I arrived on Friday the 13th in Seattle, just missing out on the Seattle stop on the Social Distortion tour (missing them by a day in Vancouver as well…). To most people Seattle means grunge, Jimi Hendrix and The Space Needle. For me, Seattle is Bruce Lee (remember No Retreat, No Surrender?) and coffee. A friend of the family, who I stayed with briefly in New York, had just moved over about six months ago, so I had the opportunity to stay with her. Arriving without any food in me for the past 15 hours or so, and been awake for about 26 hours, we went on a splurge at the local Indian and then headed out to the Fremont area to watch her housemate Chris perform with his band Project Lionheart. I literally fell asleep standing up despite the very groovy sound.
Next day saw us travel to Vancouver, so it wasn’t until Monday I got to see more of the city than its night life. I had a meeting at Bauhaus that got cancelled. Bauhaus is an old classic institution that combines coffee and books in a bohemic way that is very appealing. Didn’t have the coffee though, due to its obvious flaws in the making of the cup that was visible to me as I lined up. Regardless, I am glad that I visited, cause apparently they are tearing it down, which is sad.
Instead my first coffee in Seattle was at Stumptown on Pine Street. No frills, Hairbender blend espresso. To be honest, the over all experience here was rather bleak in comparison to my only visit to Stumptown before, in NYC at the ACE Hotel. Instead I went over to Caffe Vita, another Seattle classic roaster. The vibe here was awesome, Black Sabbath blasting out over the wifi-surfers. Got an espresso and a wrap that was really good. Actually it was more of a contemporary cafe with an almost nostalgic feel to it in some weird way. I liked it though. Later, at the SCAA exhibition, I met their representative who was very friendly and who hosted the hands down most impressive pop up espresso bar at the fair!
No visit to Seattle is done fully if not visiting Espresso Vivace though. Since working in Australia, I am well familiar with the work of David Schomer, who is somewhat an espresso bar guru over there. Everything was textbook, from the espresso to the hospitality. The menu not only suggested the classic Italian espresso drinks, but made a chronological map of the development of the coffee movement from first to third wave. I felt like I was standing on historic ground. Later I found out that the store I was in, was in fact a very late addition to the Vivace family.
Monday night was Kamnis (whom I was staying with) birthday. It was also the night I was supposed to meet my friend Peters brother Matt for dinner. So we put two and two together, and hooked up for drinks at Odd Fellows, a beautiful space on Capitol Hill, squeezed in between one of the better bookshops and a second hand record store where I purchased the reprints of Herb Alperts classic albums. Later Matt took us for dinner at his local Italian place which was fantastic, and then we finished the night at Poppy where we were chatting with the bartenders until close, regarding coffee and spirit quality. It’s very interesting how alike the barista and the bartender communities are.
Alex Bernson, who I met up with in New York when I was there (then working at Vandaag, now at Joe’s) is a native of Seattle and in town for the competitions later in the week which he was judging, just visiting the family. So, naturally I was happy to go on a coffee crawl with him. First he took me to Milstead&Co. What an awesome place. This one is my favorite, hands down, in Seattle. Located in the Fremont area, it’s slightly off the beaten track, but well worth the effort! We were served a Wrecking Ball espresso that was fantastic. One of the most interesting espresso I’ve had in a long time, complex taste, rich yet smooth mouthfeel. Again, not one to normally like the hyperbole, but this was as good as I write actually. Here we bumped in to Sam and Sam of Everyman in NYC, who were competing in the USBC. The way their drinks, coffee and presentation were presented to me, I realized how far the Americans are in their coffee competing. Later in the week, their sales representative in New York for Counter Culture became the US Barista Champion.
Next, Alex took me to Victrola on Capitol Hill. Legendary stomping ground for some of the coffee royalty now world famous. The café itself is very art deco and cosy. Across the road, there was a Starbucks concept store serving wine among other things. Rather slick but still very plastic. The girl at the bar gave us samples of orange juice that she was thrilled tasted like freshly squeezed but wasn’t…
Tucked away in an alley next to the small Vivace kiosk on Broadway, there is a shrine to the coffee goddess Caffeina. This tells you how old the subculture of coffee actually is here in Seattle – cave paintings to praise coffee. Seriously though, it’s an interesting touch on the whole coffee cult in America which I appreciate. Alex dropped me off at the latest Victrola, where the Australian coffee snob Andy Freeman was taking photos of the roaster. Took a sneaky picture in the bathroom line, and then sneaked out. Posted it on my friend Trevors wall on Facebook, which is our mutual friend, and caused this little stir. Before my trek home, I had a brief 20 minute lunch with old mate Ben Bicknell, passing through Seattle on his way to Portland for the SCAA. Great Mexican food, and I love me some Corona, which tends to piss off the community in general, and Portland people in particular.
Took a long walk back to the house, passed Bruce and Brandon Lee’s graves on the way. Then back into the city later at night for drinks with Anna and Peter, mutual friends of a New York residing fashion photographer we met through last summer. We had a beer at Linda’s, legendary place where Kurt Cobain might, or might not, have had one of his last drinks a couple of days prior his death. Regardless how true this is, fact is they played some really obscure music in there that I haven’t listened to for years. Ludichrist, anyone? As rowdy as it was, we went over to a quiet bar, or that’s what we thought, but ended up in front of a live flamenco act, that was really really good! On my way back, getting off the bus in the University District, I accidently saw Trabant, a shop I’ve been following on twitter for a while. Had an espresso before going home, having a nice chat to the barista. Imagine having a place that serves a great espresso at midnight! Amazing.
Hooked on walking, I strolled down the following day to Seattles first espresso bar, Allegro, which is old school in any given context. The espresso was, well, old school. Quiche was great though. Inspired by last nights visit to Trabant, I decided to take the express bus downtown, to visit their second location. A massive place with a beautiful layout and nice interior design. Unfortunately for me though, I opted for a yirgecheffe on the Clover (yes, they still use them. The Trabant of coffee?) which wasn’t to my taste at all (though the coffee was clean and good in any other way). Walked through the city, saw the original Starbucks, the Space Needle and then up the hill to the last café on my list – Analog.
It’s located off the beaten track, in a lush area on Capitol Hill. The interior is light, and so is the white sprayed Synesso. Analog serves a local roaster I can’t for my life remember the name of unfortunately (Herkimer?), but it was rather Scandinavian in it’s brightness and medium body. Really interesting and something different from the ristrettos I’d been served throughout my stay. And that concluded my Seattle stay. The Scandinavian weather was similar to Vancouver, but the people a little bit more less open (maybe it’s the Scandinavian population that is settled here since generations back?) though I got to meet a lot of exceptions to that rule! Thank you Seattle, it was a pleasure!
NP: Queensryche Queen Of The Reich
*I have previously written notes on Seattle here.