Seattle – What a great city

Seattle

I’ve never judged a person by their appearance but to nuance the thought to which I do subscribe: first impressions do matter. What a person says, their body language, eye contact, the sincerity of a handshake all contribute to that first assessment, which lasts long after the initial encounter. This also applies to companies and places. I’ve judged companies on the layout and organisation of the lobby, friendliness of their receptionist, the opportunity of drinks while waiting, cleanliness of toilets etc. Likewise the first impression of a city is just as important. On my first day in Seattle I knew I loved the place.

The people were friendly, city clean, architecture impressive, excellent public transport and the variety of bars and restaurants was as good as NYC and Chicago. On that first day I did quite a lot including a visit to the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum (EMP/SFM), the Space Needle and a 90 minute open top bus tour. Easy to do as the first two are housed in the same building. The EMP charts the history of American music and has a fitting homage to Seattle’s most famous son: Jimmy Hendrix.

The man who combined his rock, folk and blues background to create a genre and made it his own with his unique guitar style. Of course Kurt Cobain is also recognised but more like a second son. Which in the pecking order of musical contribution is correct in my humble opinion. The building also houses a science fiction museum, which isn’t normally my thing, but there was a special exhibition of Battlestar Galactic memorabilia. Good to see as I enjoyed this show as a kid.

A trip to the Space Needle is a must as the building itself is impressive as well as the view it provides of the city. After which the city centre is a short ride on the monorail. Also a good experience. Other excursions included a trip to the Boeing Factory, Pike Street Market and the SAM.

The Boeing facility in Everett is wildly impressive. Incredible how they make a complete 747 on site in sixteen weeks while the Dreamliner is sub-assembled on site from four main sections flown in from different locations. On the tour you get to see the whole manufacturing process. Unfortunately, yet understandably no cameras are allowed beyond the entrance. The Pike Street Market isn’t too dissimilar to food markets anywhere else in the world but a little unique in that the vendors stand in the walkway offering samples of fruit which they cut in front of you. And something I hadn’t seen previously was bouquets of peppers, a fine feature in any kitchen.

Also housed next to this food market is Seattle’s other internationally famous export. The first ever Starbucks which opened in 1971; the year after Hendrix died. It was good to see the birthday place of my favourite coffee chain. However too many other people had the same idea. So I went inside for a quick photo and bought a coffee in their less crowded branch just around the corner. The advantage of having a standardised global product! But as much as I love the coffee it seems a cruel twist of faith that the chain has outlived both of Seattle’s famous musical sons. I wonder what coffee they would have liked.

The Seattle Art Mum (SAM) is definitely worth a visit as they have an impressive collection of tribal and modern art and fortunately had just opened a Picasso exhibition. A great tour where the appreciation of the exhibits was enhanced with one of those audio guides. Funny that his famous sculpture of a jester began as a likeness of his close friend with the crown added later as a circus passed his hometown. While at the SAM I met Louise who was in the city visiting her company’s marketing agency.

She had an overnight stay and decided to use the complementary ticket she’d received. Lucky for me as we hung out for the evening and she introduced to Blue C Sushi and a jazz club. The former being a local chain that serves up the best sushi I’ve had in a long time. The restaurant was pretty cool too with its bright glass ecco deco feel and they served up the food on a huge conveyor belt that spanned the room. Better again when she paid the bill, albeit on her company expense account! Still I felt obliged to pay for a few drinks in the nearby jazz club where we finished the evening. Good fun night and I went back to Blue C twice for lunch and indeed the jazz club.

Other great culinary treats included visits to two dessert emporiums. Top Pot donuts served up the lightest, fluffiest and jammiest donuts you can image. I went for the Raspberry Bismarck to begin with and followed it up with a pretty damn good cinnamon ring. Although I did feel somewhat bloated afterward and in fact skipped dinner. Second on the dessert menu was The Cheesecake Factory. A long time favourite for which I always try to leave some space. Although it was lighter than the jam donut alone it contained a shocking 700 calories. Not quite sure I like the calorie counter on US food menus. Well I didn’t eat the dollop of cream that accompanied the slice. As for some of the main courses sampled, they were noteworthy too.

Ivars Fish Bar is renowned for its chowder and fish dishes. However disregard local advice and don’t sit outside. Feeding the large seagulls is not fun, they make a lot of noise, come too close and are greedy. Pity the six year old and his parents, who sat next to me didn’t think likewise. So after a tantrum of my own (banging my tray on the table and huffing), I returned indoors. The food was good but not as good as the bowl of chilli in Fox Sports Bar or Hard Rock Cafés macaroni and cheese. Super duper.

In Fox’s I met a nice couple that were watching the televised ice hockey match. Can’t remember the name of the team as I took an active disinterest. What an appalling activity to be called a sport. The game itself is skilful but the violent fracas between players after the whistle has been blown has no right to be part of family entertainment. Such antics off the field would be tantamount to a street brawl. It should be renamed Cage Rage Ice Hockey and shown after 9.00pm.

Although my disapproval didn’t prevent me from having a couple of fruity shots, which the barmaid concocted to celebrate their team’s winning result. In the Hard Rock Café, Carl the barman gave me some recommendations of things to see in the city and also for the ride south on the 101. We were supposed to have a beer the next day but glad he didn’t call as he was sidetracked by Seattle’s “finest marijuana”. No doubt it would have been fun but those days are long gone. Other nocturnal activity included celebrating Halloween and shooting pool.

Although Halloween fell on a Sunday the bars and clubs made it a weekend event. Not only was the number of people who dressed up impressive, but so too was the effort put into their costumes. Some very interesting characters about that weekend. While in Seattle I stayed in The College Inn. A great find with a nice room that cost only USD60pn.

The only drawback about the Inn was its proximity to Washington State University. Right opposite the main building. Each day I was reminded of the distance in age between myself and the students. It was hard enough in my twenties when I realised there was no longer ‘70’s kids entering college; now college entrants are half my age. Well I did beat some of them at pool. The Inn has a great basement bar with a couple of pool tables and half the patrons seemed to be students. On two separate nights I played pool with various people. The second night being the better as our table was opened up to a larger group for a game of Killer. Unfortunately nobody won the game as we lost count of each other’s lives over the course of a couple of pitchers of beer. Good fun all the same.

The only other two events worth mentioning was a trip to Nordstrom Rack and joining in a street demonstration. In the former I bought a tweed cap for USD10, which is even more awesome than the navy blue cap I bought in Amsterdam. As for the protest, it caught my attention as it was free from the poorly dressed and bad haired lefties who usually organise these events. I find their rhetorical anti establishment chip on the shoulder ultimately boils down to the fact that life didn’t hand them on a plate what they thought they were entitled. Anyway, the protest was enjoyable. The aim: middle America calling for unity from the far right and left, lobbyists and extreme views. Multiple cities hooked up with Washington DC via video link and were entertained by an MC and comic who’s name I don’t know. Even the placards were witting and amusing.

Everything I experienced during my eight days in Seattle validated my first impression. For Europeans Seattle is perhaps overlooked by some of the more famous US cities which is a great pity. If you get the chance, go there. You won’t regret it.

Al Dempsey

20 November 2010.