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Things to Do in Seattle: Art Museums, Restaurants and More


On Feb. 9, 2020, the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopened after a three-year, $56 million dollar renovation and expansion that transformed the look, feel and reach of the venerable institution. Five weeks later, the primary round of statewide Covid lockdowns shuttered the place. “It was heartbreaking for me and my colleagues,” said Foong Ping, the Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art on the museum. “It was shoulder to shoulder within the newly imagined galleries — then silence.”

This July, the museum, which reopened in May 2021, launched a latest exhibition curated by Ms. Foong called “Beyond the Mountain,” which showcases contemporary Chinese artists, including Zhang Huan, Yang Yongliang and Lam Tung Pang. It’s a knockout show, with daring, tech-enhanced, multimedia works playing off traditional images and themes. And it’s also a fitting symbol of Seattle within the aftermath of the pandemic. Ink Media #4, by Chen Shaoxiong, with its full-wall projections of drawings based on photos of political protests, is one of the crucial exhilarating works currently on view in town, but museum hours remain limited to 3 days per week and the number of holiday makers has yet to succeed in prepandemic levels.

Briefly, Seattle is back, but not all the way in which. The pandemic left gaps and tears within the urban fabric, especially downtown, and locals still mourn favorite restaurants that didn’t make it through: Boat Street Kitchen and Dahlia Lounge downtown, Il Corvo in Pioneer Square, the Paragon on Queen Anne Hill. But town’s defining cultural institutions remain healthy, latest restaurants and occasional places are popping up throughout town, and the communities ringing the middle are more vibrant than ever.

Capitol Hill — the neighborhood where the Asian Art Museum stands on the crest of the Olmsted-Brothers-designed Volunteer Park — is an excellent example of town’s recovery.

At the beginning of June 2020, lower than a mile and a half south of the museum, the so-called CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest) transformed the neighborhood’s business heart right into a zone of fierce protest ignited by the murder of George Floyd. Protesters filled a neighborhood park with tents and murals, did their very own policing after the local precinct was abandoned, and distributed free food, though by the tip of the month a series of shootings in the realm precipitated the clearing of the CHOP protesters. “At first it was beautiful,” says Pietro Borghesi of the motion swirling across the Capitol Hill restaurant, Osteria La Spiga, which he, and his wife, Sabrina Tinsley, own. “Then it became just like the Wild West.”

However the CHOP had barely unraveled when latest bars and restaurants began appearing on the location. The airy, plant-filled wine bar, Light Sleeper, opened in 2020 within the courtyard of the trendy Chophouse Row urban mini mall. Across the corner on East Union Street, Overcast Coffee, touting “bikes, beers and occasional,” sprouted under the identical roof because the Metiér Seattle Bike Shop (which also offers rentals).

Other vivid latest additions to Capitol Hill include Nasir Zubair’s Karachi Cowboys on twelfth Avenue, with dishes fusing Pakistani street cuisine, Texas barbecue and soul food (try the keema, a simmered ground beef and veggie dish, $17) and MariPili Tapas Bar, a couple of blocks south on the location of the previous Café Presse, featuring classics like patatas bravas ($10), gazpacho ($5) and polbo a fiera (poached octopus with crispy potatoes, $20).

One other classic Seattle neighborhood, Ballard, north of downtown, where generations of Scandinavian fishermen resided, was flourishing prepandemic. The 2018 opening of the dazzling latest home of the National Nordic Museum, designed by the Seattle-based Mithun architecture firm, added latest luster (and parking). Local culinary standbys like San Fermo, Sawyer and Indian Bistro got here through the pandemic in good condition, with outdoor seating options continuing, but there are some outstanding latest additions. Ballard’s branch of Spice Waala, a 10-minute walk from the museum, is a typical pandemic start-up: small, fast, nimble, focused on just a couple of zesty dishes to eat in or take out (aloo tikki fried potato roll, $7.50; spicy chicken tikka roll, $7.50; Masala aloo, fries with a twist, $3.50). Need a shot? Refuel at Papa Chango Café, a tiny, latest, Miami-themed coffee place serving Panther coffee (café con leche, $4.75; chocolate caliente, $3.50), lower than 10 minutes by foot from the museum.

The Central District, Seattle’s historically Black neighborhood east of downtown, was gentrifying fast even before the pandemic — and if anything, the contested opening of the neighborhood’s Amazon Fresh supermarket in 2021 has intensified that trend. Communion, Kristi Brown’s sumptuous soul food restaurant that began serving at the peak of the pandemic, has turned the district right into a dining destination. Latest twists on old favorites like watermelon salad with shaved onions and feta ($14), grilled okra ($14) and jambalaya ($32) have sent critics swooning — and diners flocking. Should you can’t rating a dinner reservation, try lining up for Sunday brunch (cornbread French toast, $24; hush puppies and grits, $18). When you’re waiting, grab a Jebena-brewed Ethiopian coffee ($4.50) on the four-month-old Avole Coffee round the corner, or a raspberry-ginger doughnut at Raised Doughnuts and Cakes across the road.

Farther south, within the emerging Hillman City neighborhood, Archipelago has been scoring high marks for its harmonious meldings of Northwest ingredients and Filipino cuisine.

There isn’t a query that the pandemic hit Seattle’s downtown hard, and the realm continues to struggle with homelessness, crime and vacant buildings (usage of downtown office space remains to be only 43 percent of what it was in 2019). It didn’t help that tourism fell off a cliff with total visitation (day trips and overnight stays) plunging to 22 million in 2020 from 41.9 million in 2019, before edging back as much as 26.6 million last 12 months.

But John Boesche, the senior vp of tourism at Visit Seattle, reports that town “finally saw meaningful recovery this spring and summer, fueled by pent-up demand.” Cruise ships are back with a vengeance; the Mariners, having fun with their best season in years, are drawing crowds to T Mobile Park south of downtown; and Pike Place Market is once more filled with pedestrians and sporting latest restaurants, including Maiz Tortilleria for authentic Mexican street food and Sugo Hand Roll Bar for exquisite Japanese seafood and veggie wraps.

Even Pioneer Square — town’s original downtown, with red brick Romanesque Revival buildings and pedestrian malls — which emptied precipitously through the pandemic, is getting a welcome latest jolt of energy because of the continuing waterfront development following the removal of the elevated highway referred to as the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The brand new Seattle Aquarium Ocean Pavilion, slated to open in 2024, might be the marquee structure on the reconfigured waterfront. Construction can be well along on a series of ramps, viewpoints and promenades linking each Pike Place and Pioneer Square with the shore of Puget Sound.

Phen Huang, the director of Pioneer Square’s esteemed Foster/White Gallery, notes that through the pandemic local galleries collaborated on distant art exhibitions just like the Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair — through which 50-odd local galleries showcased the work of their leading artists online — and now in-person visits are ticking up. First Thursday Art Walks have once more begun to draw healthy crowds, and Foster/White is eagerly anticipating the Sept. 1 opening of a latest show by the emerging ceramic sculptor Calvin Ma.

Pioneer Square favorites like Café Paloma and the London Plane have, happily, survived, and five months ago a promising Peruvian newcomer called Señor Carbón Peruvian Cuisine joined the depleted roster of local eateries. Lomo saltado (flap steak and fries, $24) and pulpo à la Perrilla (grilled marinated octopus, $26) are amongst the favored plates.

In May, the hipster-friendly Netherlands-based CitizenM hotel chain opened a second Seattle location in Pioneer Square to reap the benefits of the newly sweeping waterfront views (rooms from $172).

Perhaps the neighborhood’s quirkiest latest addition is the penthouse apiary established in June at the head of Smith Tower, Seattle’s first skyscraper. The honey is already being stirred and shaken into cocktails on the tower’s thirty fifth floor bar and observatory.

Amazon, which has transformed the downtown South Lake Union neighborhood from a backwater of grubby light industry to a hive of tech employment and recreation, worked to maintain area commerce alive through the pandemic, and the hassle paid off. Now, right at the sting of the Amazon campus, there’s the spiffy latest tech-forward Astra Hotel Seattle, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, with a whimsical outer space vibe (rooms from $279). Its sleek roof terrace bar is slated to blast off the primary week of September.

Just a few blocks to the south, the Level South Lake Union is one other newcomer to the neighborhood, with clean, spare suites offering full kitchens and balconies. A climbing wall and indoor basketball court top the list of sporty amenities. The Level suite (the smallest unit) sleeps 4, with rates starting at $299.

Covid can have slowed Seattle’s explosive growth and eased its congestion — but now traffic is back and so is the dynamism that has come to characterize this youthful, diverse, modern and increasingly decentralized urban hub.

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