While most cities are all about touting their modern amenities, Seattle embraces an undeniably retro vibe. Here’s a look at the midcentury shops, monorails, and Mad Men–esque hangouts that make Seattle’s past worth revisiting.
Maybe it’s the long shadow of the Space Needle or the historical residue left from the 1962 World’s Fair, but retro designs, diversions, and destinations are cornerstones of Seattle’s heritage, even in the midst of a twenty-first-century tech boom. Here’s a look at the monorails, pinball machines, cocktails, and 70-millimeter films that make Seattle’s past – from the rebuild after the Great Fire to the postwar heyday of midcentury modern – worth revisiting. No time machine needed.
An Edward Hopper-Inspired Diner
It’s not just that the Lost Lake Café and Lounge shares its Washington State milieu: The decor – art deco light fixtures, wood paneling, black-and-white checkered floors – at this 24-hour diner on Capitol Hill is pure Twin Peaks. Besides a breakfast-allday, greasy-spoon menu with a few twists, it also features a full bar (happy hour is from 4 to 6 p.m., as well as 6 to 9 a.m.). If you stumble in while the sun’s coming up, order the Country Benedict – two poached eggs on buttermilk biscuits, smothered in sausage gravy – and a Great Outdoors, a blend of Maker’s Mark, cider, house-made ginger-clove syrup, and lemon. Or, if you’re in an Agent Cooper kind of mood, get the cherry pie and a black coffee.
A 70-Millimeter Movie House
A 300-foot-wide exterior mural of UFOs and movie monsters makes a bold statement to those that pass by it on Fourth and Lenora: This is no art house theater. Opened in 1963, Seattle Cinerama remains one of three theatres in the world capable of showing its namesake Cinerama films, a 1950s format that requires a trio of projectors and an extra-wide curved screen. And while the theater features the latest Hollywood blockbusters – the movie house added a 3D-capable laser projector as part of a major 2014 upgrade – its lineup makes room for nostalgia. Annual events like the 70mm Film Festival draw crowds for screenings of the likes of Lawrence of Arabia and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, while two large display cases in the lobby feature changing collections of antique film props, like Darth Vader’s costume from the original Star Wars trilogy.
A Silver Ball Revival
Located in the Chinatown-International District, the Seattle Pinball Museum is home to the ultimate analog-age amusement: an arcade-style collection of more than 50 pinball machines from midcentury to present day. The ever-changing selection runs the gamut from newer releases (like a 2013 Star Trek game), to rare and low-production machines (like a 1984 Attila the Hun game), to the Texan, a game released in1960 and the oldest on the premises. The “museum” moniker is a misnomer: Pay a flat rate ($12 to $20) and play nearly every machine until your fingers ache. If you get parched, soda and craft beer are available on-site, and every machine has a cupholder.
A Fab Four Tribute
While room 272 at The Edgewater Hotel is not retro in style, it’s a place guests purposely come to when they want to relive a bit of iconic 1960s history. In August of 1964, while the Beatles were in Seattle on the third stop of their first world tour, no other hotels had the security or the staff to take the Fab Four in – except for The Edgewater, which offered them suite 272 and a few fishing poles. Why fishing poles? Because when the Puget Sound–facing hotel was first built in 1962, they advertised the fact that they were so close to the water, you could fish Elliott Bay right from the windows. And that’s precisely what The Beatles did – leading to the famous photo (pictured below) that so iconically marked their mop-topped era. Today, while fishing is no longer permitted from the windows, you can book the very room where they stayed – now known as the “Beatles Suite,” – which is outfitted with a photo gallery of the band in their early years, including this very shot.
A ’60S Basement Bar Vibe
Find the sandwich board with an arrow pointing to a barely marked side door, ring the bell, and wander into The Pharmacy, a retro-funky cocktail lounge in the basement beneath Temple Billiards in Pioneer Square, open Thursday through Saturday. Soft multicolored lights and a low-volume soundtrack are a quiet foil to the clacking cue balls upstairs, and the furnishings are straight out of 1960s Palm Springs, with an ibex table by Léon François Chervet, Curtis Jere wall hangings, and Harry Berotoia chairs. The drink menu leans heavily on classic cocktails – Manhattans, martinis, sidecars – garnished with surprises: La Ultima Palabra, for example, is a tequila-based play on The Last Word.
Retro Wears & Wonders
Seattle’s fondness for midcentury modern doesn’t just live in its architecture. It’s slung on the racks of boutiques and housed on the showroom floors of vintage shops. In Capitol Hill alone, you’ll find everything from vintage smoking jackets and 1950s cocktail dresses in Le Frock to puffy petticoats and retro costume jewelry in Pretty Parlor. If well-made furniture with straight, clean lines and minimal accents of smooth, curved angles make your heart flutter, head to Belltown’s Chartreuse Modern to peruse their vast selection of 1950s Scandinavian and Danish hardwood desks and lounge chairs, or Design Within Reach, home to an inventory from all the major midcentury mod masters, including Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, and Philippe Starck.
A Fizzy Business
The old-school aesthetics of Shug’s Soda Fountain go beyond its bright baby-blue and mint-green color scheme: just glimpse the marble-topped 1930s soda fountain, refurbished swivel chairs from an actual 1950s diner, and the Eisenhower-era mechanical horse by the front entrance. But while you’ll find the traditional lime rickeys and cherry phosphates at this Pike Place Market ice cream parlor, you’ll also find imaginative treats like the Brown Derby (Lopez Island ice cream with a Mighty-O donut, homemade hot fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry), s’mores sundaes with marshmallows roasted to order, and a selection of ice cream cocktails, like a Prosecco float. Bring your sweet tooth to the walk-up window on First and Pine or order from the “soda jerk” from your perch on a barstool.