Ferris wheel is the latest high-profile addition to
the Seattle waterfront, where the Aquarium and a
variety of restaurants are just a few steps from the
Pike Place Market on August 26, 2014.
ó Somehow, on four visits to Pike Place Market over
three decades, I failed to learn where the brothel was.
Nor did I hear how the first Starbucks did business for
years in this neighborhood before selling its first cup of
coffee. Clearly, I was missing a lot.
millions of tourists every year who approach this hillside
warren of shops, stalls and eateries, I charged around
sniffing flowers, appraising fish, listening to buskers,
tasting produce, glancing at Elliott Bay or the Olympic
Mountains and savoring the vintage magazine ads in Old
Seattle Paperworks ("More doctors smoke Camels than
any other cigarette!"). It was a sensory riot, and
that was enough.
fifth trip was different. In late August, Times
photographer Mark Boster and I spent four days in the
market, and this time I met more people and heard more
history and backstage chatter.
the Pike Place Market Historic District is 9 acres ó
bigger than you thought, right? Besides its many stalls,
which house a rotating cast of farmers (about 80) and
artisans (about 225), its 20 buildings hold more than 30
restaurants and 250 stores, four fish merchants, a senior
center, a health clinic, a food bank and a child-care
center. (That child-care center, market officials say, is
one reason weed will not be part of the marketís
offerings any time soon, despite Washington stateís vote
to legalize marijuana in 2012.)
visitors "never see it for what it is," said
Mercedes Carrabba, a second-generation market vendor who
runs Ghost Alley Espresso and leads tours. Itís a city
within a city, she said.
likes to point out that more than 400 people live in the
market district, that its first mortuary is now occupied
by an Irish pub (Kells) and that Princess Angeline,
daughter of Chief Seattle, lived in a shack on this
hillside until her death in 1896.
old brothel, Carrabba reports, did business in the LaSalle
Hotel in the 1940s and í50s when madam Nellie Curtis
handed out business cards reading, "Friends made
easily." Itís a residence for seniors now, just
upstairs from the market.
youíre a visitor, one obvious place to start is on the
eastern side of Pike Place, where you can find the
neighborhoodís biggest commercial success stories.
is the first Sur La Table cookware store, opened in 1972.
(By the way, you canít see it from inside the shop, but
just upstairs thereís a jaw-dropping 1,400-square-foot
loft apartment. For $1,500 a night, itís yours. For
details, consult the Inn at the Market next door.)
even bigger story is Starbucks, which was born a block
away in 1971 as a purveyor of coffee beans and equipment
and moved to its current district spot in 1976. Management
finally got around to selling coffee by the cup in the í80s.
Also, at some point on the road to global domination, the
company redrew its logo to make the mermaid more demure.
But the Pike Place location still uses the topless
are plenty of young businesses in the market too. Not far
from Starbucks and Sur La Table is Steelhead Diner (opened
in 2007), a sleek lunch and dinner destination that shows
off its Black Witches and Green Butt Skunks (fishing
lures, not cocktails) in museum-style displays. Just
downstairs, Rachelís Ginger Beer (opened in 2013) brags
about its Moscow Mules and Porch Swings (cocktails, not
fishing lures). Radiator Whiskey, an upstairs den for
dinner and spirits (not necessarily in that order), has
done gangbusters business since opening last year.
of course, youíll need to linger at Pike Place Fish
Market, where wisecracking mongers draw crowds with their
hardy fish-flinging and order-hollering. John Yokoyama,
its owner of 49 years, has a healthy side business in
motivational books and speeches, and his guys speak that
youíre short with people and you donít love them, theyíre
going to go down the hall and spend their money,"
fishmonger Jake Jarvis told me. "If weíre really
having fun, people feel it."
I asked to buy a copy of Yokoyamaís and Joseph Michelliís
book, "When Fish Fly," Jardin leaned back and
hollered: "One Johnny book!" Then the mongers
swarmed and seven of them signed the title page.
locals grumble that the market has become too touristy,
especially when the cruise crowds shuffle through in
summer. But I didnít hear visitors complaining. Most
seemed busy basking in the market magic.
isnít magic at all, of course. Itís highly curated
capitalism. To change the color of a fixture or stock a
new product, tenants often need permission. Street
performers annually renew permits to circulate among 13
designated spots (look for the musical notes painted on
the pavement). To ensure turnover, the limit is one hour
in a spot.
fact, Pike Placeís birth and rebirth were both cases of
1907, Seattle first set aside a patch of Pike Place as a
farmers market because consumers were complaining that
middlemen were inflating the price of onions and other
produce. Once direct-to-the-public sales began, developers
rushed in to put up buildings.
1971, many shoppers had turned to the suburbs, and
privately owned Pike Place buildings were starting to fall
apart. Thatís when a citizens campaign to stave off
demolition led to voter approval of a rescue plan.
officials created the Pike Place Market Preservation and
Development Authority to set rents, approve tenants, keep
out nonnative chains and enforce a set of restrictions
that has grown to 48 pages. These crowded aisles might be
the most carefully managed chaos this side of professional
thatís not what most people think when they step up
under that big orange Public Market Center sign. If theyíre
like me, they think: Who wants to catch a flying fish on a
cold day? Would it be wrong to follow my morning croissant
and coffee from Le Panier with pastry and coffee from
DeLaurenti? What will my wife do if I come home with a
cigar-box guitar made by that guy in the arcade?
the marketís management has launched plans for a new
$65-million waterfront entrance and addition on Western
Avenue. State officials are tearing down the Alaskan Way
Viaduct, which for decades has screened the market from
much of the waterfront.
Virginia Street and 2nd Avenue, a new Palladian hotel, a
97-room boutique property from the Kimpton chain, is
scheduled to open late this year. At Stewart Street and
1stt Avenue, a 159-room Thompson Hotel is to open in 2016.
other words, more tourists are coming. Now all the market
has to do is keep making magic.