Here Comes the Sun
SPF in Seattle? Believe it. For a few months each summer, the city gets almost balmy.
(FORTUNE Small Business) – From October through June, Seattle impersonates London—dark and drizzly, with a climate that's good for field-testing Gore-Tex but not much else. Visit in late summer, though, and the city shakes off its sogginess to reveal the glories Mother Nature gave it—snow-capped mountain ranges, lush greenery, and water everywhere.
From July 11 to Aug. 7 the Emerald City hosts Seafair, a monthlong picnic with parades, street fairs, and the signature event, the Chevrolet Cup Unlimited Hydroplane Race on Puget Sound. Also on display are a slew of independent businesses that cater to the city's tourists as well as to its passionate local foodies and coffee fanatics.
Stay: Hotel Andra. A few blocks from Pike Market's famous fish throwers, Hotel Andra is located in the downtown district called Belltown. The lobby of this ten-story yellow-brick building, referred to as the "living room," blends hip design accents with elements from Seattle's Scandinavian heritage: plasma televisions and a fish tank full of blue neon tetras combine with the dark distressed-wood floors and 17-foot fireplace to create a feeling that is simultaneously edgy and cozy.
That is precisely what owner Craig Schafer, 51, had in mind in 2002 when he bought the building, which served in the late 1940s as a transfer station for members of the Women's Army Corps. "The idea was to make it comfortable for business travelers, who almost always travel alone, and give them a distinctly Northwest experience," says Schafer. The Andra's 118 guest rooms are nicely appointed, with eight-foot walnut-stained desks, wireless Internet access, and bedside Tivoli radios. Rooms from $199; 2000 Fourth Ave.; 206-448-8600. hotelandra.com
Eat: El Gaucho. As a fountain boy at his father's diner in California and later as a maitre d' during the 1970s and '80s at restaurants throughout Seattle, 64-year-old Paul Mackay learned that the two greatest factors in the restaurant business were "financial management and how well you romance the customer."
Mackay's retro-swank steakhouse, El Gaucho, the most upscale of his six restaurants, woos with the best of them. A jarring departure from Seattle's Birkenstock aesthetic, the huge, windowless room is tiered with U-shaped booths and evokes the elegant noir of a 1950s supper club. The restaurant wins raves not so much for its straightforward fare as for its kitschy theatrical touches: the choreographed patter of tuxedo-clad waiters, the constant table-side flambéing, and the pianist tapping out Sinatra tunes. Entrées $19.95 to $58.95; 2505 First Ave.; 206-728-1337
Drink: Espresso Vivace Roasteria. A lot goes into making a perfect espresso, and David Schomer, 49, knows it all. An ex-Boeing employee, the owner of Espresso Vivace and a nearby sidewalk espresso bar (and author of Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques and creator of the video Caffe Latte Art, which teaches the art of pouring Rosetta milk patterns), does not just pour a cup of mud. Schomer customized his espresso machines to improve temperature stability and guarantee that each shot gets the maximum flavor of the beans' emulsified oils without acidity. The result is a silky, caffeinated confection, a sensual experience that has led the Financial Times to dub Vivace the best coffee shop in the U.S. A visit there—it's located in the lively Capitol Hill area just off a hip thoroughfare—may be the best way to begin or end one of those rare sunny days in Seattle. 901 E. Denny Way; 206-860-2722