Best place to relive your childhood
Some of us '80s children spent much of our weekly allowances at video arcades, going for the thrill and glory of clearing the final level of Ms. Pac-Man. Hi-Score (612 E Pine, 860-8839) is the place to relive those by-gone days; all our beloved old games are here—Centipede, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Galaga, Tron—plus a roomful of pinball machines. More ambitious players might want to enter Hi-Score's Fifth Annual Atari 2600 Championships, to be held in the fall. And if that isn't enough to get you in here, the yesteryear prices (most games cost a quarter) certainly will. (We repeat: A quarter!) If you get hungry, you can snack on candy bars and Hostess cupcakes—you know, the ones with the white squiggles across the top—and other stuff you ate before you started reading nutrition labels.
Best pool hall
Go ahead and squeal into your cell and pound your Jagermeister at Belltown Billiards or that big posh place at the end of Lake Union, if that's your thing; if you want the real deal, come to the 2-11 Billiard Club (2304 Second, 443-1211) and show some respect, dammit. This is billiards as religion; the hush (enforced by signs reading NO WHISTLING AND NO EXCESSIVE NOISE!) is broken only by the clicking of the balls and the whirring of many enormous fans, which make for a nice breeze on a hot night. The lighting is exquisite, the Rainier is cold, the guy working is funny in a low-key way, and the price is way to the better side of right. Get your latte (and drink it) somewhere else; this is a metal-lockers, real-phone-booth, machine-that-squirts-bad-coffee-into-a-little-paper-cup type of joint, and it is beautiful. Welcome to the Church of Pool.
This Pioneer Square bar/hangout/dance club attracts a healthy after-work clientele that's not too heavy on either dot-com millionaires or blues-bar riffraff, and the music's fun, with DJ Riz getting especially busy on Friday nights. But the best thing about the Backdoor Lounge (503 Third, 622-7665) is its opulently trashy decor, and that's exemplified nowhere better than the place's ashtrays. Some of them look like real ashtrays, no doubt, albeit those '60s-style pseudo-space-age kinds that look like orange peels with miniature carnival slides in the middle. But our favorite is the one that appears to be a Barbie car made of ultra-thick plastic, its seats meant to catch ash. Even if you find kitsch tired, even if one more display of mod-style kookiness just adds to the dust heap of fashion, even if you abhor nicotine, you've got to give it up for this one. If you don't smoke, it'll almost make you want to.
Best after-hours club
Say what you want about Superhighway, Aristocrat's, and I-Spy's new after-hours nights, Seattle has NO after-hours scene. Much of this, of course, has to do with our ridiculously early 2am drinking curfew and tight-ass noise ordinance. Which brings us to a club, that only of its kind we know about—2514 Dexter (2514 Dexter, 352-5984). Perched high above Lake Union and sharing the no-frills quality of San Francisco's top-shelf 1015 Folsom, 2514 Dexter's retro-'60s d飯r (complete with framed photographs of dead presidents and their wives), permissive attitude, and crafty beats from resident DJ Chauncey Fenwick have put this tiny pad on the underground map.
Best hassle-free weekend dance night
Sure, you could go to the Showbox on Saturday nights: Dedicated, the club's weekly dance night, ropes in plenty of stellar guests, including house giants Angel Moraes and Terry Mullan and local hero Donald Glaude. But even walking down First as the crowd lines up to get in gives us a creeping sensation of having walked in on a frat party that we didn't want to know about to begin with. That's why we're more inclined to hoof it over to I-Spy (1921 Fifth, 374-9492) for their stellar LickIt! Maybe it's just because we miss the old Showbox's two-room setup, back when they were hosting Electrolush, and find that I-Spy's three-level structure suits our multifarious dancing needs much better. The main floor usually features house or whichever major headliner—Alex Gopher, Dimitri from Paris, Aphrodite—the club's intrepid promoters have managed to snag, while the top level, a.k.a. the restaurant Nation, and the smaller entrance area feature local and up-and-coming names spinning anything from classic funk to up-to-the-minute drum-and-bass. But what we love the most about LickIt! is that our female friends can actually dance without getting hit on by some mook with a blank stare and a cell phone.
Best tea dance
Tired of Friday- and Saturday-night dance scenes? We mean really tired, as in can't even think about moving your fanny at 1am? Well, before you give away your dancing shoes and resign yourself to feeling O-L-D, check out Sunday afternoons at Timberline (2015 Boren, 622-6220), where the music starts pumping at 4pm and the last dance ends at a very respectable 9:30. Oddly, the building looks like a Bavarian lodge, but their retro Sundays turn the place into a disco-funk Xanadu. James Brown, Chaka Khan, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Michael Jackson's Off the Wall are often on the turntables, accompanied by vintage concert videos projected onto an overhanging screen. Seventy-five-cent beers keep the crowds lively, and best of all, after all that drinkin' and sweatin' on the dance floor, you'll be home in time to catch Crocodile Hunter.
Best waterfront carousel
OK, it's the only waterfront carousel (as far as we know), but it's a sweet little ride for all ages. Tucked away in the back of Pier 57 (also known as the Bay Pavilion, 623-8600), amid the pricey restaurants and souvenir shops that are taking over the rest of waterfront, is an old-fashioned arcade, with air hockey, pinball, and a beautiful, full-size carousel. At 36-feet in diameter, it has 30 horses—some made from fiberglass molds, some hand-carved by renowned manufacturer Bradley & Kaye—and 1,308 lights. For only $1 you can hop on the carousel for a two-minute, 20-second spin, with gorgeous oak floors below you, a trussed cathedral ceiling above, and Elliott Bay out the window. Top it off with some cotton candy, and you've got all the ingredients for an ideal summer afternoon.
Best place to cheat on your spouse
Depending on who you're married to, there are plenty of low-down dives you can visit where your partner would never venture. But in the event you want a nice cheatin' dinner out, you'll need darkness, waiters who don't know you, and an emergency exit should all hell break loose. That place is Lush Life (2331 Second, 441-9842). The food is delish, the staff keep their mouths shut, both bathrooms have escape windows, and it's as dark as Satan's den.
Best place to have a bachelor/bachelorette party
Forget Vegas airfare and hotel costs—there's plenty of debauchery right here in the Evergreen State. Hire a driver, pile your best buddies in the van, and get on down to the Muckleshoot Casino (2402 Auburn Wy S, 800-804-4944). Dealers are friendly—they still take your money just like they do in Sin City— and all the games you typically lose at are featured. The only downside to being here instead of the faraway desert: Your spouse-to-be may actually show up to take your sorry, drunken, half-naked self home.
Best second-run cinema
We know how it goes sometimes: You hear about a good movie and you want to see it, but then something more pressing comes along—work, Mom's birthday, the antitrust trial—and before you know it, that movie you wanted to see is gone from the theaters. Lucky for you, not only is the Crest (16505 Fifth NE, 363-6338) the best movie bargain in town (all shows are $3), it's also the place where you can watch American Beauty nine months after its release. As the final link in the local Landmark/Seven Gables chain, the Crest shows films that were previously run at other Landmark venues, such as Harvard Exit and Broadway Market. Another money-saving tip for slumming dot-commers: The theater is right across the street from 7-Eleven, where you can load your backpack with chips and soda.
Best all-in-one venue
At Cinema Grill (13000 Linden N, 364-8880), the standard dinner-and-a-movie date is all wrapped up into one delightfully kitschy package. This gutted-out former movie theater (that's '80s vintage, in strip-mall years) has been converted into a plush diner. The menu is greasy-spoon, and the beauty of the place is that you can watch your film of choice on the big screen as you swivel around in your comfy chair and swig a beer. The burgers are good, and it's dark enough that you can't really inspect them anyway—and as a first-date bonus, you don't embarrass yourself in front of the girl/guy of your dreams by revealing your horrid manners. For those of a romantic inclination, hold the fries and opt for a champagne bucket and cheese sampler plate available. (I wouldn't call it gourmet, but it seems to impress.) The Cinema Grill offers decent movies (High Fidelity screened in a fairly timely way) at cheap rates. *
Upstairs at the glorious old Odd Fellows Hall, the Century Ballroom (915 E Pine, 324-7263) houses learn-to-dance nights, a full-service restaurant, and a bar (liquor and espresso), and boasts a lovely, old-timey ballroom floor and stage surrounded by twinkling lights, velvety curtains, and intimate circular tables. We've come here to salsa, to gawk at lindy-hoppers, to be swingers, and to catch some pretty nifty musical acts of international status. But did we have any idea that we could combine everything at once? Imagine our utter disbelief when, showing up for a recent Battlefield Band concert on the early side and seeing the dance floor filled with tiny dinner tables, we were accommodated (sans reservation) at a table, front and center. Partaking of some lovely flank steak, beans, rice, a bottle of red wine, and a flurry of fiddling and bagpipes is about as all-in-one as it gets. Well, we didn't stand up and dance, but we certainly clinked our forks against the sides of our plates appreciatively.
Best reason to get up at 8am on a Sunday
Sorry, Mom, it's not to secure a pew behind the snoring lady and catch Father McCarthy's 9am mass. The best reason to set the alarm for Sunday morning is so that you can drag your tired butt down to Northwest Outdoor Center on Lake Union (2100 Westlake N, 281-9694), get there in time to snag a good kayak, and beat the motorboat and jet-ski crowd. Head north and west across Lake Union, glide under I-5 past the grimy fishing boats, spiffy houseboats, and marine research vessels. Once you round the bend and aim for Lake Washington, you'll find yourself practically face to face with the 520 floating bridge. Paddling under the low bridge, the relative coolness of the shaded waters will feel like heaven, especially on a hot August morning. And after pausing to bask in the quietude underneath the noise of speeding cars, you'll never drive to the Eastside again without remembering the feeling.
Best family outing
If you watch the crowds at the Woodland Park Zoo (5500 Phinney N, 684-4800), say while standing in front of the Siamang monkeys who squeal with so much force that their throats swell like balloons, you will see person after person utterly enthralled. Kids will gesture excitedly to their parents, parents will do the same with their kids. It's as if the place is about to break into a standing ovation. We can't think of a performance staged by humans that pleases so many people, so varied in age, race, and class. Seattle's zoo has got to be one of the country's best designed, with room for people as well as animals to roam about. Its lush landscaping and broad lawns are perfect for a picnic. In fact, you could leave without seeing any animals and still be happy.
Best bike ride for studs
Aside from pushing a mouse around on a little pad, the computer offers little in the way of aerobic activity, which makes it important to ratchet up the old pulse rate occasionally. Away from the keyboard, we all have the potential to become cycling gods, able to rip off 50-mile rides without batting an eye. Our favorite ride, fellow pedal-pushers, is around Lake Washington. Why? You get it all: scenery, challenge, and the unique ability to chart your progress by looking at landmarks across the lake. Start the ride at Tracy Owen Station (formerly Logboom Park) at the north end of the lake, and do the loop counter-clockwise. That way you'll get the worst part of the ride (the Burke-Gilman Trail) over with. Along the way, you'll go through Seward Park, Boeing in Renton, Gene Coulon Park, Bellevue, and Kirkland (a great place to stop for lunch). Continue north until you hit the B-G Trail again, then head back to your car. There, aren't you proud of yourself? One word of caution: Do not attempt this 53-mile ride unless you have a reasonable level of cycling fitness. Do we need to tell you that?
Best alternative to walking Green Lake
Ever have that let's-go-for-a-walk-but-where dilemma? Try Mercer Slough Nature Park in Bellevue. It's a short hop on I-90 to Bellevue Way; turn north. The park is an extensive wetland area just north of the freeway. It features miles of flat, wide, easy trails meandering through terrain that was at the bottom of Lake Washington less than a century ago, before they lowered the level of the lake. A lot of the park is wild and great for birding and wildlife watching (on a recent day there, we saw some giant frogs and a gorgeous green heron). Mercer Slough, which connects to the lake and runs through the middle of the park, is popular with kayakers. There are plenty of spots to stop for picnics or sprawl in the grass. You can enter the trail system at several points along Bellevue Way. One is at the Mercer Slough blueberry farm and nursery, where in season (usually June or July) you can get fresh berries that are grown in the park, part of which is an old berry farm. Oh, and it's rarely crowded!
Best outdoor pool
If the local watering holes and lakes around here look a little too ghastly for swimming, consider the joys of an outdoor pool. Magnolia's Mounger Public Swimming Pool (2535 32nd W, 684-4708, summer only) is the best place for kids to frolic in chlorinated water free of weeds and duck refuse. This seasonally opened, fully outdoor pool affords hours and hours of raucous fun for all ages on hot summer days. Best of all, on Friday nights, the pool hosts theme parties for all ages (if you can swim, you're in like Flynn; under 4 feet tall or 6 years old must be accompanied by an adult).
Best reason to revisit the Seattle Aquarium
In a facility full of wonders, the new sea dragon exhibit is a stunner. The central display features so-called "leafy" sea dragons, which are so fanciful that they hardly look like fish at all. Imagine sea horses transformed by long, filmy appendages gracefully fluttering in the water. Mesmerizing to watch, they are like ballerinas in the sea. The aquarium is participating in an experimental program to breed them in captivity. If it works, it will make for yet more fascinating observation since, as with sea horses, sea dragon males undergo something like a pregnancy, carrying hundreds of eggs in a patch on their lower belly. We'll be watching to see if the females are appropriately supportive.
Best art receptions
How come art openings no longer have wine and hors d'oeuvres? Not one cube of cheese could be found in any of the galleries on Occidental on July's First Thursday Art Walk, which happens right smack during dinnertime. We were so hungry that we almost licked the chocolate sauce off a conceptual installation. Keeping up the true tradition of the civilized art soiree is the Wing Luke Asian Museum (407 Seventh S, 623-5124), which hosts a buffet, free of charge, from nearby restaurants in the International District. Plus, you get a serving of local history: Named after the first Asian-American elected official in the Pacific Northwest, the Museum is devoted to preserving artifacts of Asian culture, as well as showing work by contemporary Asian-American artists.
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Best place to meet ravers
Independent bookseller Raverbooks (1205 E Pike, 328-7445, www.raverbooks.com) not only sells rave-related literature and accessories, it's ground zero for local rave information, the place to find out about the best parties in the Northwest. So before you plunk down $25 for some lame-o warehouse party, consult the folks at Raverbooks. If staffer Groovin Kim isn't around, log onto the site for her Party Info page. Owned by Larry Zoumas, Raverbooks recently achieved a coup: They've become a major supplier of EMP's library, spreading their message of PLUR to Paul Allen and company.
Best place to schmooze with the literary in-crowd
Who cares if Elliott Bay Book Co. is this town's largest indie bookstore, complete with the biggest-name author readings? Even if you spot Memoirist of the Moment, PhD browsing through the George Eliot biographies, you—the struggling writer looking for that connection—can't say squat to her when you're half a football field away, stuck on the platform that houses the Writer's Markets. A store that promises coziness, oozes culture, and features infrequent yet memorable readings by the hip and the happening, Bailey/Coy Books (414 Broadway E, 323-8842) makes the schmoozing process that much easier. Occasionally hiring literati herself, owner Barbara Bailey's a kind of Northwest Gertrude Stein who's transformed a modest bookstore into a hotbed for Seattle's literary elite—and those who want to be, flatter, stalk, or sleep with them.
Best place to watch belly dancing
Around 10 o'clock on weekend nights, when other restaurants start winding down, Kolbeh (1956 First S, 224-9999) heats up. While dinner guests polish off their excellent dinners (lamb dishes abound, often served with a tasty basmati studded with dried fruit called barberries), baklava, and saffron ice cream at this off-the-beaten-path Persian restaurant, a stream of raven-haired, elegantly dressed families arrive, hugging each other and the staff. It's the perfect atmosphere to watch the belly dancing that then begins: lively in a sensuous, Mediterranean kind of way but without the cheesy thrill-seeking, mood-spoiling qualities. The undulating dancing, the dim lights, the beautiful people, all conspire to transport you out of Seattle and into ruminations on modern Persian culture.
Best new local festival idea
For two years now, one of high summer's most enjoyable events has been WOMAD—the Northwest incarnation of Peter Gabriel's globe-girdling World of Music and Dance festival sponsored here by One Reel, producers also of ATT Summer Nights at the Pier and Bumbershoot. But the more you enjoy WOMAD, the more thoroughly jazzed you get by thrumming sitars, the twangle of mbiras and the thunder of drums, the harder it is each night to go back to your car, crawl through traffic, and drive back to town from King County's Marymoor Park; particularly if you're planning to repeat the whole sequence in reverse next morning. This summer, for the first time, One Reel has persuaded Metro Transit to run busses directly to the park; even better, they've persuaded Park officials to allow overnight camping for WOMAD in a nearby field, so that determined celebrants of world music can party on—decorously, of course: no alcoholic beverages allowed, no pets, no drum circles after 10pm—right through the weekend.
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