Thursday, May 09, 2013

A Local's View of the Pike Place Market [2013]

You're planning a trip to Seattle? Great! That means that you'll probably be visiting the Pike Place Market, which is a vibrant and bustling place full of some of the best produce, crafts, bites to eat, and oddities available in Seattle. For more than 100 years, the Pike Place Market has served Seattle and today still draws  about 10,000,000 visitors a year.

Locally known simply as "The Market", the Pike Place Market is truly a special place. Locals and visitors actively use the market year round as a place to visit on the weekend, explore with friends, and to buy fresh produce or amazing fish. I personally love visiting The Market and usually walk through at least once or twice a month, and even more when the weather is nice and I have an excuse to visit. I also have a long history with the market: I got one of my first haircuts at the barbershop (It is still open) on the lower level and I've been regularly visiting the market for over 20 years. It's a constantly evolving place that has appeal for nearly anyone. It is easily one of the top "do-not-miss" attractions in Seattle.

However, the treasure that is The Market today was almost destroyed in the 1960s. In 1963, the "Pike Plaza" development was proposed for the site. It would have been a complete urban renewal of the market, clad in concrete, and focused primarily on business and the automobile. These developments were in style at the time in Seattle: We lost a Carnegie library that was replaced by a modern building; Our train station underwent an underwhelming transformation and was recently restored; I-5 cut through the city like a hot knife; and much more was planned to make Seattle more adapted to the future as it was seen from then.

The Pike Place Market was meant to live on in a new building in the Pike Plaza development, but the budget called for a parking garage that was many times more expensive than the new market replacement. It was also argued at the time that the vendors were what gave the market character and that the buildings don't matter (never mind that the vendors evolved with the buildings). In 1971, the market was saved from such a dramatic and complete revision by the public, who voted to renovate instead of devastate. Instead, the buildings were renovated and restored with an eye on historic preservation. The result is one of the most famous and popular public markets in the US. But what about the market today? Keep on reading after the break!

The Pike Place Market remains today a mix of local merchants, farmers, craftsman, curios, and more. These are a few of my favorite places in the Pike Place Market, including some classics and a couple new ones that  have just started up in the last year. If you're interested in doing this walk in person, check the end of the post for a Google Map.

The first stop has to be the famous Pike Place Fish Market of "flying fish" fame. The crowd pleaser here is that when you buy a fish, they throw it from the display to the people behind the counter. There they clean it and pack it ready to go. Everyone who visits the market will pass by this stand and most people are in the know about the fish throwing (crowds can gather).

Even if no one is buying, there are samples of fresh smoked salmon and every 15 minutes or so, one of the salmon there take flight. If you buy a fish, they'll be happy to give you a bit of a show. What's even better is that Pike Place Fish Market now carries only sustainable seafood.

The next stop on the tour? We'll briefly drop by the public view by the Sound View Cafe (follow the sign in the picture above) on our way to a brand new chocolate maker in the market.

From here, we continue "down under" and into the market, where we find the new Indi Chocolate. The owner and chocolatier of Indi Chocolate left a job in IT to pursue her passion, which led her to the Pike Place Market (by way of Honduras where she sources her cocoa beans directly). She opened her doors less than three months ago and makes some beautiful, pure dark chocolate along with cocoa butter skin products and lip butter. This is a place to drop by, meet the owner, and hear about her adventures in Central America.

Continuing even further into the lower levels (we'll circle back up top in a bit), we have a couple classic shops. The down under arcade focuses on curios, collectibles, and hole in the wall shops. You will find everything down here from high quality polish dishware to beads for crafts.

However, my two favorite shops down in this section? The magic shop (does it even have a name?) and Golden Age Collectibles. The magic shop has been here forever and does more than just gimmicky tricks to kids. You can actually get some professional gear here and looking through the wares is a sure hit with kids (of all ages). Meanwhile at Golden Age Collectibles, you'll find just about everything you could want in the geek fandom. An Superman comic for the 1960s? Sure thing. Original Star Wars toys from the 70s? That's there too. Did you play Magic the Gathering? There's a $400 unopened unlimited edition booster there.

Emerging back to the surface, we are now at about the middle of The Market. Further down the concourse is a wide array of day stalls with everything from hot sauce to hand made jewelry to T-shirts. You'll also see flowers everywhere in the market, especially in the spring when the tulip festival is happening in the Skagit valley. However, our next stop is down the street at Pear Delicatessen.

Pear Delicatessen is the best little general market in The Market. The sandwiches are great, if you want to grab a bite here. The Downtown Duck is well known, although all of them are really good. Plus, in the back you'll find a huge range of drinks (both non-alcoholic and with) for non-tourist prices. This is a great place to refresh before heading back down the market.

From Pear, you'll find a number of staples walking down the street from there: Bavarian Meats, The "original" Starbucks, Piroshki,  Piroshki..., Le Panier, Beecher's Cheese, Mee Sum Pastries, and Mr. D's Greek Deli. All are popular options to pick up interesting snacks and bites along the way.

Bavarian Meats offers German style weiners in a roll with mustard, as well a tons of imported food from Germany. If you've never tried it, there are a couple interesting drinks here like MezzoMix: A mix of orange soda and cola.

At the original Starbucks, you will likely run into a line out the door. It is one of our attractions, but the fact is that it's just a Starbucks on the inside. The only thing here is that they have a special Pike Place Market mug that can only be purchased here.

Further down, we have another place that usually has a line out the door. Piroshki, Piroshki is a staple of the market, although these days I tend to prefer other snacks from some of the other places in the market.

Le Panier offers excellent breads and is extremely popular. If you feel like a croissant, this is the place to get it.

 A couple doors down from there is the now famous Beecher's Cheese, which opened up a couple years ago. They're pretty good and the grilled cheese is top notch. You'll see their cheese vats through the window, which is where a lot of the cheese is actually made. If you like cheese, this is a must visit.

Mee Sum Pastry is one of the places that I almost always stop at. The best of the bunch is the barbeque pork humbow, which will run you less than $3. It's a great snack, very flavorful, and freshly made.

Finally, you'll reach Mr. D's Greek Deli. I am mainly including him because he's a landmark and from here, you'll need to swing sharply to the left at the next intersection to hit a couple more places.

This is Post Alley, which is home to Pike Place Chowder, El Mercado Latino, and a new place that opened up last August called Cafe Farvahar that serves Persian cuisine.

Immediately after you turn the corner by the hanging chilis, you'll see El Mercaso Latino. This is a great little ethnic store with empanadas to tempt you and a treat from South America: Argentine alfajores (which I discovered my love of last year when visiting South America). This is the only place that I know of in Seattle to buy them (although they are pricey).

Continuing up, you'll pass by Pike Place Chowder. Their chowder really is some of the best in the city and eating there can be a sweet deal: If you sign up for an app called LevelUp with this link, when you pay using the app you'll get $5 towards your meal. No strings attached (except having to sign up with the referral).

After you're done there, continue on to the next street. You'll get a great view of the sound (one of the most popular photo spots) and be right by our next destination: Cafe Farvahar. Persian cuisine is delicious and offers some very interesting flavor combinations. I am still trying out the cafe, but so far everything I've had had actually been pretty good. They opened in August of 2012 (replacing, sadly, my favorite Russian cafe), but I am looking forward to them growing their offerings. You'll meet the owner (and his mother) here and the recipes are obviously from the family. Very tasty.

From Cafe Farvahar, continue inside the building to find some of the shops hidden inside away from the busy streets. Another newcomer in the past year is Britt's Pickles. Dang tasty pickles; Hard to find location.

Coming back out to the main street, you should be across the street from where we started, but we're not done yet cross the street, past The Pig, and walk to the left side of the Pike Place Fish Market. If you took the picture below, you'd directly straight ahead until you are by the Mt. Townsend Creamery from Port Townsend. They offer a very tasty selection of fresh cheeses and take us on the final leg of our tour. As an alternative, you can walk back a little ways and walk through the absolutely fantastic grocer aisle, which you must do at some point during your visit. I've marked that route on my map here.

 From here, turn to your left and walk straight back towards 1st Ave. You'll run by the infinitely popular Daily Dozen Doughnut Company and then past Read All About It News. The best deal at the Daily Dozen is either the cinammon sugar (a half dozen'l do ya) or the mixed, if the frosted mini doughnuts look good. These guys have been here forever!

 Read All About It News is an example of what The Market used to be and has been in the same place, supporting living wage jobs for the employees for more than 30 years. If you are looking to support a local business and want some post cards (or a magazine from home), this is place to get it.

Once you've loaded up on your postcards, turn to the other side and in to DeLaurenti's. You'll find the super quality ingredients here and many things that travel well, such as olive oil, chocolates, and imported delicacies. At the front by 1st Ave, they have a small deli with pizza and sandwiches. When you come out the other side (by the Daily Dozen), take a left and head into the southern section of the market.

 In the next section, the highlight (especially for kids and adults desperate for an original present) is the Great Wind-up Shop. You'll find anything that can be wound up in here and novelty presents for all. You'll also find Tenzing Momo, an oriental herb shop, and some public seating. Heading down the stairs and following the the main path, we reach my last destination in the market: The Pike Brewing Company.

The Pike Brewing Company has decent enough food (although are you really hungry after eating through The Market? I think not) and a number of high quality beers to try. There is plenty of seating and happy hour offers good deals on food and drinks.

 That's it! This is just one possible walk through The Market and there is still plenty of stuff that was left out. It is well worth doing a second loop through the Market on the main level to see even more things, including all of the fruit and vendors (I've marked that walk on my map as well as Walk #2). Check out the map here! 

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  1. Thank you for sharing this great post and telling people about indi chocolate. Beautiful pictures! I welcome you all to come on by indi chocolate and say hello.

    Hope you have a great time in Sweden. Looking forward to hearing all about it.


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