From the Loveless Building in the Broadway neighborhood of Seattle

Broadway: From Low-Key to Skanky to Swanky

Broadway. This was one of the first Seattle neighborhoods I fell in love with. And looking out the window from Roy Street Coffee & Tea, I could fall in love all over again. Straight ahead, sits the restaurant Poppy, perky and pricey and a precious introduction to the commercial part of Broadway. On the right, down Roy Street, is the old Harvard Exit movie theater, one of the first art film venues in the city. It closes in January 2015, so go see a movie there now, today! (This 1925 building was originally built for the Women’s Century Club. They sold it, but still meet there.) And farther to the right, where Broadway turns into a residential street, there’s the adorable Loveless Building, with its gables and pointy arches, diamond-shaped window panes, and quaint shops. The Under U 4 Men underwear shop’s logo (a simple, straightforward penis-pocket) reminds you that this is not some Disney version of an English town but Capitol Hill after all.

The view outside & inside Roy Street Coffee & Tea:  Two of the shops in the Loveless Building + two of the spaces inside the café.

It’s pretty outside and inside Roy Street Coffee & Tea. Shown here: Two of the shops in the Loveless Building + two of the spaces inside the café. (Rosie Gaynor photos)

Speaking of Disney…

3,600 square-foot coffee shop I’m writing from is a great place to hang out. Dark, eclectic décor makes it cozy and the floor-to-ceiling windows keep it from getting gloomy. The furniture is beautifully mismatched, but in groups: velvety loungers, leather-y teatime fauteuils, iron stools, wooden chairs. Look up: my vista. Look down: my adorable cup and not-amazing chocolate croissant. Look around: lots of people working or chatting, seemingly happy, possibly unaware of the controversy that used to surround this shop. The sign at the door says: “Inspired by Starbucks.” But the protesters outside this shop five years ago when it opened indicated that Starbucks was the inspired one—inspired by the design and feel of small-business coffee shops in the area. In 2009, when shops were failing left and right because of the economy, this inspiration seemed a big, mean deal to some people. How many of us still feel like traitors walking in? Anyway, the shop is full.

For those who are small-local-business-loyal, there’s the so-cute Joe Bar and the Seattle-coffee-veteran Vivace close by: keep your conscience clean and enjoy your tasty unburnt coffee in an equally nice (more authentic? that’s your call) atmosphere. (When I was at Joe Bar the other day, the lovely, fresh scent of basil wafted over the counter from the tiny kitchen, mixing with the smell of coffee and crêpes. Yum.)

Just past Joe Bar, the Loveless Building ends with a space that has been one sweet restaurant after another over the years. It’s Restaurant Marron now.  Look how inviting: even the back alley window says to come in and have a good time with friends. Or go alone and have a good time hanging out next to the Russian storybook folks in the Vladimir Shkurkin murals there. (The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog has a nice, info-rich article on the Loveless Building here.)

Next door is a replica of Mount Vernon. Built in 1925 for the D.A.R., it’s the Rainier Chapter House: very venue-y.

The Loveless Building and a tile from the Roy Street benches, in Broadway, Seattle

The much-loved Loveless Building—east, west, and south sides. In the window of Restaurant Marron, you can see the reflection of the Rainier Chapter House. The tile is from the Roy Street benches across the street. (Rosie Gaynor photos)

And beyond that is the 1921 beauty built to house Nellie Cornish’s innovative arts school, which was, according to Wikipedia, the country’s largest music school west of Chicago. The school is 100 years old this year and boasts an impressive list of teachers past: Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, John Cage…. (Imagine running into Martha Graham on the street. “Hey, Martha, wanna grab a cup of coffee with me?”) This building is still part of Cornish College of the Arts; dance classes happen here. And the recitals in the auditorium are open to the public. (This is where I heard my first gamelan, 10+ years ago.)

Kitty-corner from Cornish sits a curious sculpture/benchy space. I’ve never quite figured out what it is, but it keeps drawing me back, with its pieces of reclaimed wall and benches and pretty little tile. Apparently I’m not the only one drawn to this thing. I just found a Capitol Hill Seattle Blog post from 2009 about one of the artists (my term, not theirs) who helped create this odd treasure of a public space.

This particular intersection doesn’t seem to have changed much in the past 15–20 years. But step back onto Broadway and—wow! It’s got a much different feel than it used to have. A few of my old favorites are gone. (Bailey/Coy Books and Bulldog’s Broadway magazine store: R.I.P. Their passing occurred when this end of Broadway was a little skanky, around five years ago.) But there are still shops to browse. You can still spin the prayer wheel at the Vajra; you and your co-workers can still choose between cheap lunch at Pagliacci or Than Brothers’ pho; you can still get sucked into the beading life at World Beads. The street is just swankier, more cosmopolitan with its new condos. I imagine if I lived here now, I’d be hipper and faster. Instead of Trader Joe’s frozen food on busy work nights, I’d pick up some shiny packets at Eat Local. I’d be so hip, I might even eat chard.

Eat Local, on Broadway in Seattle

The Eat Local prepared-meals shop fits in with Broadway’s new swankiness. Here it is, dressed up for Halloween. I didn’t buy the tiny packet of orange crackers (yes: crackers made from oranges…like…really…dried rind…can you imagine how delicious with the right cheese?) but I promised myself to go back and get some for a holiday party. I did sample one of their entrees, however, it was tasty enough. (Rosie Gaynor photos)