The Creature's costume from the Black Lagoon to the coats that Keanu Reeves wore in The Matrix. The music exhibits were fascinating from the largest music video screen we've ever seen to extensive retrospectives on Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, to the hands-on music-mixing studio equipment and and a huge, mesmerizing MTV video room that almost made us late for lunch.
The secret to the Space Needle is to visit for lunch or dinner, preferably on a lucky clear day. An elevator ride to the observation deck costs $36/person, but the free ride to the revolving restaurant, one level beneath the deck, only involves a $25/per person minimum and includes admission to the observation deck. And, since a hamburger costs $28, the minimum isn't a problem. The wonderful thing is that the food and service are good, the views are great, you get a free digital photo of your group at the table and the entire experience is a fun bargain. Granted, lunch with wine for four was $200 before tip, but we probably would have paid that in any fine dining establishment without the amazing views. We paired a bottle of King Estate's Oregon Pinot Gris with clam chowder, salmon fritters, a shared lamb burger, a shrimp and dungeness crab Louis salad, and a hazelnut crusted chicken sandwich, all of which was exceptional.
Yes, it was the "light lunch," but we had to walk back to the hotel, but not before seeing the new Dale Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum and gardens next door, a joint venture between Chihuly and the Wright family that owns the Space Needle. You'll find Chihuly's work prominently displayed at the Indianapolis Children's Museum and the Eiteljorg has hosted a traveling exhibit, but this is the first permanent home for his work. A native of Seattle, he has taken the Tiffany approach to his art, establishing a production facility filled with trained artisans to help produce his work. Depending on what art critic you pay attention to, he is either a singular genius or the Thomas Kinkade of glass. The glass sculptures displayed in the hall and garden are absolutely beautiful and often breathtaking. And if you're there for lunch, it is certainly worth a visit.
Seattle was a very interesting stop, and we only wish we had had more time to explore more than just the main attractions. And, while the SeaTac airport is a little LaGuardia-era-esque, we were impressed that we could enjoy live music by a member of the Seattle Orchestra, while having an excellent seafood lunch at Anthony's, an outpost of a Seattle seafood institution, in the main food court. And the final lunch gave Kurt an opportunity to extend his streak of having salmon and/or clam chowder at every restaurant stop in Seattle.
Washington Trip Part I Walla Walla and Chateau Ste. Michelle
Washington Trip Part II Columbia Crest and Col Solare
Washington Trip Part III Seven Hills, Waterbrook and Tamarack Cellars