A pedestrian crosses Pine Street, a block from Seattle’s landmark neon sign at the Pike Place Market.(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
A look inside Pike Place Market.(Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image )
For 75 cents an Elvis lookalike in a glass booth prints out a fortune at the Market Magic Shop on the lower level of the Pike Place Market.(Alan Berner / The Seattle Times )
Pike Place Market is the hub of Seattle where fresh, local produce, seafood, specialty foods and crafts are bought and sold. Open since 1907, the market is a bustling place where live music provides the backdrop to the hundreds of shops and thousands of visitors each day.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
A Ferris wheel is is near the Pike Place Market.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times )
A vendor arranges a fruit display at Pike Place Market.(Joel Bennett / Getty Images)
Neon sign at the Pike Place Market.(Joel Bennett / Getty Images)
From left: a sign from Pike Place Market; a fishmonger tosses a fish; a write-on-me-with-chalk pig in the market’s garden.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times )
Chef Eric Olinsky leads an Eat Seattle food tour at Pike Place Market.(Rosemary McClure)
JB Johnson, owner of BLMF Books, has more than 50,000 books on his shelves and has worked at the market 21 years.(Rosemary McClure )
The $74-million addition, with its panoramic views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, offers a pleasant alternative to older sections of the market.(Kjell Redal / The Seattle Times)
Art Stone was standing at the counter of his small restaurant, Honest Biscuits, when I walked in. His eyes were locked on the view through the windows at the front of his store. I turned and looked too, seeing a vast panorama of sea, coastline, bridges and drizzly skies.
“Even when the weather’s miserable, it’s still beautiful,” he said before filling my order for a warm buttermilk biscuit.
I grinned at his oh-so-Seattle comment. You wouldn’t catch an L.A. resident being happy with rainy skies. But I had to agree that it was pretty in a gray sort of way.
The vista is a relatively new one for Stone, one of the tenants in MarketFront, a new section of Pike Place Market, Seattle’s heart, soul and No. 1 visitor attraction.
The farmers market, founded 110 years ago, expanded earlier this year for the first time in four decades. Among the additions are a handful of large shops such as Stone’s, 47 small stalls for artists and other vendors, a parking lot, studio apartments for low-income residents and a rooftop public plaza.
The plaza quickly became a top draw for tourists, who shoot selfies or family portraits there with the Seattle waterfront and bay as a backdrop.
Pike Place Market can get crowded, with about 15 million visitors a year. In fact, so many tourists clog the market in summer when Alaska-bound cruise ships are in port that many locals stay away.
The $74-million addition, with its panoramic views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, offers a pleasant alternative to older sections of the market, where visitors jam narrow corridors full of vendors hawking produce from Washington farms, artisanal and specialty foods, fish and handcrafted products.
As roomy and pleasant as the new section is, the historic regions of the market are more fun, I found during three visits earlier this month, including a foodie tour with Eat Seattle led by chef Eric Olinsky.
We wound our way through the hallways, tasting Chinook salmon, Greek yogurt, dried sour cherries, donuts and pickle juice. Clarification: The four other people on the tour tasted pickle juice. I passed.
“You should try it,” Olinsky said. “It’s from Britt’s Pickles, handmade in oak barrels. It’s really, really good pickle juice.” But I shook my head no, trying hard not to make a face at the thought of drinking pickle juice at 10:30 in the morning, and we moved on, continuing our journey through the twisting passageways. I felt as if I was exploring Rome’s catacombs.
The older section of the market, where we were walking, is a crazy, colorful spectacle of noise, smells, banter and urban theater. Flowers are incredibly cheap, fresh and beautiful, fishmongers toss giant king salmon across the heads of the crowds, and Rachel the Pig holds court as the market’s mascot.
Rachel, a life-size ceramic pig, stands guard outside the main entrance to the market. Her ample belly accepts donations, piggy bank-style, for the market’s charitable causes, which include a senior center, food bank, preschool and low-income housing.
Rachel and the 500-vendor market got its start because of the high price of onions, which soared from 10 cents to $1 a pound in the booming frontier town of Seattle in the summer of 1906.
Lumberjacks, fishermen and housewives revolted, and the Seattle City Council founded Pike Place Market, a public market that would allow residents to buy directly from farmers, thus cutting out the middlemen who were blamed for spiking prices.
The revamped market debuted in the ’70s, and for the most part it looks much the way it did then. Long hallways spread in all directions, making it easy to get lost in the shed-like structures that form the market. Even more confusing are three labyrinthine levels, called Down Under, that are below ground in the Main Arcade.
It was here that I found Pike Place Magic Shop, where 100-year-old posters cover the walls and ceiling. Juggling pins, tricks and gag gifts are among the magical flotsam and jetsam that jam almost every square inch of the store.
Owner Sheila Lyon was working at the main counter when I walked in, performing illusion tricks for shoppers. “My husband and I opened this shop 45 years ago,” she told me. “Longest running magic shop in the U.S. We’ve been here so long we’re relics.”
I was drawn into a nearby bookstore, where 50,000 books, most used, crowd the shelves and floor. Owner J.B. Johnson, an engaging guy, opened his shop, BLMF Literary Saloon, 21 years ago. “I have a healthy respect for books,” he said. “This is what I love. This is what I do.”
The neighborhood around the market also has its share of interesting businesses and characters. Buskers line the cobblestoned street near the market’s main entrance. On the day I visited, a cat-faced musician was playing an accordion and a guy who calls himself Brother Billy advertised his “elevator music,” but his tunes were drowned out as another musician’s sax wailed the “Star Wars” Theme.
I circled around to the MarketFront, where everything is shiny and new, including Old Stove Brewing Co., Indi Chocolate and, of course, Art Stone’s Honest Biscuits, advertised as “Honest-To-Goodness Kick-ass Biscuits.”
This time, Stone was too busy to pay attention to his outstanding view. He was filling orders for MacGregors (biscuits with bacon, cheese and caramelized onions, $6), butterholes (classic Southern biscuits with butter, $3.75) and fried-chicken-on-a-butterhole-biscuit sandwiches ($9.25) .
I ordered biscuits and gravy ($7.50), one of my Southern-belle mom’s specialties, and sat at a table facing the window. I guess I could get used to rainy weather. It goes well with kick-ass biscuits.
If you like the way the Seattle waterfront looks now, with the Alaskan Way Viaduct creating a wind tunnel of roaring traffic noise and peek-a-book bay views, you’d better visit the city soon.
In early 2019 the much-maligned double-decker highway, which has separated downtown Seattle from the Puget Sound for 64 years, will be closed and eventually disappear. Traffic will move instead through an underground tunnel and on new surface streets.
It’s all part of a billion-dollar waterfront revamp that hopefully will be completed by 2022.
The Waterfront Seattle Program will transform the city, capitalizing on the removal of the earthquake-vulnerable highway and the replacement of the Elliott Bay Seawall.
There are plans for bike paths, gardens and a pedestrian promenade that ties together parks and plazas, all featuring lush landscaping and views of the Olympic Mountains jutting above Puget Sound.
Elements of the waterfront’s slow renaissance are already coming together.
One improvement, Pike Place Market’s new MarketFront expansion, opened earlier this year.
It will lead eventually to the pedestrian promenade by way of a new bridge called Overlook Walk that connects Pike Place Market to the waterfront and provides elevated views of Elliott Bay and the city skyline.
The walkway is being designed for all ages and abilities, with gradual slopes, new elevators and places to linger along the walk, according to planners.
Some Seattle residents can’t wait for completion of the project. Bob Donegan, a Seattle businessman and member of the Historic Waterfront Assn., thinks the changes will be a boon to the community.
“We’ll get a beautiful park with incredible views. It will be a wonderful attraction for cruise passengers, other tourists and locals.”
Donegan, president of Ivar’s, a Seattle-based seafood outlet with 55 restaurants, said the city’s new waterfront will be “as pretty a waterfront as those in Copenhagen, Denmark, or Melbourne, Australia. It will be great for the community.”
If you go
THE BEST WAY TO SEATTLE
From LAX, Alaska, Delta, American, United and Virgin American offer nonstop service to Seattle. Southwest offers direct service (stop, no change of planes), and Southwest, Delta, American, Alaska and United offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip fares from $159, including taxes and fees.
WHERE TO STAY
Edgewater Hotel, 2411 Alaskan Way, Seattle; (800) 624-0670 or (206) 728-7000, edgewaterhotel.com. The Edgewater, the only over-water hotel in Seattle, has played host to the Beatles (who famously went fishing out the window of their room) and other musicians. The hotel is celebrating its musical history by loaning guitars, sheet music and record players to guests. Or borrow Brooks running shoes for a waterfront jaunt. Pacific-Northwest decor, fireplaces, fine-dining Six-Seven Restaurant. Doubles from $339.
Hotel Theodore, 1531 7th Ave. Seattle; (206) 621-1200, hoteltheodore.com. This hotel, which opened in early November, is in a downtown building that has undergone several resurrections in the last 88 years and is now an urban boutique hotel, with 151 rooms from spartan to chic. If it’s raining and you’re staying in a suite, use the his-and-hers rain jackets in the closet. Doubles from $209.
Inn at the Market, 86 Pine St., Seattle; (206) 443-3600, innatthemarket.com. If you want to explore Pike Place Market, try this renovated boutique hotel at the market. Views of Elliott Bay, city or market. Doubles from $320.
WHERE TO EAT
Steelhead Diner, 95 Pine St., Seattle; (206) 625-0129, steelheaddiner.com. Get a Pike Place Market experience at this unpretentious diner overlooking Post Alley, Elliott Bay and the market itself. The open kitchen specializes in seafood. Lunch entrees from $14; try the fish and chips for $19.
Pink Door, 1919 Post Alley, Seattle; (206) 443-3241, thepinkdoor.net. Here’s one of those special places that’s so well-known it doesn’t have a sign. Look for the pink] door (natch) in Post Alley, where you’ll find Italian specialties and eclectic entertainment: cabaret, burlesque, trapeze, tarot and music. Dinner entrees from $18.
Ivar’s Acres of Clams, 1001 Alaskan Way, Pier 54, Seattle; (206) 624-6852, ivars.com. Ivar’s, a 77-year-old Seattle institution, was just remodeled but still showcases historic photos, fishing fleet models and great seafood. Dine on the pier with views of Seattle’s waterfront. Lunch entrees, including fish and chips, from $17.
TO LEARN MORE
Visit Seattle, visitseattle.org
Washington State, experiencewa.com