Best Neighborhoods: Rainier Avenue South, Columbia City

From South Edmunds Street to South Dawson Street, a peek at a small town in the Seattle's South End.
FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE:
Bike-riding, Berkeley-style globalistas

If Mayberry had an urban soul, it might look like Columbia City. The high charm quotient comes from the old-style street clock and painted benches, plus cute flower shop KC’s Flowers, all-day breakfast hangout Geraldine’s Counter, butcher shop Bob’s Quality Meats, multiple-screen movie house Columbia City Cinema and a rail station a couple of blocks away (albeit tarted up with light-rail technology and two giant public-art magnifying glasses). Its urban edge resides in offerings like the Columbia City Gallery, Columbia City Farmers’ Market (late April to October) and ethnic restaurants, from Island Soul Caribbean Cuisine to the Thai spot Spice Room.

Full Tilt Columbia City Seattle

 

EAT/DRINK: Head to La Medusa, meanwhile, for classic Sicilian specialties (salt cod fritters) and event menus that entice. At Columbia City Ale House, lip-smacking sandwiches—steak, tuna melt, blackened salmon—meet thirst-quenching brews, while Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria makes thin-crust pies in a family-friendly setting. There’s much to admire at Columbia City Bakery, where bread baker extraordinaire Evan Andres also creates splendid cakes and pastries. (Especially delectable is the nicely chilled Tres Leche coconut pastry). Empire Espresso Bar has good java and Mighty-O Donuts—and $5 waffles on the weekends. Should you feel guilty about indulging at Full Tilt Ice Cream (pictured), cone-based calories can be worked off at one of the 25-cent pinball machines. You know a local watering hole like Lottie’s Lounge has heart when it hosts a Bloody Mary brunch (including a hangover Monday service) with alcohol-absorbing Mexican chilaquiles and Chardonnay eggs Benedict. Heading to Columbia City Theater for some live music? Stop in for creative concoctions and Southern-style food at The Bourbon Bar, its new in-house restaurant/watering hole. From the owner of Queen Anne’s popular Chinoise Cafe comes prettily executed sushi plus Spam-fried rice and complimentary edamame at Wabi-Sabi Sushi Bar & Restaurant.

SHOP: For affordable bikes, repairs ($25 tune-ups) and free fix-it classes for children, pedal over to Bike Works. At Retroactive Kids, youngsters will be absorbed by the classic toys and parents will love the adorable duds. Visit Andaluz for cool clothes, gifts and accessories, including fetching fedoras, locally designed jewelry and Kitten Camaro wallets. Gather Consignment provides a boutique-style setting for contemporary women’s clothing and home décor.

SERVICES: If you’re inclined to stay in Columbia City for a prolonged visit, The Shirley Marvin Hotel can put you up in a vintage, newly refurbished extended-stay suite.  

La Medusa Columbia CityLa Medusa

FIND 'EM
>>Andaluz (4908 Rainier Ave. S; 206.760.1900; andaluzseattle.com)
>> Bike Works (3709 S Ferdinand St.; 206.725.9408; bikeworks.org)
>> Bob’s Quality Meats (4861 Rainier Ave. S; 206.725.1221)
>> The Bourbon Bar (4916 Rainier Ave. S; 206.420.8285; columbiacitytheater.com)
>> Columbia City Ale House (4914 Rainier Ave. S; 206.723.5123; seattlealehouses.com/ColumbiaCity/)
>> Columbia City Bakery (4865 Rainier Ave. S; 206.723.6023; columbiacitybakery.com)
>> Columbia City Cinema (4816 Rainier Ave. S; 206.721.3156; columbiacitycinema.com)
>> Columbia City Gallery (4864 Rainier Ave. S; 206.760.9843; columbiacitygallery.com)
>> Columbia City Theater (4916 Rainier Ave. S; 206.722.3009; columbiacitytheater.com)
>> Empire Espresso Bar (3829 S Edmunds St.; 206.659.0588; empireespressobar.blogspot.com)
>> Full Tilt Ice Cream (5041 Rainier Ave. S; 206.226.2740; fulltilticecream.com)
>> Gather Consignment (4863 Rainier Ave. S; 206.760.0674; gatherconsignment.com)
>> Geraldine’s Counter (4872 Rainier Ave. S; 206.723.2080; geraldinescounter.com)
>> Island Soul Caribbean Cuisine (4869 Rainier Ave. S; 206.329.1202; islandsoulrestaurant.net)
>> KC’s Flowers (4873 Rainier Ave. S; 206.722.2200; kcsflowers.com)
>> La Medusa (4857 Rainier Ave. S; 206.723.2192; lamedusarestaurant.com)
>> Lottie’s Lounge (4900 Rainier Ave. S; 206.725.0519; lottieslounge.com)
>> Retroactive Kids (4859 Rainier Ave. S; 206.932.3154; retroactivekids.com)
>> The Shirley Marvin Hotel (3815 S Edmunds St.; 206.922.3656; shirleymarvin.com)
>> Spice Room (4909 Rainier Ave. S; 206.725.7090; spiceroomseattle.com)
>> Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria (4918 Rainier Ave. S; 206.721.3501; tuttabella.com)
>> Wabi-Sabi Sushi Bar & Restaurant (4909 Rainier Ave. S; 206.721.0212; wabisabicolumbiacity.com)

Bellevue's University Bookstore to Close, but the East Side Keeps Its Edge

Bellevue's University Bookstore to Close, but the East Side Keeps Its Edge

Bellevue is in many ways more “urban” than Seattle now—certainly, it’s racially more diverse, which is complete flip from the white-bread suburbs of the ‘60s and ‘70s
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Berger supervising a photo shoot of Bill Gates and Brian "The Boz" Bosworth in 1988

The news that the University Bookstore is closing its downtown Bellevue location next month is hardly big news. Bookstores have had to close, move and adjust to changes in the book biz. Elliott Bay relocated from Pioneer Square and now thrives on Capitol Hill. Amazon—blamed for driving many small independents out of business—has opened a dead-tree bookshop in University Village and another in Portland. Change happens.

Still, the news spurred memories of the not-so-distant past when the U-Bookstore’s move to Bellevue in the early ‘80s was part of a wave of urbanization—you could call it the “Seattleization”—of the Eastside suburbs. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Bellevue became of the focus of what became known as “Edge City” city building. Skyscrapers popped up, much to the surprise of Seattleites who looked east and saw high rises. Between them and the Cascades.

There were other signals. Microsoft moved to Bellevue in 1979, before settling in Redmond, and became the vanguard of the Silicon Forest. In 1976, Starbucks opened its first outlet in Bellevue, and today the oldest Starbucks in Bellevue sits in a strip mall across from Bellevue Square on NE 8th and just around the corner from the U-Bookstore. Crossroads shopping center revamped as a kind of suburban mall-meets-Pike Place Market with a newsstand, bookstore, public chessboard, and a catalyst for social services. The demand for “third places” in the suburbs—often criticized as a desert of “no place” cul de sacs—was growing.

That growth was nurtured by other developments. In 1976, Bellevue got its own daily newspaper, the Journal-American, so Starbucks goers had first-rate local news and columns to read over their lattes each morning. In the late ‘80s, the statewide magazine I worked for, Washington, which had launched in Bellevue in the mid-80s, did a cover story on the fact that two major national celebrities were based on the Eastside: Bill Gates and Brian “The Boz” Bosworth. One seemed to reflect a new braininess in the ‘burbs, the other a kind of brazen, bleached Seahawks celebrity whose attitude suggested an in-your-face approach far different from quiet good guys suburban dads like Steve Largent. It seemed like the Eastside was an Edge City gaining some edginess.

In 1990, Seattle Weekly launched a sister paper on the Eastside. I was the editor and publisher and we arrived because we saw the changes of the ‘70s and ‘80s—the spread of cafes, the yearning for arts, the demand for urban amenities and services—increasing. An essential part of that was reflected in moves by chains like University Bookstore were a sign that a new kind “psychographics” was emerging, a population that wanted something more than split-level, bedroom community isolation. A population of readers, for one thing, that didn’t want to have to cross a bridge for culture, or good coffee.

The trend has been a steady, prosperous for Bellevue and the Eastside. Bellevue is in many ways more “urban” than Seattle now—certainly, it’s racially more diverse, which is complete flip from the white-bread suburbs of the ‘60s and ‘70s. It is now a majority minority city—the largest in the state!

Bellevue used to be Ronald Reagan country, but has been shifting “blue” politically since the early ‘90s. Light rail is coming, the cranes are still building, and the Edge City is now a big city in its own right. The seeds for that vision were planted long before the University Bookstore came to downtown Bellevue to serve hungry minds.

But the U-Bookstore’s move to Bellevue in the ‘80s was like an indicator species signaling to Seattleites and Eastsiders that the Puget Sound ecosystem was shifting. And boy, have they.