In the business they say that the three most important things about a hotel are: Location, Location, Location! I agree with the first two, but for the third I’d substitute history. I like a hotel that has been a part of the fabric of the city for decades, a gathering place for the local leadership, a site for important events and occasions, an institution with style, importance and a little tasteful swag.
On a recent visit to Seattle, the Mayflower Park Hotel hit the mark. Just a few blocks from the high-energy feast of the Pike Place Market; around the corner from the monorail to the Space Needle, Chihuly museum, and Experience Music Project; and a short walk through the central shopping district to Pioneer Square, the Seattle Art Museum, as well as the architectural wizardry of the Public Library, it has a great location!
As soon as you enter the two story grand lobby – all marble stairs, terrazzo floors, comfortable furniture, and fresh flowers, accented with an antique grandfather clock – you know there’s history here, too. It’s the kind of space that conjures up images of power and elegance, the deal makers and debutantes of days gone by. In fact, the restored and updated hotel is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year!
A visit to Seattle is fueled by coffee. Starbucks got its start here, and you can visit the original store or one of dozens sprinkled across the city. There are a lot of challengers to the Starbucks hegemony including other chains, like Seattle’s Best and Peet’s, but unexpectedly lots of independant operators like Caffé D’arte, Urban Coffee House, and Storyville Coffee Co. also seem to thrive. The coffee here is rich, dark, and high octane. A good mugful set my nerves to jangling for hours.
Coffee isn’t the only stimulant that keeps the region buzzing. Washington is an important wine-producing state, known for both bordeaux-style reds, and refreshing whites. Seattle is home to countless innovative craft brewers and distillers. And just recently pot has become legal and available. It’s a wonder they get anything done.
Andaluca, the well-regarded restaurant at the Mayflower Park, was our stop for an early breakfast on our first morning. Still on east coast time, we enjoyed the quiet darkness of the wood-paneled and mural painted room. I was surprised to see a cocktail list on the breakfast menu. “Oh, yes,” our very professional waiter told us, “bars in Seattle open at 6:00 a.m.” He went on to tell us about a bar that has an early morning happy hour for night shift workers. I didn’t see any cocktails being served, but they wouldn’t give them space on the menu without cause.
The Mayflower Park, once one of the important hotels in Seattle, has been dwarfed by tall buildings and national hotel chains. It’s now a comfortable oasis in the center of the burgeoning city. The 12-story Mayflower was built by Stephen Berg and is now successfully restored and owned by Birney and Marie Dempcy. In between there were some hard times under corporate ownership. A plucky independent in a chain hotel world. It’s my kind of place!
Inspired by the Garden of Eden bounty of eastern Washington, the abundance of the sea, and the mashup of pacific rim cultures, young chefs in Seattle are cooking up a storm.
Poppy – a farm-to-table American restaurant up on Capitol Hill – presents its creative and delicious food as a Thali. Each entree or dessert comes on a tray with a half dozen complimentary side dishes. Our Alaskan Sockeye salmon came with clam and tomato chowder, sea bean salad, spiced cabbage and pumpkin seed fritter, snap peas with peppermint, carrot-ginger pickle, and nigella-poppy nan. Dessert for two included lemon verbena posset and blackberry rose ripple cream cheese ice cream, plus nutter-butter squares, brown butter toffee chocolate chip cookie, passion fruit paté de fruit, and blond chai truffles. There’s something new and delicious in every bite.
L’Oursin, over by Seattle University, is a French restaurant Seattle-style, showcasing local ingredients cooked with French flair – a heady combination. Norwalker Tom Shortliffe, a founding member of the L’Oursin team, guided us through the enticing menu: marinated Alaskan scallops with currants and purslane; crisp baguette with cultured butter (“butter that wants to be cheese”, says Tom); roast chicken with potato mousseline, swiss chard and maitake and abalone mushrooms; ling cod with mussels, clams, turnips, salmon eggs, and sauce verte; and for dessert a classic chocolate mousse with candied nuts. All evening we could watch the kitchen crew quietly and deliberately at work, chef JJ Proville approving each plate and scattering on a few fennel flowers as it went out.
For lunch in between our cutting edge dinners, a west-coast favorite shrimp Louis salad at The Athenian in the Pike Place Market was delightful. Our table on the water, overlooking the ferris wheel and ferry docks, was near the famous bar stools where Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner discussed dating in Sleepless in Seattle.
We barely scratched the surface of Seattle and are already making plans to return. When we do, it will be to sanctuary of the historic Mayflower Park.