Road Journals Blog—While in Seattle to report VIA's current cover story , I had lunch with architect, urban planner, and former city council member Peter Steinbreuck. Wanting to get his take about how Seattle has changed over the past 20 years, I asked him about the city's current crop of up-and-coming neighborhoods.
Topping his list was one I'd never heard of, despite having spent lots of time in the city.
The neighborhood is called Pike/Pine , and it turned out I'd been there a day earlier without knowing it. Located in what's generally known as lower Capitol Hill , its boundaries are the subject of some dispute. Some say it's the triangle formed by Broadway, E. Pine Street, and E. Madison Street. Others (including city planners) describe it more broadly as the east-west corridor centered on the parallel streets Pike and Pine, beginning at 15th Avenue and ending at Interstate 5. Either way, it's a zone once noteworthy for auto repair shops and light industry that's become a hotbed of Seattle cool.
The day I was there I happily browsed for an hour at Seattle's legendary Elliott Bay Book Company , which moved there from Pioneer Square last year. I continued browsing next door in the CD bins at Everyday Music , one of city's popular indie record stores, then devoured a decadent chocolate ganache donut at the communal table of Oddfellows Cafe —so named because it occupies the soaring space of a former fraternal lodge.
In the Melrose Market , a small, local-and-sustainable food hall that opened last year in a pair of renovated auto shops, I ogled cheeses, meats, and baked goods, looked over the Northwest-centric wine shop, and poked into Sitka and Spruce , one of the city's hottest restaurants.
Across the street, I stopped for caffeine at Bauhaus Books + Coffee , with its book-lined walls and killer view of the Space Needle. That night, I returned to Pike/Pine to hear local bands at Neumos , one of several music venues in the neighborhood. After squeezing through the packed bar, I picked up a pint of Northwest microbrew, paid my five-buck cover, and headed into the adjacent music club, where patrons in their 20s and 30s were already listening to one of five bands scheduled for that night's showcase.
Though many in the audience wore what has been Seattle's indie-music uniform since the days of grunge—jeans, rumpled flannel shirts, and knit watch caps pulled low—I figured more than a few of them probably had lucrative jobs at Microsoft or one of the region's other high-tech firms. Financially successful programmer or struggling musician? In Seattle, sometimes you can't tell.
As reported in The Stranger , Seattle's alternative weekly, Pike/Pine's gentrification has not been controversy-free, with new businesses having displaced some old-timers. But if you're visiting Seattle, it's a great place to spend a few hours. In addition to enjoying Pike/Pine's urban charm, you'll be witnessing Seattle's ongoing evolution in full bloom.
Christopher Hall wrote the cover story on Seattle for VIA's May/June 2011  issue.
Photography by Jonas Maaløe Jespersen/Flickr (Elliott Bay); musicentropy/Flickr (Neumos)
This blog post was first published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.