While much of Seattle goes to sleep after 11 p.m., Capitol Hill is just waking up. Due east from the downtown core, the city's most vibrant neighbourhood combines the energy of youthful creatives and forward-thinking restaurant, bar and boutique owners within the Emerald City's largest gay and bohemian community.
But you'll want to start in the daytime. Linda Derschang, the woman widely credited with creating this hood, is helping me get to know it better. (Ms. Derschang is Seattle's "Queen of Clubs," a music fanatic who fell in with Sub Pop Records founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman – think Nirvana and Soundgarden – when she moved here from Denver almost 30 years ago.)
We're walking East Pike and East Pine streets, a corridor that runs 13 blocks between Melrose Avenue and East Madison Street, connecting Capitol Hill to downtown. Pike Pine, as it's known, was once a culturally barren strip of warehouses, auto dealerships and industrial businesses. But where Ms. Derschang goes, Seattle's coolest culture is sure to follow.
"I opened Linda's Tavern [at 707 East Pine]with Bruce and Jonathan so we could all have a place to hang out when we weren't going to shows," she recalls. "But I also designed it to feel equally comfortable to someone in a business suit and some guy in a flannel shirt and shorts."
That was just her first endeavour. Working with Wade Weigel, owner of the wildly successful Rudy's Barbershop chain and a principal in the (also wildly successful) Ace Hotel franchise, she went on to create Baltic Room (chill) and Chop Suey (edgy) as live music venues at either end of the corridor.
But it's midday, so we pop into Ms. Derschang's four-year-old café Oddfellows on 10th Avenue. It features tall ceilings, a full lead-paned front window, Elks Lodge-themed archival images, old school-lunchroom style wooden tables, a full bar and a lunch menu of salads and sandwiches and dinners of mussels and short ribs.
"I created Oddfellows to provide the neighbourhood with its own cafeteria," she says.
We walk past the Elliott Bay Book Company, a Seattle institution that relocated from Pioneer Square not long ago, and (just around the corner on Pine) the fabulous Molly Moon's ice cream store, home to strawberry ice cream drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction.
"10th used to be a dead zone with offices and a KFC, but we really worked to get Molly here," Ms. Derschang says, "and when Elliott Bay arrived, a deceased street resurrected into a destination not just for residents, but for tourists walking up from downtown hotels. Even cooler, the old KFC recently became Rancho Bravo, a sit-down Mexican restaurant born out of a taco truck's success."
Cold and uninviting a decade ago, the Pike-Pine Corridor has become the don't-miss destination. It begins on the west end with Melrose Market, Seattle's first new food bazaar in years. Anchored by the locavore trendsetter Sitka & Spruce, Melrose Market includes Rain Shadow Meats and the Calf & Kid cheese shop, along with several Old World-style shopkeepers offering every shade of the culinary colour wheel including fish, flowers and fresh produce.
Close by, you'll find Machiavelli, considered the most affordable good Italian food in the city, and Bauhaus Coffee. This being Seattle, you can find about two dozen coffee joints on Pike-Pine, but Bauhaus – a two-storey shop with window-side stools, a wall of bookshelves, lots of hidden seating and an inspiring cast of creative types – is the standout.
Victrola and Caffé Vita are noteworthy as well, both considered among the Northwest's most successful roasters. The laid-back vibe inside Vita, regularly inhabited by a mix of loungers and leaders, exemplifies the "ambitiously relaxed" denizens found in this district.
While Machiavelli serves such time-honoured favourites as spaghetti with meatballs, the foodie crowd continues to crow about Cascina Spinasse, a year-old addition on the corner of 14th and Pine. The pasta is made nightly in a gallery setting, the ambience is tight and talkative, and the food, well, you'll still be talking about the polpette di coniglio – rabbit meatballs wrapped in caul fat – three weeks after you try it.
Late at night, the scene is hopping at Elysian Brewing on Pike, inside Tavern Law on 12th and Linda's Tavern on Pine, which Ms. Derschang still operates along with the rustic pub Smith on 15th.
"It's been amazing to watch [Capitol Hill]go from this slightly seedy – in a good way – area with these little DIY businesses, to its current state with iconic Seattle businesses," Ms. Derschang notes. "It's got everything now."
From cocktails to coffee, pasta to punk, the Pike-Pine Corridor encapsulates Seattle's urban scene better than any other neighbourhood in this city of villages. You'll want more than a day to explore.
Seattle native Kid Hops produces TRUST, a benefit dance concert at the Baltic Room on the third Saturday of every month, and hosts Positive Vibrations, a world beat program that runs Saturdays on KEXP, the most heavily streamed FM signal in the world. He tells Crai S. Bower what makes his city so special.
"While lots of cities boast a cluster of clubs with adventurous weekday programming, what makes [the Pike-Pine Corridor]unique is that club managers maintain this adventurous programming through the weekend. Rather than alienate those folks who expect more familiar, poppy tunes on Friday and Saturday nights, the music they hear – be it an edgy band at the Comet, a world music ensemble at Chop Suey or some serious down tempo DJ spin at the Baltic Room – draws them into the party. The corridor really personifies what makes Seattle such an incredible music city: prescient owners willing to take a risk, great local bands, powerful independent radio, press and retail. Blend this quintet with a significant ethnically, lifestyle- and economically diverse crowd, and I tell ya' man, all I'm seein' from behind my turntables is plenty of smile."
IF YOU GO
Linda's Tavern: 707 East Pine St.; 206-325-1220; lindastavern.com
The Baltic Room: 1207 Pine St.; 206-625-4444; thebalticroom.net
Chop Suey: 1325 East Madison St.; 206-324-8005; chopsuey.com
Oddfellows Café: 1525 10th Ave.; 206-325-0807; oddfellowscafe.com
Elliott Bay Book Co.: 1521 10th Ave.; 206-624-6600; elliottbaybook.com
Molly Moon's Ice Cream: 917 East Pine St.; 206-708-7947; mollymoonicecream.com
Rancho Bravo Tacos: 1001 East Pine St.; 206-322-9399; myspace.com/ranchobravotacos
Melrose Market: 1501-1535 Melrose Ave.; melrosemarketseattle.com
Sitka & Spruce: 1531 Melrose Ave.; 206-324-0662; sitkaandspruce.com
Rain Shadow Meats: 1531 Melrose Ave.; 206-467-6328; rainshadowmeats.com
The Calf & Kid Cheese Shop: 1531 Melrose Ave., 206-467-5447, calfandkid.com
Bauhaus Coffee: 301 East Pine St.; 206-625-1600; bauhauscoffee.net
Machiavelli: 1215 Pine St.; 206-621-7941; machiavellis.com
Victrola Coffee Roaster: 310 East Pike St.; 206-624-1725; victrolacoffee.com
Caffé Vita: 1005 East Pike St.; 206-709-4440; caffevita.com
Cascina Spinasse: 1531 14th Ave.; 206-251-7673; spinasse.com
Elysian Brewing Co.: 1221 East Pike St.; 206-860-1920; elysianbrewing.com
Tavern Law: 1406 12th Ave.; 206-322-9734; tavernlaw.com
Smith: 332 15th Avenue East; 206-709-1900; smithseattle.com
Special to The Globe and Mail