Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Take Yourself on a Tour of… Pike Place

Photo by Samantha Bushman.
I love Seattle. Everything about it. As much as I love traveling, and although I will probably end up finding a more permanent home in New York or France or somewhere, Seattle will always be one of my favorite places in the world... and within Seattle, a locale that has a special place in my heart is our own Pike Place Market

Photo by McKenzie Templeton.
This post is not just for all my friends and family back home who love our city (whose beautiful pictures and thoughtful entertainment suggestions you will find throughout this post). It’s for all the people who I’ve met overseas, with whom I want to share one of my favorite places in the world. It’s for anyone visiting Seattle now or ever, who I think should get everything they can out of the experience.

So, if you’re ever at Pike Place Market (not "Pike's Place", dear god, or "the Pike Market", as I have often heard tourists mistakenly proclaim)… I want you to fall in much in love with it as I have, time and time again. In order to do that, here’s what you should know:

My mom, heading to the market at night.
First of all, you should know you can trust me as your online tour guide. I’ve been visiting Pike Place at least once a month, if not once a week, for the past few years- ever since I was old enough for my parents to let me bus downtown by myself.  I spent a huge portion of my three weeks’ vacation this winter wandering through it; even though I’ve been there a million times I STILL found some new places to check out! The area is full of nooks and crannies, but also open and refreshing. It's easy to bus to, easy to walk around, and filled with options for exploring. And, um, I'm a Sagittarius. Exploring is just what we do.

Photo by Kristian Nilssen.
The thing about Pike Place is that it isn’t just the places that are intriguing, but their visitors as well. There’s something about the completely unpretentious mass of people that wades through it every afternoon that draws you in like… well I was going to say like women to chocolate but that seems mildly sexist and also I could just say like me to chocolate. Haha. Anyways.

My friend Lisel chilling out on some old stairs.
I love cities because I think people-watching is one of the most entertaining cultural pastimes in existence.Seattle is a great place for this in general because of the diversity we have to offer, but Pike Place is pretty much the epitome of all that.

I love, oddly enough, the American tourists, abundant and obvious in their rain boots and waterproof jackets. They mark themselves by carrying umbrellas as they stand in line at the (“first” but not actually the first) Starbucks in Pike Place instead of heading to Ghost Alley Espresso to enjoy one of the best cups of coffee around, or checking out the always-cozy, never too crowded Local Color for people-watching and Seattle-based artwork hanging on the walls.

I also love the complete foreigners who wander through to appreciate the market, chatting in their native languages and bringing a verbal diversity to the area. There is an amazing mix of people from all over the world that shows up here, and it never ceases to amaze me how one place can be a draw for so many extremely different cultures.

Then there are the market vendors themselves, who stand near their wares and chat quietly with those who express interest. The local artists who create their paintings on the spot so you can see where the magic happens, so you can purchase something that feels real and tangible, something with a history. The hidden stalls and and special places like Indi Chocolates, where you can buy hand crafted chocolate bars or lotion made of cacao beans, and The Pink Door, which has no easy-to-find signage but is distinguishable by its rosy entryway. My mom took me there on my 18th birthday; the food is great in general, but they also serve the best fresh kale chips I've ever had.

I adore the people with dreadlocks who stand outside near all the amazing flower bouquets (brilliantly arranged by the Hmong flower farmers and costing "practically nothing" as my Prof. Alesa pointed out) and play the banjo to earn a bit of extra cash. I'm always amazed by the guys performing stunts with hoola hoops swinging around their neck while balancing something on their noses. Then there are white-haired men who sit and play the piano on the corner across from the hot cider stand, where you can get a cup of hot, fresh spiced apple juice. If you're interested you can cross the corner to Beecher's cheese, where, as my fellow Seattelite Mack Wright says, "I love Beechers.... Cuz you can see them making cheese.". It's super fun to stand outside their windows and watch workers play with churning pools of cheese in these massive metal containers. If it’s cold out, you can just enjoy warming your hands on your cider cup while you walk around, your breath wishing pale clouds into being.

Many of the market visitors are broke students like me, who come here wearing huge grins, carrying novels under our arms which we plan to sit and read somewhere (though we typically end up people-watching instead). We save big pieces of our paychecks to splurge on that perfect cup of coffee, or maybe some luxurious European chocolate from DiLaurenti. I love sitting anywhere with a book, trying to read but getting distracted by the world happening around me. I always enjoy having tea with friends at The Crumpet Shop, and occasionally indulging in an organic crumpet as well (but beware, the crumpets are kind of tough to cut with a fork and knife- you're gonna get messy!). This little tea shop, with decor reminiscent of the classic Alice in Wonderland illustrations, has an amazing selection of organic teas, which I ADORE (read more abut the problems with non-organic tea here). I recommend the Irish Breakfast tea- it's DELICIOUS. See below for it's magical-ness. 

In the afternoons the cobbled streets fill with businessmen, grabbing something to eat after work. I would say “wearing their business suits,” but as is commonly mentioned at dinner parties through jokes like “Where do Seattleites get their formal wear? Patagonia/North Face! HAHAHA,” business suits aren't too common on the streets of Seattle. But even businessmen in jeans and dress shirts, identifiable by their tired eyes and rather exhausted features, perk up when they reach the market, invigorated by the shouts of the fishmongers or the scent of a delicious, cheesy piroshky wafting out of Piroshky, Piroshky,

Mixed in with this crowd are the fashionable business women, you know the type, who wander around also looking at peace. No one is better than anyone here; nobody's trying to be the trendiest dresser and no one cares what your job is. It’s a parade of creatures from all walks of life (literally; I’ve seen everything from snakes to ferrets to parrots here). What’s that saying, something is the great equalizer? Eh, I don’t know- but Pike Place is, at any rate.

By the way, pardon my bad quality phone photos; my Flickr account, containing THOUSANDS of my photos, was deactivated due to "lack of use" so all the photos I'd intended on using here are either gone or stored somewhere on a hard drive in the US. I'm in Singapore, so I can't exactly access them... So thanks, again, to all those who contributed their photography to color this post.

The picture on the left is from when I went home for Christmas a few weeks ago. Usually I don't take pictures from this location because I don't want to look like I'm a tourist, but on this occasion I was so happy to see my beloved Pike Place I didn't care. :P Lucky for you, I'm actually a local- so here's a list of more hidden gems!

Let's start with a little place called Coffee and Specialty, inspired by the owners’ grandfather, who allegedly always went to a cafe where people ordered "coffee and..." something else. You can read more on that here. I’m personally attached to these guys because I’ve never heard of anyone else who sells GLUTEN FREE CROISSANTS. The people who staff this gluten-free bakery are great and provided at least a dozen of these (okay, kinda pricey) croissants for my graduation party. I’m so excited for them at the moment, because they’re working on opening their second location! They also have amazing sausage pizza; if you ever happen to see it in their display case, snatch it up!

My little brother enjoys their eclairs.

Found the baguette van!

For a more glutinous pastry.... So many people turn away from the lines at Le Panier because of their typically out-the-door length, but I promise, this cafe has the FASTEST employees ever and it won't take you more than 20 minutes to order the best croissant of your life and a cup of strong black coffee. However, it is difficult to actually find a seat inside the cafe, so I recommend you order to-go. These guys also have delicious macaroons. If you’re up for a walk you can always head up to Belltown’s Le Parisienne as well; they're not really close to Pike Place but the decor and staff are so very French that it's worth the trek! But I digress. This post is supposed to be about Pike Place, not Kenaia's-unhealthy-obsession-with-anything-French.

But here's a mouthwatering pic of those macaroons anyways...

Secret garden!

Did you know, at Pike Place, you can take cooking classes using market fresh food every week with Dana Gould? These happen in the Atrium (which is behind DiLaurenti); here you'll find a giant octopus as well as a nice little crepe joint, near the irresistible scent of the best donuts you've ever had. It's a great place to sit with whatever delicious goods you've picked up. If you explore a bit around secret corners in this area, you might discover this lovely garden, which provides food for some of the market restaurants.

Another recommendation from Mack, who used to work at The Confectional, is to GO THERE. They also use market sourced ingredients, and they make some damn delicious treats!

 Back to the secret garden.. it also contains this awesome chalk pig, which you can scribble on to leave your mark at the market. Hahaha.. mark at the mark-et. Okay anyways. The view of the waterfront from here is magnificent, and it seems like you can feel the salty sea air, even from so high up. I love it! I'm not telling you exactly how to get there, though I've given hints- it's special enough for you to seek it out!

If you're keen on exploring the odd little shops beneath the market, a lot of my friends recommended this place called Golden Age Collectables. It's a great place to get all sorts of weird comic book things, if you’re that type of person. I’m not, but there’s a section of the store devoted to film scripts, and I once picked up a copy of  the original script for Say Anything. My friend Lisel says, "They have sassy magnets. My favorite says, Always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn. Then always be a unicorn.

Nearby is a magic shop beloved by another Seattelite, Rosie, and Sweetie's Candy- anyone who knows my friend Alison will not be surprised that this tantalizing candy shop was her recommendation!

If you're interested in something a bit livelier than just shopping, my friend DeLancey recommends "Market Theater, where Unexpected Productions puts on improv shows." But before you go there, check out the newspaper and magazine stall up above so you'll have something to read during intermission! With a selection from all over the world and a nice old guy that sells them to you, there's nowhere I'd rather grab an obscure but glorious fashion publication.

When I asked my mother for her Pike Place must-sees, she suggested "Victor Steinbrueck Park. Once you've visited the market, the park is the must have stop to enjoy your goods and people watch and peek out at one of the best views in the city. And I have to mention the Copacabana Cafe, because I always do when we walk down the street, and you can't beat the sunset view." Copacabana is a Bolivian restaurant overlooking the rest of the market. I've never been, but it's unique location is as much a draw as the food, according to my parents! As for the park, it's the one you'll find as you exit the market, on the Pike St. Hillclimb.

Instead of climbing the hill, I recommend you head down and check out Paris Grocery, where you can buy delicious cheeses and whole animals if you’re up for cooking a goose or something. I prefer their marzipan and variety of France-related books. If you want some eggs, vegan butter, or something similar as a side, head back up to check out the dairy shop near the market entrance. They've got cow's milk stocked right alongside vegan milk, which I love (as someone who can't have cow's milk). My brother is always fascinated by their selection of quail eggs, ostrich eggs, chicken eggs and duck eggs; I'm sure there's more, I just can't remember! It certainly makes for a colorful little place.

Anyway, now that I've taken on you on a pretty extensive walk of the market... I hope you get a chance to see all these places for yourself, and to discover all the wondrous things I didn't mention. Even as I proofread this and realize it's a really long post and I should probably shut up and let you get on with your day, I'm STILL thinking of more I could add! But some of the market's magic is best discovered on your own.

So with that... good luck, and have fun exploring. <3

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