A new series on the Localist blog, this is the first of four profiles of Seattle neighborhoods that are somewhat off the beaten track (i.e., Downtown and Pioneer Square will not be featured, sorry guys!). Due to extensive coverage of Georgetown here, here and here, we will let the neighborhood chill for the time being. Now, on to the first…!
Originally settled by Chinese “guest workers” in the 1880s, the International District now contains areas known as Chinatown (south of S Jackson St), Japantown (north of S Jackson St), and Little Saigon (east of 8th Ave S). Most Seattle folks know this neighborhood as the place to go for inexpensive Asian food – especially Szechuan hot pot, Vietnamese pho and banh mi, Cantonese dim sum, and Taiwanese bubble tea – but there is a concurrent history of African-American culture in the area due to the establishment of jazz venues catering to black audiences in the 1940s.
See: Panama Hotel Tea and Coffeehouse (605-1/2 S Main St.) This building, which still operates as a small hotel, is a stand-out for historic significance. Built in 1910, it continued to operate through the internment of Japanese Americans from 1942 to 1945, and many families stored belongings in the basement of the hotel when they were forced to leave. A lot of the trunks and furniture were abandoned after the war, and now you can see where they remain through a windowed cut-out of the coffeehouse floor. The walls of the coffeehouse are lined with newspapers that span the history of the Panama Hotel and provide their own window into the history and culture of the Japantown part of the neighborhood. This is a wonderful place to grab a cup of tea or a lemonade (they make it from scratch to order), lounge in the lower room, and spend some peaceful moments before you continue on.
As you stroll through the neighborhood, don’t miss changing exhibits in various otherwise empty storefronts, courtesy of Storefronts Seattle. A collaboration between the city’s Department of Planning and Development, Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, Seattle Chinatown-International District Preservation and Development Authority, and Shunpike, Storefronts Seattle is currently showing works by Julia Haack in The Publix Hotel at 504 Fifth Ave S; Jennifer Zwick at 409 Maynard Ave S; and Tory Franklin at 505 Fifth Ave S; among many others.
Do: Have a ball (I know, I know) at the Seattle Pinball Museum, opened in 2010. For just a $10 entrance fee, you can wile away the hours playing more than 40 different pinball machines. The Seattle Pinball Museum actually began as a Storefronts Seattle project and was so successful that its proprietors, Charlie and Cindy, were able to take over its space at 508 Maynard Ave S and it is now a beloved part of the neighborhood. Afterward, take some time to tour the Yick Fung Co. grocery – in business from 1910 to 2008 – and the historic apartments at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (719 S King St).
Eat: Besides the many delicious places linked above, where you dine depends on your mood. Of course that’s true in any neighborhood, but nowhere more than in the International District. With beautiful sushi and izakaya at Maneki Japanese Restaurant, heartwarming ramen at Samurai Noodle, and super sweets at (our favorite) Fuji Bakery, you really can’t go wrong. But how about a crowd-pleaser that impresses every time? Head to Tamarind Tree (1036 S Jackson St #A), with its extensive menu of delicious, fresh-tasting Vietnamese dishes that the New York Times’s former Frugal Traveler said were “as authentic as any I’ve eaten in this country.”