Friday, April 4, 2008

Alki

When I picked J.See up in the Watchmobile for our Alki-venture I wasn’t really in the mood. I was tired, grumpy, and had consumed too much wine from a box the night before. The fact that we were visiting Alki at all felt like we were cheating – if there ever was a neighborhood in Seattle I considered my own, it would be Alki. If Alki can even be considered a neighborhood – it’s really more of a faction of a larger neighborhood (West Seattle), but they do have their own paper (the Alki News Beacon) and their own community council, plus what is a neighborhood? It’s all semantics.

I preface this round up with a bit of “important” info about myself (Pana):

a) My family moved to Seattle in 1988, whilst I was in the third grade and, like the Denny party, all settled in Alki-- my father in a house near the south end of Rocky Beach, my mother half of a block in from the middle of the sandy portion of Alki Beach proper. I’ve had more adventures on and around Alki than any other location and even returned as an adult and in the Best Apartment EverTM for a few years (Oh Bonair Place HOW I MISS YOU) until moving (gasp!) up the hill to North Admiral last March. It’s possible I still work on Alki, but if I told you that I’d have to kill you.

b) I blame most things on the weather. My moods, for example. Sickness, too. It’s something I got from my mom. Even though I often understand that the weather doesn’t actually control me, I like to pass off any responsibility on the actions of our tumultuous atmosphere.

So here’s the deal, I was in a lousy mood and blamed it on the fact that even though it was technically spring it had snowed the night before. Even though J.See and I had been lazy enough to choose Alki, I felt even lazier than that and didn’t want to do anything. But I did it anyway! For you, dear readers. And ended up having a pretty good time.

Because! Because the sun came out, it’s true. Although it had been grey, as soon as we pulled up and parked on Alki Ave SW the sunshine was breaking through the clouds. Magically, my mood lifted.

I felt funny about researching a location I am so intimately familiar with, so our first stop was a good choice: The Log House Museum. I can’t tell you the number of times in my life I caught the #56 bus right outside of there, but don’t think I’d ever been inside. J.See even lived in the apartment building across the street for a few years and hadn’t been in since elementary school times.

Some of the people on Alki seem to always be bitching about all the changes going on in the area. And it’s true that over the past twenty years there have been a lot of them, but wouldn’t it be creepier if there hadn’t been any in twenty years? Still, both J.See and I, past Alki residents, were sad to see townhouses in the place of a couple of kooky cool beach houses we used to admire (P.S. I’m over townhouses in any location).

The Log House Museum is really one room filled with glass cases that showcase artifacts and information about the area’s past. I’d thought the focus was on the landing party that is considered to have more or less started the city of Seattle, but there was a lot more than that, including signs for and against the building of the West Seattle Bridge (without which my life would be exponentially different). One of the craziest things I can’t get over about Alki is the fact that Luna Park(the “Coney Island of the West” from the early 1900s, not the cafe in its location now) existed at all and how much I wish it still did.



While we were there we met Andrea Mercado, the museum’s director, and she was warm, welcoming, friendly and knowledgeable. She is truly what made the visit awesome. We chatted with her for a little while: about Alki now and then, about the museum, about the landing party. She had a few videos and we opted for the award winning selection focusing on the plight of the Duwamish tribe (Seattle’s main tribe, though they are nationally unrecognized).

The museum is housed in a building that was once a carriage house to what is now the Homestead restaurant that sits about half a block away. The Homestead is something about Alki that hasn’t appeared to change in the twenty years since I’ve been around the area. It’s changed ownership a few times, but I am pretty sure they are best known for their all-you-can-eat fried chicken dinner (which I partook in as recently as this past January). Inside the Homestead is like a trip back in time – I always equate it to the dining room at a resort sort of like in Dirty Dancing (for this reason alone I highly recommend it). It’s true regality, though, lies in the building itself. It’s old, yo. And is charm-tastic.



When we finally walked out I was feeling rejuvenated about the whole day, and the sun was shining bright! It couldn’t have been described as warm, but it smelled like spring nonetheless. Armed with our new Alki History Trail pamphlet we went in search of lunch.

There are a ton of restaurant choices along Alki Avenue – in fact, that’s more or less all there is in terms of retail. There are a few oldies but goodies I can vouch for heartily: Pepperdock’s (a great burger place that’s even open on Christmas – get the salmon burger, it’s a huge delicious fillet of salmon on a bun and worth way more than the $6 or so it costs), the Alki Bakery (for baked goods I recommend the chocolate dipped macaroons—zomg, love—or the fruit flan, and the sandwiches are no frills but addictively delicious), and Pegasus Pizza (who just moved into the location next door which had been a revolving door for random restaurants in recent years).

Today, though, we decided on the Celtic Swell, an Irish pub-style place opposite the water. The Celtic Swell is lined in dark wood with tables in the front against the large windows facing the beach. There was some sort of sports game on the TVs when we came in, so we headed to one of the bench booths towards the back. The place has a laid back atmosphere, and the waitress was casual and friendly. Neither of us were up for beer or cocktails (though there seemed to be a fun and full menu of both) but I ordered a ginger ale because I love ginger ale and any place with a full bar always has it. Randomly, this ginger ale was really good. I can’t stop thinking about it, actually. It wasn’t too sweet and the ginger-y flavor was extra strong. It was fantastic, seriously.

We ordered a few things off of the appetizer menu to share: griddled potato bread, mini-swell burgers, and sausage rolls. While we waited we ruminated on the past life of the space, back when it held a sandwich shop called the Liberty Deli. They used to have dinner theater there (I saw a fantastic version of Sartre’s No Exit) and J.See used to spend time in there after hours with an old roommate who made great sandwiches.



Our food was delicious. The mini-swell burgers in particular are deceptive – yes, it’s true, they’re just tiny cheeseburgers, but there is something about them that tastes like so much more. I think it’s the buns. Each little patty is covered with cheese (they’re probably about a sand dollar’s width) and put onto these pale colored buns that are soft and light. YUM. The sausage rolls were also good (meat in a pastry, how can you go wrong?) but their best element was the hot and sweet mustard they came with. The griddled potato cakes were dense and moist and incredibly buttery. They were actually served with butter, too, but I can’t imagine a universe in which they would need any added, they were practically dripping.

Overall the meal was very enjoyable. The sun was still shining when we left and proceeded to do the single most enjoyable activity available in this neighborhood – walking along the beach and enjoying the view. Looking out you can see the Olympic Peninsula to the east and the Space Needle peaking out from the west, and ferries going across the water. Along the way we stopped at Seattle’s own miniature Statue of Liberty. The plaque says the robed lady was donated by the Boy Scouts and proudly marks the Birthplace of Seattle.



We headed west from there. Quite a few people were out enjoying the weather. We passed the Bathhouse, a building that sometimes hosts art classes and sometimes appears to be rented out for weddings or parties, though nothing was going on at that time.



The main part of the beach on this spread is separated into what I consider two distinct sections – the paved area that is home to the Statue of Liberty and the Bathhouse, perfect for a walk with a dog or a picnic and barbecue at one of the designated (some covered) areas. Where that ends, the sandy fun begins. The sandy beach area (though still plenty rocky down by the water) can be more of a beach-lovers beach and will be swarmed come summer time with bikini babes on towels and volleyball games. Today wasn’t quite nice enough for that much action, so we mostly saw some kids playing in the sand and folks strolling along.



We wandered a block in from the water over to ‘Whale Tail’ park, the main feature of which is a large whale tail kids can climb on. Parts of the ground at the park were covered with the coolest bouncy and soft material apparently to keep kids who fall down from getting very hurt. It was weird to walk on; it felt very alien.



We left the park and that part of the beach and headed over to the appropriately called “Rocky Beach” along the west flank of Alki Point. Rocky Beach is actually called the Charles Richey Senior Viewpoint, but I’ve never heard anyone refer to it as such and I think if I started no one would know what I was talking about.

The thing about Rocky Beach is that it’s just beautiful. When I think about what I’d do if I won the Mega Millions (which is something I do regularly – not win the Mega Millions, but plan how I’d spend the money if I did) I often imagine buying a house with this view. The view from the main area of Alki beach, with all the restaurants and bars, is gorgeous, too, but it’s facing north and the view is more developed. You can see Magnolia, the edges of downtown Seattle, and a fair amount more boat traffic. There is something infinity more pure about the west view of Alki. It’s so peaceful: rocks, water, islands, birds, sometimes seals, and the Olympic Mountains. I love it, I could just sit there staring out at the view for hours. Well, for one hour anyway. If I had some coffee.



We left Rocky Beach and tried to go to the lighthouse at the tip of Alki Point, which you may remember from the Temple of the Dog video “Hunger Strike”. The lighthouse is run by the Coast Guard, and next to it is a sweet old looking house that I believe is for the person running the lighthouse to live. The area surrounding the lighthouse is all fenced off. I know there are tours available, but we aren’t that kind of prepared. I remember being able to walk around to the other side of it via the sand, but when J.See and I tried to explore for a way to cut through we were stopped short not only by fence but by many signs from the neighbors advising us to turn around and head back where we came from, as their property was no shortcut. For some reason we found this entertaining, and I’ll admit I got a little criminal thrill. Still, we didn’t pursue very far, because we’re lazy.



There is a residential building blocking the view of the lighthouse from the street. This building used to be apartments but was converted into condos and is being sold now for, as the sign screams, “Under 200K!” Both J.See and I had looked at renting these apartments at different times in our life and, while I still sort of wished it had worked out for me (they didn’t take cats – this was in my pre-weiner dog days) I can’t imagine buying one of the tiny units. They were so small! And the kitchen was in a hallway! J.See says it was once a hotel and to make it a rentable entity they had to shove those kitchens in there.

The truth is there aren’t any hotels on Alki, but I’ve heard Salty’s plans to expand their location and add one. I’ve always had a dream of turning the apartment building on the corner of 63rd and Alki Ave SW (across from Cactus) into a smallish hotel. If someone rich is out there reading this, let’s do it! I have some experience in the hospitality industry. I think it’s a great idea, and I know the neighbors would complain, but like I said, people on Alki are always complaining anyway. I don’t really blame them, if I owned a piece of paradise I wouldn’t want it to change either.

Anyway, J.See and I hopped back into the Watchmobile for one more stop before leaving the Alki neighborhood. And it was something we found on our Alki History pamphlet from the Log House Museum!

Seaview Hall was built in 1902 as a summer lodging house and it looks impeccable today, 100+ years later (of course, it’s been restored). It’s amazing to see this house sitting on a residential street, on 59th Ave SW, just in from Beach Drive, looking so much like the original pictures in the pamphlet from the turn of the century.



Andrea Mercado from the lighthouse museum said that the second floor was a big room used probably for dances, and just standing outside of the property imagining that was surreal. The place is beautiful by any years’ standards, and it’s for sale! I can barely imagine living in a place literally filled with such history, and not just knowing that, but being able to see it in the details of your home every day. If I win the Mega Millions soon, maybe this’ll be the place I’ll buy.

Seaview Hall was the perfect stopping place for our Alki blogventure. It left us filled with wonder (sounds corny, but is true! It was magical to look at old pictures in the pamphlet and then look up and see it staring back at you) and renewed affection for the area.

Overall Grade: A

3 comments:

Jan said...

Pana...you'll have to fight me for Seaview Hall...what an incredible house that I never knew was there...thanks for letting us inside :)

rosebunting said...

One of my mother's SSCC friends lived there, the house definately had a bit of a tilt.

Jan said...

hey....go to Columbia Center next...lots of shops, beer joints, a meat market...slowly, slowly, expanding itself :)