A Seattle symphony

31 Mar 2015 by Clement Huang
The seaport city of Seattle needs little introduction. Perhaps most famous for coffee, grunge music and rain, it has also appeared on the big screen, winning the hearts of millions in 1993 flick Sleepless in Seattle, and more recently as the setting for hit ABC medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy. Home to a population of more than 600,000, the capital of Washington State is one of the fastest-growing major cities in the US. It’s often described as a “lite” version of San Francisco due to some geographical similarities, such as the steep slopes dotted with trams and the prominent bay areas. Seattle welcomes a constant stream of business and leisure travellers thanks to its position on the West Coast (it’s less than two hours from San Francisco, and under an hour from Vancouver), as well as its role as a trading and industrial hub. It credits much of this success to the economic benefits afforded to it by Boeing after the Second World War, which established Seattle as an aircraft-manufacturing hub and helped it emerge victorious from the blows of the Great Depression. Since then, Seattle has gone on to attract prominent tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Nintendo. There is, however, far more to the city. Today, Seattle readily embraces a wide range of cultures and it’s this multiculturalism that helps to make the city such a compelling destination. Here we look at some of its top attractions. Pike Place Market A short stroll along the Elliott Bay waterfront will take you to the famous Pike Place Market, one of the oldest of its kind in the US and among Seattle’s most popular tourist stops. A must-see is Pike Place Fish Market – an open-air market that’s home to countless seafood stalls. Be on the lookout for the highly entertaining “flying fish” shenanigans where fishmongers hurl produce to each other over the heads of shoppers. The theatrics were first introduced in the mid ’80s, when the then relatively unknown market was struggling to attract custom and stallholders were forced to employ unusual tactics to keep it open. The amusing antics did the job and the market has now become a world-famous attraction. Just be sure to mind your head, especially in areas with signs reading, “Caution: Low-flying Fish”. pikeplacefish.com Pike Place Market features other fresh-produce shops, selling everything from fruit to ostrich eggs. The famous Beecher’s Handmade Cheese factory includes a retail shop and café that creates cheese-based meals. The signature macaroni and cheese based on the recipe of founder Kurt Beecher Dammeier has been extensively reviewed and raved about by the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Postbeechershandmadecheese.com Another noteworthy stop, particularly for caffeine-addicts, is the original Starbucks Coffee store. After a brief spell at Western Avenue in 1971, the small independent coffee house moved to Pike Place in 1977. It would take another decade before the original owners, Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker sold their “chain” of six Starbucks stores to former employee Howard Schultz, who would transform the business into the juggernaut that it is today. The original store has been well preserved and remains largely unchanged. A particularly noticeable feature is the brand’s signage at the entrance, which still depicts the company’s original logo – that of a bare-breasted siren in all her glory. Starbucks is named after a minor character in Moby Dick, of which Baldwin, Siegl and Bowker were all fans. The original logo was therefore designed to evoke the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of early coffee traders. starbucks.com Space Needle Seattle’s most iconic sight, the Space Needle is perfect for escaping the bustle of the waterfront area, and affords breathtaking panoramic views of the skyline from the Observation Deck. High-powered elevators take you up to the top of the 184-metre-high tower in just 40 seconds. Along with Seattle’s downtown area and Elliott Bay, the Olympic and Cascade Mountains are also visible from atop the structure, though what the locals call “typical Seattle weather” – rain and mist – might at times obscure the views. (Observation Deck tickets US$21; Open 10am-9:30pm Mon-Thurs, 9:30am-10:30pm Fri-Sat, 9:30am-9:30pm Sun;spaceneedle.com). The Space Needle’s revolving SkyCity Restaurant, situated 150m above the ground, is well worth a visit. The menu by executive chef Jeff Maxfield includes a wide range of seafood and Seattle favourites such as Dungeness crab cakes (US$18), Meyer ranch prime Angus tenderloin (US$59), and wild king salmon (US$49). Starbucks coffee is, of course, also offered at the restaurant and each visit to the restaurant comes with a free trip to the Space Needle’s Observation Deck. Benaroya Hall and the Seattle Symphony Seattle is renowned for its entertainment scene. Affectionately recognised as a regional centre for the performing arts, the city boasts some of the most prestigious establishments, most notably the Seattle Symphony – one of the world’s most recorded orchestras, now celebrating its 112th consecutive season. Currently under the leadership of music director Ludovic Morlot, the orchestra performs at one of the finest concert halls in the world – Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle – to an audience of more than 300,000 people annually. With such a pedigree, it’s therefore no wonder the Seattle Symphony has accumulated some 18 Grammy nominations, two Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades. Benaroya Hall offers a comprehensive range of concerts and events throughout the year. Several noteworthy shows on the horizon include the Mozart Piano Concertos Nos. 17 & 24 on May 7 and 9 (US$20 and up); and Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy with the Seattle Symphony on July 10-11 (US$35 and up). benaroyahall.org GO grunge On the flip side, being the hometown of huge ’90s artists such as Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam – Seattle is also considered to be the home of grunge, a subgenre of alternative rock that shares similar characteristics to hardcore punk and heavy metal. Grunge’s signature sound of heavily distorted electric guitar and angst-filled lyrics is the perfect embodiment of ’90s Seattle: a secondary city with a thriving music scene that was so often overshadowed by Los Angeles and New York. Today, this legacy continues with record label Sub Pop, first credited in popularising this niche music genre, which continues to push out successful talents in the new millennium such as The Shins, Fleet Foxes and The Postal Service. The Showbox at The Market, located just over the road from Pike Place, has hosted everyone from Pearl Jam to Muddy Waters, and is one of the top venues to catch alternative acts. showboxpresents.com Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour  Until 2001, Seattle was the headquarters of aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing. While the company has since moved its corporate offices to Chicago, it still operates individual aeroplane production facilities in Renton (narrow-body) and Everett (wide-body), both of which are within an hour’s drive from the downtown Seattle area. While many facilities are off-limits to visitors, Boeing does operate a tour at the Future of Flight Aviation Center – an aviation museum that features an exciting array of products from the famous manufacturer. Guests can look forward to seeing a B727 cockpit, complete with switches and controls; a full-sized Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine commonly used on the B787 Dreamliner; and several informative digital and video presentations. However, the star attraction has to be the Boeing Tour itself, during which guests are brought into the assembly plant to witness aeroplanes at different stages of construction and testing. Each individual Boeing wide-body aircraft model has its own designated section in the main assembly facility, which holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest building in the world by volume. Visitors can also witness the construction of multiple B787s, all at different stages. For those with an interest in aviation, being able to get up close and personal with half-built aircraft is an unforgettable experience. The tour ends at the Boeing Store, which sells a wide range of memorabilia, from clothing and aircraft models to collectibles and small souvenirs. Prices are reasonable with T-shirts available from US$14, while the ever-popular aircraft models go for about US$40. For those willing to splurge, a stylish leather pilot jacket can be had for US$249. (Adult ticket US$20; futureofflight.org) Dining If a full day of sightseeing leaves you feeling a little peckish, Seattle offers many excellent dining options, while its culturally diverse means that there’s always plenty of variety. Assaggio Ristorante is a fine example. Located on Fourth Avenue, this small Italian restaurant was opened in 1993 by self-taught chef, Mauro Golmarvi, and boasts a charming atmosphere combined with an excellent menu that may not innovate but succeeds in ensuring that the dishes are done well. Recommended dishes include the sautéed calamari with capers, kalamata olives and roma tomatoes (US$8.95); pappardelle with wild boar ragu (US$15.95); and the Margherita pizza (US$15.95). (Opening hours 11am-10pm. assaggioseattle.com) For those yearning for something a little more contemporary and luxurious, consider heading down to Third Avenue for what is arguably one of Seattle’s best Asian restaurants – Wild Ginger. Guests will love the ambience here, which is classy yet lively. Under the careful watch of Hong Kong-born executive chef Jacky Lo, Wild Ginger offers a modern twist on traditional dishes from Asia using some of the finest house-made ingredients. The grilled satay is a must try, and the restaurant serves a range of skewers. From the Thai chicken (US$4) and young mountain lamb (US$8) to the Bangkok boar (US$6) and Salmon (US$7), there’s one for everyone. Other recommended dishes include the signature wild-ginger fragrant duck (US$16.50); Penang beef curry (US$14); and black-pepper scallops (US$19). (Opening hours 11:30am-11pm daily, Sundays 4pm-9pm; wildginger.net).
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