It has more than 500 shops and restaurants and farmers and craftspeople; its 103-year-old buildings stretch over eight city blocks; and 10 million people visit it in Seattle each year. With winter a distant memory, and spring finally (finally!) here, May kicks off prime Pike Place Market time—when the produce tastes perfect, literally tons of wild salmon are tossed, and many of those millions descend upon Seattle’s beloved landmark. Even locals could use a little expert guidance.
Guidance is here—just across the street at the Inn at the Market, a popular crash pad for marketgoers for 25 years. Not only does a stay here mean you can be first in line for Daily Dozen’s doughnuts, but the inn’s staff knows Pike Place better than anyone. We asked concierge Noelle Donahue, general manager David Watkins, and Daisley Gordon, chef at Campagne restaurant at the inn, for their secrets, strategies, and under-the-radar stalls.
Le Panier: Paris overlooking Elliott Bay, its brioche and tarte poires pair superbly with a latte. “Always busy,” notes Watkins. Deservedly. 1902 Pike Place.
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese: “World’s Best” mac and cheese is Beecher’s claim, and they just might be right. “Incredible!” is Watkins’s judgment. Beecher’s sells cheese and addictive curds too, produced in the glass-fronted kitchen. 1600 Pike Place.
Cafe Yarmarka: “For a quick lunch, I love this Russian place,” says Donahue. “Cabbage rolls and handmade pierogi.” $; 1530 Post Alley, Ste. 3A; 206/521-9054.
Place Pigalle: Tucked at the back of the market, with a killer view of Elliott Bay, it impresses with assured renditions of French classics—bouillabaisse Provençale, rabbit cassoulet. $$$; 81 Pike St.
Sosio’s Produce and Frank’s Quality Produce: Come summer, the market is crowded with seasonal produce vendors, but Gordon is especially fond of these two year-round stalwarts. “Both of them source really well; you always get something good. Sosio’s has this summer peach they call the ‘Oh My God’ peach, because that’s what you say when you bite into it.” Sosio’s: 1527 Pike Place; 206/622-1370. Frank’s: 1508 Pike Place; 206/624-5666.
Fay Farm: On the crafts tables toward the north end of the market, you’ll find goat’s-milk lotions and soaps—the cucumber-jasmine body butter is a particular favorite of Donahue’s. Closed Tue–Wed; 85 Pike St.
Pike Place Fish Market: Yeah, yeah, the flying fish routine. But, says Watkins, the crab, salmon, and halibut are consistently very high quality. And, really, who can resist a soaring sockeye? 86 Pike Place (at the main market entrance).
Old Seattle Paperworks: “I always send people here,” for vintage maps, posters, and prints, says Donahue. 1514 Pike Place; 206/623-2870.
Go early (or late): Some stalls, like Pike Place Fish Market, and restaurants open by 6:30 a.m., and crowds don’t build until 11. Most shops close by 6 p.m., but the less-crowded evening is great for dinner or a drink.
Know your stalls: If you want to talk like a market insider, use the proper lingo. “Highstalls” are the permanent produce stands. “Daystalls” are the temporary stalls where you’ll find seasonal vendors selling fruit, flowers, and crafts.
Head down: Make sure to go downstairs three levels, then continue to the waterfront, advises Donahue. That’s where some of the quirkiest shops “and a lot fewer people” can be found.
Dining (and drinking)
Campagne and Café Campagne: Executive Chef Gordon’s restaurants take full advantage of produce from the market across the street. Especially this month, when he turns the first asparagus of the season into asperges tempura. Restaurant: $$$; closed Mon; 206/728-2800. Cafe: $$; 206/728-2233. 86 Pine St.
The Alibi Room: A local’s hangout, says Donahue, thanks to the slightly out-of-the-way location down Post Alley. The dimly lit, brick-walled room has incognito glamour and potent cocktails. $$; 85 Pike St. (down Post Alley); 206/623-3180.
The Pink Door: It’s an Italian restaurant, but Donahue goes for the cabaret shows: Trapeze artists perform overhead, and on Saturday nights, burlesque. $$; 1919 Post Alley; 206/443-3241.
Unless you’re planning on camping out in the stalls, you can’t get any closer to the market than, well, the Inn at the Market. Celebrating its 25th birthday this year, the inn has simple, stylish rooms and a sunny rooftop deck with sweeping views of the Seattle skyline and sparkling Elliott Bay.
3 perks to staying steps away:
1. Book the “Catch and Relax” package and they’ll arrange for the guys at Pike Place Fish Market to toss you the fish of your choice, then hand you a gift card for $100 worth of smoked salmon, crab, or whatever you want to have shipped home on ice.
2. When the Crumpet Shop ($; 1503 First Ave.; 206/682-1598) opens at 7 a.m., shuffle over for just-baked goods that will make a crumpet convert out of anyone. Slippers welcome.
3. The inn’s rooftop deck is for guests only—and makes the perfect place to picnic with all the good stuff you picked up at the market.
“Catch and Relax” package from $339; rooms from $245; 800/446-4484.