I recently moved to Silicon Valley to work at Facebook which has been an incredible experience. One of the perks of my job is that I’ll get to travel all over the world on user research trips. I also support a team located at Facebook’s Seattle office, which I visited two weeks ago.
Seattle has been on my travel bucket list ever since I first obsessively listened to Nirvana’s “Nevermind” in my room as a kid. I should also mention that I’ve been dressing like this for the better part of ten years, so it really did feel like, as one bartender put it, “Welcome home.”
(To make it even more meta, I’m wearing a Nostalgist shirt, which is an amazing Seattle-based noir shoegaze band).
In a nutshell, the trip was dope. I got to reconnect with an old roller derby teammate and met a bunch of cool people while I was out and about. According to several sources, making friends in Seattle is not a terribly easy thing to do; the struggle is so common it’s been dubbed the “Seattle Freeze.” My only explanation for this is that over the past few years, I’ve discovered that I’m at my best when I travel alone. I’m more interesting, I’m funnier and apparently better looking. There’s also a little bit of magic in knowing that you may never see the people you meet again. Who cares?
Obligatory Weather Musings
The obvious first question is “Did it rain?” The answer is: of course it rained. But it was more light rain and what I like to call “misting.” Growing up in Florida, I’m more accustomed to the complete and utter deluge that lasts for 20 minutes and is immediately followed by sunshine. Needless to say, the Pacific Northwest is a whole different ballgame. (Meanwhile in California, it lightly sprinkles for a few hours and people’s lives start falling apart.)
According to one Seattle native, I was visiting at the end of manic season. She said that in the winter it gets dark around 4 p.m., which I guess makes sense being in such close proximity to Alaska. When you couple the darkness with constant cold and wetness for months on end, people start losing their minds and jumping off of bridges and shit. Yikes.
A more positive take on the weather came from my coworker Tim, who said that after living in SoCal where the sky is cloudless and blue all the time, you forget to even look at it after a while. Living in the Pacific Northwest makes you appreciate the nice weather a lot more.
Fun fact: Carrying an umbrella in Seattle immediately labels you a tourist. So yeah, raincoats.
(Because FB was footing the bill,) I stayed at a swank hotel in downtown called the Thompson. It was a great location; I was able to walk everywhere and it was just two blocks from Pike Place Market. This was the view from my room on the tenth floor.
The first night in I was craving seafood and had my heart set on a lobster roll and seafood chowder from Pike Place Chowder but was brutally rebuffed by their impossible hours of 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. From there I stumbled upon the Gum Wall in Post Alley, which had had a very disappointing recent cleaning. Still fantastically disgusting.
Then I wandered down to the waterfront figuring I’d be able to scare up a crab leg or two. No dice. And to be honest, on a weeknight in the winter, the Seattle waterfront kind of looks like a set from House of Wax. I trekked back up the 3,000 stairs to 1st Ave where I settled on a mediocre burrito at El Borracho.
Sitting at the bar, halfway through my jalapeno margarita, I noticed the girl next to me do a super obvious slow-turn-and-fake-stretch to assess me and then turned to her friend to discuss her findings. As I slipped into silent mortification, a guy plopped down next to me, ordered a shot of well whiskey, and loudly commented on how annoying it must be for the bartenders to make all these margaritas. Then he took the shot, snarked about the band playing next door, slapped a five spot down and traipsed out, all in the span of about 30 seconds.
“What the fuck was that?” the girl next to me shouted.
“Yeah he just waltzed in, took a shot of shitty whiskey, threw a bunch of shade and left,” I said. The two girls busted out laughing and just like that, the awkward tension was cut. Fast forward two hours and we’ve all exchanged numbers and become Facebook friends, because that’s how things work in Girl World.
Friday night I met up with one of the girls from the bar. She asked what I liked to do and I said I like kind of bars where people are hitting rock bottom while Bob Seger is playing on the jukebox (they can’t seem to turn the page). Without even thinking about it she said “Belltown.”
Belltown is a neighborhood about five or six blocks north of Pike Place that is a cross between Cabbagetown and downtown Atlanta, but grittier and fewer trees. It’s home to The Crocodile, which opened in 1991 and can be argued as the birthplace of grunge. This is Nirvana playing there as the secret opener under the name Pen Cap Chew in 1992.
In Belltown I also walked by my first dispensary and completely mistook it for some kind of tech store. I mean, look at this place.
That night we started at the Black Cat, a cool little punk joint that was covered in Turbonegro, Red Fang and Mastodon posters and had this on the chalkboard.
From there we went to Shorty’s which was was like five different dive bars in one. We drank Ranier (must be pronounced “Ran-yay”) which is Seattle’s version of Pabst or Natty Boh. Then we went to a basement bar called Screwdriver where they have a special game you can play where everyone gets a cheap beer and a tiny bottle of plum liqueur (why?). You put the liqueur cap on the bar and pick it up with the tip of your nose. Whoever’s cap falls off first has to pay for the round. Kitschy and fun.
Admittedly, I did not do enough research prior to this trip, so the food experience being somewhat lame is 100 percent my fault. That said, I did eat a few things that were mind blowing.
A Seattle dog is a giant hot dog on a crusty, grilled bun slathered in—and this is the kicker—cream cheese and covered in grilled onions. From there you add whatever other toppings you want. It wasn’t just the booze talking or the fact that I had a handful of pretzels for dinner six hours prior, this thing was life-changing. For full effect, purchase Seattle dog from a street vendor, eat Seattle dog standing up in adjacent parking lot.
At happy hour at work, we ate Beef Bulgogi Burritos from Citizen Six which contained tender, marinated bulgogi beef, Mexican cheese, rice, black beans, pico de gallo and spicy Korean cucumbers, and were drizzled with creamy sriracha sauce. No other word to describe these than dank.
Until Next Time, Seattle
I measure success for any trip based on how much I look and feel like Nick Nolte’s mugshot on the flight home. Needless to say, I almost missed my flight the next morning and this trip passed with flying colors.