Kim, Director of Creative Projects for Nordstrom
department store, visits Pioneer Square, one of her
favorite haunts, on Jan. 16, 2015 in Seattle, Wash.
Kim is a fashion buyer for her "Pop-In"
theme-changing boutiques at selected Nordstrom
was the soundtrack of my Gen X college life. We knew every
word to Nirvanaís 1991 album, "Nevermind."
"Iím so happy Ďcause today I found my
friends." And the day we found out that Kurt Cobain
had died, April 8, 1994, there was a candlelight vigil in
years later, Iím feeling nostalgic for the raw alt-rock
style that got its start in Seattle with bands such as
Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and
Soundgarden, many of which were first signed by local
record label Sub Pop.
grunge seems to be making a comeback, and not just because
everyone is wearing flannel shirts and combat boots. Brett
Morgenís documentary "Kurt Cobain: Montage of
Heck" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in
January and will be shown May 4 on HBO. Seminal L.A. girl
grunge band L7 is planning a reunion this spring. And the
Montclair Art Museum, in New Jersey of all places, has
mounted a survey of art from the 1990s titled "Come
As You Are," after the Nirvana song.
seemed like an interesting time to revisit Seattle, ground
zero of grunge, so I booked a weekend trip with my
husband. What I discovered is that the
end-of-the-continent isolation and blue-collar attitude
that laid the groundwork for grunge in the 1980s,
according to Justin Hendersonís 2010 book, "Grunge
Seattle," are now distant memories. For the last 20
years, Seattle has been booming.
influx of money from Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco
and other Seattle-area corporations has led to a
proliferation of luxury condos, high-rise office
buildings, farm-to-table restaurants and craft cocktail
bars. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has a
new visitor center, and the sparkling Chihuly Garden and
Glass museum, which opened in 2012 at the foot of the
Space Needle, have enhanced the cityís sheen.
of Bon Appetitís best new restaurants of 2014, Westward,
is here, as is Canon, the sixth best bar in the world,
according to Drinks International magazineís ranking of
the top 50. And the Ballard and Fremont neighborhoods
rival Brooklyn, N.Y., and Los Angelesí Silver Lake for
cool shops and eats. Even Starbucks has upped its game
with a new high-end Roastery & Tasting Room, which
sells artisanal mugs, brews exclusive beans and has a line
out the door.
search of whatís left of the grunge experience, we
checked into the boutique Hotel Max, which is in the thick
of downtown, and in 2013 opened a floor of rooms dedicated
to Sub Pop Records. The lobby decor is industrial chic
with Pop Art prints by Andy Warhol, John Baldessari and
others adding color. There is also free local beer for
guests during happy hour (Seattleís Stoup Brewing was
the Sub Pop floor has cheery, striped carpeting and
large-scale black-and-white images on the guest room
doors, the work of photographer Charles Peterson, who
helped define the Sub Pop aesthetic on the labelís
record covers. The images are action-packed shots of
Nirvana, Hole and other grunge bands ó dirty Converse
high-tops, crushed Budweiser cans, swinging hair and all
ó in the years before they hit it big and were signed by
L.A.-based record labels to multimillion-dollar contracts.
stayed in a Max King room, which was about 250 square
feet. The furnishings were modern and spare, but with fun
touches, including a Crosley record player, a collection
of vinyl Sub Pop records for listening and a special TV
channel that plays current and classic Sub Pop videos.
hotel is a short walk from the famous Pike Place Market.
It was a nice afternoon when we arrived, so we headed
there. Before hitting the food stands, we stopped in Post
Alley to take selfies in front of the drips and dots on
Gum Wall. (We didnít contribute to the collective
artwork, though there is a gum-ball machine in the lobby
at Hotel Max with a sign that suggests that visitors do
just that.) We snacked on macaroni and cheese from Beecherís
Handmade Cheese, sampled Cabernet chocolate cherries from
Chukar and ginger pepper pickles from Brittís. Then we
settled in for happy hour upstairs at Radiator Whiskey,
which serves barrel-aged, smoked maple Old-Fashioneds.
dinner, we called Uber and headed to Canlis, one of
Seattleís old-school dining institutions, open since
1950. Located in a Northwest-style, Midcentury Modern
structure with cavernous rooms and stone walls, it looks
like a lair for a James Bond villain. The bar was a draw,
with a pianist who can play anything from Cole Porter to
Coldplay. The food was nothing special (salad prepared
table-side, oversalted steak and predictably delicious
truffle fries). But the to-die-for views of Lake Union
were worth the pricey tab. And the peanut-butter-and-jelly
chocolates to take home were a nice touch.
the way back to the hotel, we hit Bathtub Gin & Co.,
one of Seattleís secret bars. Open since 2009, itís a
speak-easy in the basement of what was once an old brick
hotel, now the Humphrey Apartments, that you enter through
a back alley. (Hint: Look for the silver plaque near the
entrance ó and the line of people waiting to get in.)
Suprisingly, the place was cool without trying too hard,
with cozy tables and friendly service. My husband ordered
the Dealerís Choice. Not only did the bartender make him
a bespoke cocktail based on his preference for a savory
drink, but he also wrote down the ingredients on a piece
of paper delivered to our table.
next morning, we decided to drive by the house where
Cobain died. The lush, green Denny-Blaine neighborhood
with views of Lake Washington is one of the most beautiful
urban areas Iíve ever seen (if you can even call it
urban). Cobainís century-old, four-bedroom house looks
small compared with most of the other mansions now
occupied by tech chief executives and other masters of the
universe. Two benches in nearby Viretta Park serve as de
facto memorials, with graffiti messages carved into the
wood and love notes tucked between the slats. With a light
rain falling, the place seemed peaceful.
drizzle put us in the mood for something warm, so we
headed to Ba Bar, a Vietnamese noodle shop and bakery. The
oxtail pho, chicken wings and Vietnamese coffee fortified
us for the afternoon. But before we turned our attention
to sightseeing at Seattle Center, we wanted to check out
one of the cityís newly legal recreational pot shops ó
merely for research purposes. Washington state legalized
marijuana in 2012, and since July 2014, a handful of
licensed shops have opened in Seattle, each with a
different vibe. Uncle Ikeís, in the Central District, is
the most slickly merchandised, with a security guard and
velvet rope out front, and TV monitors inside displaying
the dayís flavors. Thereís even an Uncle Ikeís
goods-and-glass store next door that sells knockoff
Starbucks-themed vapes and pot leaf socks. Altogether, it
was quite an operation, with a clientele that was upscale,
and with a variety of ages.
was a strange leap from Uncle Ikeís to the new visitor
center at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but we
did it, moving from self-indulgence to boundless
generosity. Launched in 2000 by Microsoft co-founder Bill
Gates and his wife, Melinda, and reporting an endowment of
more than $42 billion, the organization aims to reduce
poverty and improve heath care, education and access to
information technology globally.
five-gallery visitor center explains the foundationís
work through a series of interactive exhibitions that
delve into its history and explore the partnerships and
innovations that its funds support. There are heavy
buckets to lift, so visitors can get a sense of how hard
it is for people in developing countries to walk miles
every day for clean water, and new inventions to explore,
such as coolers that keep vaccines cold for 30 days. And
donít miss the bathrooms, which may be the best part.
The door to each stall is disguised to look like a latrine
in Africa, India or elsewhere, to highlight the need for
sanitary facilities around the world.
we walked to the nearby Chihuly Garden and Glass, which
showcases to spectacular effect the colorful glass
sculptures of Northwest artist Dale Chihuly. Iím so glad
we saw it after dark; walking through the electric-looking
installations, inspired by Native American blankets,
hothouse flowers and the ocean, was like falling down the
rabbit hole. The views of the Space Needle through the
suspended sculpture in the greenhouse-style Glass House
space were unforgettable.
was still drizzling when we arrived for dinner at
Westward, chef Zoi Antonitsasí Mediterranean seafood
restaurant. It is on the north shore of Lake Union, with a
dock and outdoor seating for better weather, and campy
seafaring-themed decor inside. We were ushered past a wall
of portraits of popular seamen to our seats at the bar,
which has a 25-foot boat hull for a backdrop. The oysters,
all from Washington, were delicious, as were the
wood-fired trout and Greek white wine.
skipped the olive oil cake in favor of liquid dessert at
Canon on Capitol Hill. The sixth best bar in the world
must be one of the most exacting too. But it was worth the
45-minute wait in the rain (Iíve never seen more lines
than I did in Seattle) for the Milk Ní Cookies cocktail
in a ceramic milk carton filled with Cognac Landy, Ardbeg,
chocolate, milk, Angostura bitters and Fernet-Branca. It
was served in a Betty Boop lunch box, with a straw, a
cookie and a comic book.
ready to call it a night, we strolled up East Pike Street,
which was quite a scene with revelers hopping from one
hotspot to another.
next day, I wanted to check out the Ballard and Fremont
neighborhoods before we left. Ballard, once the center of
Seattleís Norwegian seafaring community, is now hipster
central. Strolling along Ballard Avenue, we stopped into
the Anchored Ship Coffee Bar for locally brewed Herkimer
coffee and salted Rice Krispies treats. Womenís boutique
Horseshoe has clothing and accessories with a nod to
Americana style (dresses by Prairie Underground, earmuffs
by Pendleton, boots by Frye). Lucca Great Finds has just
that (ceramics by Astier de Villatte; embroidered pillows
and accessories by Brooklynís Coral & Tusk; teas
from Mariage Freres, as well as custom cards). And Prism
has modern arty jewelry, clothing and objets (marble
necklaces by Rill Rill, Wonders of Washington patches,
Herbivore Botanicals beard tonic and the like).
wedge-shaped building on Leary Way in Ballard once was
home to music producer Jack Endinoís Reciprocal
Recording studio, where he recorded Nirvanaís first
demos and "Bleach," the bandís debut album on
Sub Pop. Fremont used to be the center of Seattleís
counterculture but now is filled with vintage stores and
high-end boutiques such as Les Amis and Essenza. Both are
owned by Becky Buford and have a French country vibe, with
Isabel Marant, Rachel Comey and Giada Forte clothing,
delicate earrings by RockStella and Tai, fragrances by
Parfums DelRae and others.
wished Iíd had more time to explore Ballard, Fremont and
the rest of Seattle. I had a flight to catch, but not
before visiting the Sub Pop store at Sea-Tac Airport.
Opened in May, itís one part record store, one part
upscale Northwest gift shop. Not only are there albums for
sale by Sub Popís indie bands of old (Nirvana,
Soundgarden) and new (Sleater-Kinney, the Shins), there
are also cool Sub Pop logo T-shirts, knit caps, Lighthouse
Roasters Sub Pop coffee beans and more.
left with a sweatshirt ó and memories of a Seattle thatís
about grunge and so much more.
Max, 620 Stewart St.; (206) 728-6299, hotelmaxseattle.com.
Ship Coffee Bar, 5306 Ballard Ave. N.W.; (206) 484-5143
Bar, 550 12th Ave.; (206) 328-2030, babarseattle.com
Handmade Cheese, 1600 Pike Place; (206) 956-1964,
Pickles, 1500 Pike Place No. 15; (253) 666-6686,
2576 Aurora Ave. N.; (206) 283-3313, canlis.com
Cherries, 1529-B Pike Place; (206) 623-8043, chukar.com
2501 N. Northlake Way; (206) 552-8215, westwardseattle.com
Gin & Co., 2205 2nd Ave.; (206) 728-6069,
928 12th Ave., canonseattle.com
Whiskey, 94 Pike St., Suite 30; (206) 467-4268,
615 N. 35th St.; (206) 547-4895, essenza-inc.com
5344 Ballard Ave. N.W.; (206) 547-9639, shophorseshoe.com
Amis, 3420 Evanston Ave. N.; (206) 632-2877,
Great Finds, 5332 Ballard Ave. N.W.; (206) 782-7337,
5208 Ballard Ave. N.W.; templeofcairo.com/prism
Pop at Sea-Tac, Central Terminal, 17801 International
Ikeís, 2310 E. Union St.; (844) 420-4537,
& Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center, 440 5th
Ave. N.; (206) 709-3100, gatesfoundation.com/Visitor-Center
Garden and Glass museum, 305 Harrison St.; (206) 753-4940,