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Less hippie, more hip: Seattle’s Pike Place gets a makeover in cool

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Less hippie, more hip

Sitting on top of a hill, the Thompson hotel provides fantastic views of the Seattle Great Wheel and the Olympic Mountains.

The iconic Seattle neighbourhood Pike Place, known for its fish-throwing market, original Starbucks coffee shop and laid-back mountain viewing vibe, is getting a boost of luxurious cool – starting with a hotel and its trying-very-hard-to-be-seen crowd

On my first visit to Seattle's Pike Place four years ago, the rain was relentless. The January afternoon temperature hovered between -1 C and 1, allowing for an extraordinarily terrible sleet-hail combination, soaking me to the bones.

While I tried to buy all the fleece in the Pike Place market I could find, the people around me were so very chilled out. I kid you not: There was a man in Birkenstocks, sipping a craft beer under an awning, while watching the fishmonger nearby toss the catches of the day. The artists still sold their crafty creations along the waterfront. The lineup to the original Starbucks was still out the door. Ice water was pouring from the sky and Pike Place was still unfazed. Nothing can change this place, I thought.

A fishmonger tosses a fresh salmon at the Pike Place Fish Market.

Year after year, I've returned to Pike Place. And while the seasons change – and the temperature of the rain sometimes mildly improves – the vibe of the area has always remained a constant. It's equal parts casual/athletic/granola – and jaw-droppingly beautiful. It is the quintessential Pacific Northwest: Ocean and mountain views abound. Local and organic coffee greets you, friendly and relaxed people at every turn. Artists sell their creations along the waterfront while millennials achieve optimal chill in the many green spaces along the coast. Sure, there are always hordes of tourists, but this is a place that still feels like a local destination.

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All of this is to say that when the new Thompson Seattle opened its doors in the centre of Pike Place earlier this year, my brain couldn't picture it. The hotel chain, best known for its exceedingly slick spot in Toronto's King West neighbourhood, filled with high-heeled ladies and men wearing sunglasses indoors, tries very hard – and arguably succeeds – in its effort to be cool.

On this year's annual trip – this time for the Blue Jays and Mariners series this summer – there was a detectable slight move of the organic hemp needle. It's as if Miami Beach dropped from the sky onto a prominent corner of the land of the laid-back. The Thompson has brought a slice of luxe to Pike Place – and you needn't look far for more signs of a modern makeover.

The Thompson hotel opened in the centre of Pike Place earlier this year.

Stay

If you're looking for more hip and less hippie, this is the place. The views at the Thompson are truly remarkable: Elevated on a steep hill, the hotel provides picture-perfect room views of the famous Seattle Great Wheel, the Space Needle and the Olympic Mountains.

For me – perhaps the opposite of the Thompson's clientele – getting into the elevator was like stepping into Narnia. Walking my dog at midnight in sweatpants and a baseball hat, I was in a different universe when the elevator doors opened, my sleepy pooch suddenly very much awake in a sea of glittery heels and shiny white-leather shoes.

The hotel's restaurant, Scout, bumping at all hours, serves the fanciest avocado toast I've ever had (take that, home ownership!) and the panoramic rooftop lounge the Nest serves the trendiest cocktails you'll find in Seattle – in flamingo punch bowls, no less. Insider tip: Go for brunch at Scout and get early access to the lounge later – the Thompson's aptly named Early Bird Gets the Nest gives early entry at the most happening spot in the neighbourhood (which is often standing room only, since it's so popular).

The Thomson hotel's restaurant, Scout, offers a great avocado toast.

Eat and drink

Chan

Using local ingredients from the neighbouring market is so quintessentially Pike Place. But that's about the only stereotype this place meets – okay, probably the Edison bulbs, too. Chan bills itself as Seattle's only Korean gastropub – two words I would never have said in the same sentence, let alone in this neighbourhood. The food is incredible, the space is modern and sleek – and packed with Seattle's coolest business professionals. There are no boring BBQ hot plates here – and the cocktails are not to be missed. Come for the bibimbap, stay for the flight of house-infused soju, a delicious – and dangerous – sampling of Korean rice liquor.

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Radiator Whiskey

You know you've hit a cool bar when a massive wall of oak barrels greets you, dispensing rotating selections of small-batch spirits. The whisky menu, as you'd expect, is loooong – but you wouldn't expect the free spiced popcorn to be out of this world. Go during happy hour for cheap – and stool-wobbling – bourbon margaritas (cancel your plans for later if you're having more than one).

Ghost Alley Espresso

Skip the visit to the original Starbucks – sure, the logo looks different, but it serves the same mediocre coffee as all of them, I promise. Instead, for a truly unique and delicious experience, grab your morning java in Ghost Alley – right across from the famous (and always revolting) gum wall. The baristas actually care about each drink they create, and I've never had anything I didn't absolutely love. The place is tiny and the drinks are smooth and rich – and unlike anything you'd find in a chain. Don't expect a window filled with baked goods or sugary treats: The only thing they do is beverages. After a honey latte, you'll understand why.

The Pike Place Market attracts large crowds of visitors every day.

Shop

The market

There is only one destination if you want to shop in the neighbourhood – but you may never leave. The sights and smells and sounds of the market can be overwhelming – cheap orchids, spices by the pound, the smell of hot doughnuts. I pragmatically make the annual pilgrimage to Pure Food Fish Market: You'll never taste better smoked salmon in your life. If Pike Place's iconic 500-plus vendor market was already overflowing with amazing food, flowers, coffee, cool crafts and every material item imaginable, the long-awaited $74-million (U.S.) renovation just unveiled promises to up the game exponentially. Formally opening this fall, the additional 12,000 feet of commercial space will offer artisans "on-site production" – think eating chocolate right off the line, and taking home a pint of just-canned craft beer.

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Local secrets

Billie the Piggy Bank

Everyone takes a photo with Rachel, the massive 550-pound bronze piggy bank near the market sign – and for good reason. She's been accepting donations for good causes such as low-income families and food banks for decades (don't forget to rub her snout for good luck.) But she's not the only pig in town: To get the Instagram photo that not every other single tourist will have, look out for Billie, Rachel's larger cousin, seated near the new expansion of the market.

Beach walks

The stunning Pacific coast is part of the neighbourhood's draw – but you'll appreciate it so much more with a trip to the Seattle Aquarium, a few blocks away from the Pike Place Market. There, plan your beach walk at low tide during summer weekends: Superknowledgeable volunteers host tours across the Puget Coast in the daytime as well as special tours at night – it's like having a special tour guide of the beach, who will enthusiastically point out exciting finds, such as sunflower stars and glow-in-the-dark coral. Yes, it's a very different experience than a night at an uber-trendy rooftop lounge – but in this neighbourhood, you can do it all in a weekend.

The writer paid a reduced rate at the Thompson Seattle. It did not review or approve this article.


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