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Downtown Seattle Hotel Restaurants

By Ronald Holden

No surprise that Seattle is experiencing a boom in what are called boutique hotels, catering to leisure travelers versus business people or conventioneers. And where do they want to stay, assuming they're not checking in at the City Hostel in Belltown? At the Pike Place Market, of course! But there's only one hotel actually at the Market, the 45-room Inn at the Market. So the biggest void in the local hotel scene has been finding suitable real estate and building out hotel properties. And along with hotels, restaurants. Because you can't afford to have Marvin and Minnie from Minneapolis wander off-site in search of a late-night McDonald's or an early-morning Starbucks.

"Keep 'em close" has been the motto of innkeepers for decades, so dining rooms are crucial. The first Trader Vic's was located in the basement of the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, which was torn down to make way for the Westin, which for a time housed a fancy dinner house called The Palm Court. (It's now a burger bar.) At the staid Olympic, now part of the Fairmont chain, the elegant Georgian Room is all but defunct. Also downtown, in the Sheraton Hotel, a young chef named Kathy Casey made a name for herself at another fancy dinner house named Fuller's (for the benefactor of the Seattle Art Museum); it's long gone as well (Thierry Rautureau's excellent Loulay was a new build-out a flight up from the lobby).

Then a second wave of hip and would-be hip hotels arrived: W, Max, Monaco, Alexis, Hotel 1000, but their market was still the business traveler. And now, just within in the past year or so, half a dozen new options have opened around the Market. They downplay their corporate ownership in favor of an edgier feel, especially when it comes to dining.

The renovated Eitel Building now includes a 91-room inn called the State Hotel, and a restaurant, the Ben Paris (named for an early Seattle restaurateur). The chef is Quinton Stewart, a veteran of the Hitchcock Restaurant Group as well as the Thompson Seattle. His menu at this street-level gathering spot is designed to be casual and inviting. You can get avocado toast at breakfast, three mini-martinis at lunch (and dinner), as well as a panoply of "historic" cocktails with cutesy names like Paris Between the Wars, Hail Columbia, the Ken Griffey Juniper, etc.

Hush puppies, photo by Ronald Holden

On the menu at lunch is an oversize burger; at dinner, it's a flat iron steak with charred vegetables. Roasted carrots with harissa and a yogurt sauce were a rare miss (burned, soggy), but buttermilk hush puppies with a jalapeno sauce were more than tasty. The kitchen is prepared to pull out all the stops for $55, but if you're heading to the theater, a "tour the menu" option (until 6 PM) runs $35. It's part of the Columbia Hospitality Group (Cedarbrook, Salish Lodge, Inn at Langley, and many more).

At the Sound Hotel on 4th Avenue, dinner is served in the lobby as well as in private banquet rooms. This is a Hilton property, under their lively, more casual Tapestry Collection brand. Technically, only the first 11 floors are hotel rooms; above that is an apartment building with the bizarre name of Arrivé. (Je suis arrivé: I have arrived. But the noun is arrivée, extra "e." And an arriviste is how the French refer to a social climber-or parvenu, if you want to stay French). Running the food and beverage operation, called Currant Bistro, is Jon Langley, late of Dexter Brewhouse. Avocado toast at breakfast (of course), tuna salad at lunch, gorgonzola-fig flatbread at dinner.

Photo courtesy of The Sound Hotel

But here's the catch. Yes. the 42nd floor penthouse has stunning, 360-degree views across Seattle but it's only open to residents of the Arrivé apartments, where a one-bedroom goes for $3,000 a month, in case you're in the market. The restaurant's own terrace, facing north, is on the 7th floor, with a fine view of the Space Needle and the Amazon office canyon. This building, by the way, started out six years ago as the Potala, a hotel tower designed by a former Tibetan monk named Lonsang Dargey to attract Asian investors who expected to receive Green Cards in return for half a million simoleons. The scheme collapsed when Dargey was investigated for securities fraud, but (somehow) the project got built anyway.

Shaker + Spear is the name of the restaurant at the Palladian Hotel, a Kimpton property at 2nd and Virginia. (Yes, you can get avocado toast.) The chef, Carolynn Spence, worked with Bobby Flay in California; here, she offers a whole grilled branzino and a seafood-chorizo paella for diners who want to venture beyond the traditional steaks. Been around for a while now, a block from the Market.

Also close to the Market is another Hilton property, this one branded as Curio Collection, named the Charter Hotel. Its bar, called the Fog Room, has a very good (if peekaboo) view of Elliott Bay and the Olympics from the covered 16th floor terrace. The restaurant, at ground level, is called Patagōn, and has a South American theme; you can start with a smoked lamb empanada, then move on to the (shareable) Gaucho Rib Eye for $89. It's a hotel restaurant, so it serves breakfast (yes, you can have avocado toast). Traditional cocktails are stirred and shaken at the Fog Room (Sidecar, Vieux Carré, Sazerac), augmented by a riff of classics like Death in the Afternoon made with ultra-premium ingredients, such as Dom Perignon, for a mere $58 (plus a 20% gratuity). The view is worth it, though, as long as you stick to draught beer.

The strangest transformation has occurred at the Thompson Hotel a Hyatt brand whose local outlet is at 1 st and Stewart. Upstairs, as most of Seattle knows by now, is one of the greatest restaurant views in town. It's called the Nest: a 13th floor terrace with an adjacent bar. "Expansive, gasp-inducing views," is what they say on the website, and they're not wrong. Stay away from the food (snacks, basically), which must travel up the service elevator; have a glass of sparkling rosé and gasp away.

At ground level, the restaurant that was originally called Scout (but why?) is now called Conversation, the idea being that you find yourself a seat at the communal table and, I guess, converse. Glitches to be worked out, I hope, because the table was "reserved" (on my most recent visit) for a large party that never showed up. So I sat at the bar and had a perfectly good hanger steak (photo by Ronald Holden).

The new Palihotel (an LA chain) at 1st and Pine has a “southern-inspired” restaurant called The Hart and the Hunter. (Mind you, this is not the Palladian, which also has a thing-and-thing name.) The signature item here is the butter biscuits, but at happy hour you'll have to settle for (ahem, seriously) Carrot Toast, $13.

One last lodging entry, the recently renovated Inn at El Gaucho, above the eponymous restaurant, which is one of Seattle's iconic steak houses.

All in all, locals don't generally think of local hotels when they're weighing dining options. But Nest or Fog Room would be terrific for a drink in good weather, and you could do worse than Ben Paris or Shaker + Spear if you're meeting up with out-of-town visitors for lunch or dinner. Could you do better? Sure: Le Pichet, Steelhead Diner, Cafe Campagne, Maximilien. But that's another story.

July 2019


Ronald Holden is a Northwest native who's been writing about local food for over 40 years. His latest book, the second edition of Forking Seattle, is available on Amazon.com ( paperback here , kindle version here ). He blogs at ForkingSeattle.com


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