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TRAVEL FEATURE

Out of Town

Keeping Warm in Seattle


Andrew Collins | December 30, 2003


The Little Black Book
  • Alexis Hotel (1007 1st Ave., 206-624-4844 or 800-426-7033)
  • Bacon Mansion (959 Broadway Ave. E, 206-329-1864 or 800-240-1864)
  • Ballet Restaurant (914 E. Pike St., 206-328-7083).
  • Bauhaus Books & Coffee (301 E. Pine St., 206-625-1600).
  • B&O; Espresso (204 Belmont Ave. E, 206-322-5028).
  • Brasa (2107 3rd Ave., 206-728-4220).
  • Café Septieme (214 Broadway Ave. E, 206-860-8858).
  • Elliott Bay Book Company (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600).
  • Gaslight Inn and Howell Street Suites (1727 15th Ave., 206-325-3654)
  • Glo's (1621 E. Olive Way, 206-324-2577).
  • Inn at Harbor Steps (1221 1st Ave., 206-748-0973 or 888-728-8910)
  • Inn at the Market (86 Pine St., 206-443-3600 or 800-446-4484)
  • Pike Place Market (Pike St. at 1st Ave., 206-682-7453)
  • Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau (206-461-5800)
  • Siam on Broadway (616 Broadway E, 206-324-0892). Wild Ginger (1400 Western Ave., 206-623-4450).
  • Yakima Grill (Vance Hotel, 612 Stewart St., 206-956-0639).
  • Winter in Seattle may not be balmy and sunny, but the rumors about its grim, nasty weather are mostly exaggeration. This emerald city can, in fact, be a delightful place to sneak away to in wintertime, especially because crowds are few and hotels offer some amazingly inviting deals. The key to enjoying yourself is coming up with diversions that keep you sheltered from the elements - maybe snuggling up with a friend in a fancy hotel room before the roar of a fireplace, or browsing the dozens of food vendors and stalls in creaky old Pike Place Market.

    Seattle gets about 5 inches of rain per month in winter. November through January are by far the wettest months of the year, with February and March trailing not terribly far behind. Average highs are about 50 degrees at this time, comparable to relatively mild cities like Nashville and Atlanta. The problem is that the gray and nippy weather begins earlier here than in most U.S. cities, and it lasts longer - right through early April. It's not the severity of Seattle's winters that give people the blahs - it's the length of them.

    So bring along an umbrella and rain slicker, but don't be deterred from visiting this hilly city on Puget Sound in winter. Just keep in mind the following ways to keep warm and enjoy Seattle even on the chilliest and dampest days.

    1. Stay someplace with a fireplace or a hot tub ... or both.

    Perhaps the easiest - or at least the most romantic - way to take the chill off is to book a cushy hotel room and hide away from the elements. Stars and dignitaries often stay at the plush Alexis Hotel, built in 1901 but decorated with postmodern flair. Many suites have wood-burning fireplaces and Jacuzzis, and all rooms are decorated with a mix of antiques and period pieces. You can book a facial or full-body massage in the hotel's Aveda spa. The Alexis is operated by the gay-friendly Kimpton boutique-hotel chain.

    Right across the street from Pike Place Market, the contemporary Inn at the Market has the ambience of a French countryside inn - dine downstairs at the hotel's Campagne restaurant if you're not totally convinced. Many of the 70 good-size rooms have unobstructed views of Elliott Bay. Tempur-Pedic beds afford intoxicatingly dreamy sleeping. With the amenities and the ambience of a full-service luxury hotel, the nearby Inn at Harbor Steps is a gracious, modern hostelry. Rooms have gas fireplaces and a mix of contemporary and colonial-style pieces; several have double whirlpool tubs. The inn is at the base of a fancy apartment tower, and guests can use the building's well-stocked health club, two pools, and library, or have food delivered from the adjacent Wolfgang Puck Café.

    The Edwardian-style Bacon Mansion is just east of Broadway in the city's queerest neighborhood, Capitol Hill. The antiques-filled rooms have lavish architectural details; some have kitchenettes and refrigerators, and the loveliest suite has a wood-burning fireplace and a big soaking tub. The Gaslight Inn is the best of the gay-oriented inns on Capitol Hill, which is saying a lot, as there are several great ones. The turn-of-the-century house has Arts and Crafts furnishings, Turkish and Persian rugs, and oak paneling. In several rooms you can nod off before the glow of a gas fireplace. The all-suite accommodations in the more contemporary building next door have large sitting areas; several of these also have gas fireplaces.

    2. Eat spicy, soul-warming food

    Seattle is rightly known for its ethnic restaurants, including some of the best Asian dining in the United States. The pan-Asian-inspired Wild Ginger is on every critic's short list of top Seattle restaurants. Among the top dishes here is yellowfin tuna wok-fried in a peppery Indonesian candlenut sauce with lemongrass and coconut flakes. A tip: grab a stool at Wild Ginger's satay bar, where you can watch the chefs grill a variety of meats, seafood, and vegetables over hot coals; they're served on skewers with delicious dipping sauces.

    Brasa, a stunning Moorish-inspired space, blends Italian, Moroccan, Portuguese, and Spanish recipes with considerable flare. Among the innovative creations are squid-ink risotto with sauteed calamari, lemon, garlic, roasted tomatoes, and chili flakes; and cumin-dusted sea scallops with braised leeks, soft-cooked quail eggs, house-cured bacon, and an orange sauce. Downtown's sexy Yakima Grill serves exceptional nuevo Latino food; try the smoky chipotle prawns over pineapple rice.

    A great choice if you're tight on cash is Ballet Restaurant, an inexpensive Capitol Hill hangout specializing in a wide range of Asian dishes, from Vietnamese pho (entree-size soups) to kicky Thai curries. Another beloved Asian restaurant in the same neighborhood is Siam on Broadway, which sits right in the heart of the Broadway retail action and serves terrific, affordable Thai fare in hefty portions.

    3. Prowl around Pike Place Market

    Of all the attractions and shopping districts in Seattle, Pike Place Market is perhaps the most engaging for a few hours of exploration - never mind that it's overrun with tourists. The sprawling 1907 structure has several floors and is abuzz with fishmongers and food marketers of every ilk; and if you love to eat or cook, the halls of gourmet goodies are reason alone to while away an afternoon here. This is a genuine farmers market selling tasty treats from dozens of producers around the region - shop for cherries, honey, hazelnuts, apples, mushrooms, coffee, shellfish, smoked salmon, wine, and many more edibles for which Washington is known. Or grab a bite at one of the many restaurants; gruff but lovable Emmett Watson's Oyster Bar is a lunchtime favorite, a great place to savor steaming hot seafood chowder on a blustery day.

    The lower floors of the market contain some genuinely interesting shops, including art galleries, bath and beauty shops, clothiers, jewelry and crafts makers, toy stores, florists, and several fine booksellers.

    4. Curl up with a book in a coffeehouse

    If Seattle didn't exactly invent the modern-day coffeehouse, it certainly perfected it. Hanging out in one of these warm and inviting java joints is only partly about drinking caffeinated beverages. Much of the fun is simply relaxing with a newspaper in an oversized armchair, or eavesdropping and admiring the curious patrons sitting and sipping around you.

    Fairly bookish types - lots of folks chipping away at dog-eared paperbacks - hang out at B&O; Espresso, a casually elegant spot with a fabulous on-site bakery that serves out-of-this-world desserts. The neighboring B&O; Bistro is a great pick for more substantial vittles. On Broadway, Cafe Septieme has great sandwiches. This huge, dark, intentionally run-down-looking place is popular with alternateens, grungers, artists, and other hipper-than-thou sorts. There's a long international beer list, too.

    Few activities go better with sipping coffee than thumbing through books, and no venue is more inviting for this than the immense Elliott Bay Book Company, a vast emporium inside a dramatic 1860s building in historic Pioneer Square. There's an extensive lesbian and gay section. Another place that deftly mixes the art of brewing and book-browsing is Bauhaus Books & Coffee, a long-running lower Capitol Hill institution known for its beat-generation ambience (and for having an upstairs smoking section).

    Glo's is a coffee shop, not coffeehouse. This old-time greasy spoon fills up for breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch and is really more a place to eat delicious and creative diner fare than to nurse a latte. Still, such hearty cooking as buckwheat pancakes with apple-rhubarb compote or corned-beef hash with eggs, potatoes, and toast can definitely leave you feeling warm and fuzzy on a nippy winter morning.

    Andrew Collinsis the author of 10 travel guides, including Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA.


    Previous editions
    Summer in Fort Lauderdale
    San Francisco Treats

     

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