Wine X Vol 3.2
by S. Duda
Yes, it does rain a lot in Seattle. From November to May, count on being moist. And yeah, drizzle can be romantic, dramatic or cinematic — sometimes — but you gotta learn to love the wet stuff to live here. But you’re not thinking of living here (traffic is bad, housing is expensive, and don’t forget, rain!) you just wanna visit. That’s swell, we’d love to have you for a few days. Even better for Sea Town travelers: the dress code has been lifted! You’re no longer required to wear crappy blue jeans, Doc Martens and T-shirts with cigarette burns. Happy days are here again!If you’ve never been, Seattle is more a collection of neighborhoods than an actual big city. The Space Needle notwithstanding, the joy of Seattle is in the small things — cozy pubs, smart restaurants, clever boutiques, amazing beer and terrific music and theater scenes.
Chances are you’ll be staying downtown. For accommodations, call Pension Nichols first, a groovy, affordable B&B; steps away from the Pike Place Market. Just down the street from Seattle’s venerable restaurant district, this B&B; also offers million-dollar views of Puget Sound that even readers of Wine X can afford.
Of course, you’ll want to venture into the Pike Place Market to dig the fish-throwing, Old Seattle vibe. For a major tourist attraction, the Market is surprising for its lack of tourist cheese. Among the best deals in the market are fresh flowers, fish (duh!) and local produce. A tip: buy a fresh crab (they’re already steamed), have them clean it (free), then walk to Victor Stienbreuk park at the base of the market for an amazing view of Mount Rainier (the big Mountain to the south), the Puget Sound (the big water in front of you) and the Olympic Mountains (the big peaks to the west). One crab (about $10) should be enough for two happy travelers.
Just down from the Market is Seattle’s waterfront. A tourist trap and for the most part worthless, the waterfront can be a happening place if you’re interested in cheap T-shirts, bad food or para-sailing. Otherwise avoid. If you intend on being an “independent traveler” and insist on hitting the waterfront, walk straight past the crap shacks and toward the Seattle Ferry terminal. Operated by the generally okay State of Washington, the ferry system provides the best deal in the known tourist universe. For under $5, you can walk onto any ferry and cruise to a nearby island in the Sound. Recommended trip: the ferry to Bremerton, an old navy town, is a one-hour sail (each way) that provides head-spinning views of the famous sights of the Northwest — mountains, volcanos, oyster farms, wildlife, cyber-millionare mansions and nuclear subs. A friend says that the ferry to Bremerton is like taking a ferry to a trailer park, and she’s right. There ain’t much there, but it’s the journey that’s the attraction here, folks, and this is a good one.
As I mentioned, Seattle is a city of neighborhoods. Downtown’s funkiest neighborhood is Belltown, beginning at the north end of the Market (Virginia Street) and heading north toward the tony climbs of Queen Anne Hill. A long-time artist/musician ’hood, Belltown has recently been victim of gentrification brought high-rent condos (boo!) and killer restaurants (yeah!). First Avenue is Rain City’s Restaurant Row. Starting at Virginia, the good restaurants continue for blocks. Among the best on First: Marco’s Supperclub, a laid-back, friendly place with a fairly priced wine list situated somewhere between swank and slack. Try the fried sage leaves and the Thai mussels. Flying Fish also comes highly recommended. They won’t gouge you on the vino, and the seafood is light, inventive and packs a Pac-Rim flavor punch. Also good: Il Gambino and Queen City Grill. Little-known gems: Lush Life, an artfully small but gorgeously satisfying Italian bistro just up the street on 2nd Avenue; Palace Kitchen, a joint known among the serious foodies as “it,” has perhaps the best chef-worshipping seats in all Seattle. Grab a seat at the bar and watch ’em sweat. If you’re looking to save a few clams, dig Shorty’s. A Coney Island hot dog joint, Shorty’s offers all the cheap dogs, local hipster ambiance and vintage video games any in-the-know traveler could ask for. Right next door to Shorty’s squats the Lava Lounge, a swell bar-cum-tiki lounge where you stand a good-to-excellent chance of seeing your favorite rock star stewed to the gills.
For good reason, Seattle is known for its beer. This is, of course, a true and beautiful thing. This town is loaded with fine beer, and you haven’t truly done Seattle until you’ve toppled from a barstool in one of the city’s many taverns. Among the best brew pubs, breweries and taverns: Belltown Pub, 6 Arms, The Latona, 74th St. Alehouse, Green Lake Alehouse, Doc Watson’s, Old Town Alehouse, The Hopvine, Two Bells, The Virginia Inn… I could go on but honestly, you won’t need my help to find a good place to suck down a few pints. Local taps to look for: Leavenworth (the best brewery in the Northwest), Elysian, Maritime, Full Sail (yeah, I know they’re from Oregon, but close enough). Local taps to avoid: Thomas Kemper, they ain’t what they used to be. Hale’s, ditto. Rainier, yeah, right!
As for the wine scene, Seattle is, um, “growing.” Since beer has such a stranglehold on local taste buds, the grape juice often gets short shrift. There are a few joints that’ll be happy to serve the discriminating wino the glass s/he has come to expect. Just down the street from the Seattle Art Museum and the brand spankin’ new Opera House sits Lead, the city’s coolest wine bar. Roomy and cool, Lead serves their wine amidst well-selected art, contempo music and a nibble-friendly menu. Back in Belltown, Vina points to the more serious wine drinker, offering a wider menu, a generous flight option and a more extensive library. If you can’t get out of the Market, the Alibi room also serves up a respectable menu of by-the-glass grog.
If you’re still conscious after your afternoon of pub-hopping, your pre-dinner wine sip and whatever you chose to accompany the salmon you undoubtedly ordered for dinner (when in Rome…), Seattle’s nightlife beacons with a woozy, chipped-toothed grin. Cutting edge rock? Check the Crocodile in Belltown or the Showbox across from the Market. Acid jazz, trip-hop, mixed-up phuture phunk? The Art Bar in Belltown or ARO. Space on Capitol Hill. Grunge? RKCNDY. Need to dance? Neighbors on Capitol Hill, Vogue in Belltown or Re-bar. Roots, alternative country or Americana? The Tractor on Ballard. Gay? The Timberline, Neighbors, ARO. Space. Sorry, I can’t recommend a groovy jazz joint unless you hit The Art Bar on a good night.
Is that it? Was your subculture covered? If not, check one of Seattle’s many local rags — the Seattle Weekly, the Stranger or The Rocket — for more intimate details. Oh, and by the way, I was serious about the rain thing.