Quirky Seattle: Seeking out the wacky, weird, unusual and strange

To say Seattle is unique doesn’t quite say enough. Embracing the unconventional, the memorable and the unexpected is a way of life in this city. It seems like every neighborhood has at least one thing that makes you think “Oh, Seattle.”

Seattle’s creative community is large, active and diverse. Some of the more interesting public art installations are found in Fremont, including the Fremont Troll under the Aurora Bridge (he lives at the top of Troll Avenue, of course). Made from rebar, wire, two tons of concrete and one Volkswagen Beetle (really!), the troll has been guarding Fremont for more than 25 years. Also in Fremont, a seven-ton cast bronze sculpture of Vladimir Lenin, brought to Washington by an American veteran from Poprad, Slovakia after it was toppled in the 1989 revolution. This controversial statue looms over the intersection of N. 36th St. and Fremont Place N.

While not everyone calls it art, the Gum Wall at Pike Place Market definitely elicits a reaction. To find it, head down the stairs into the alley just to the left of the Market’s information booth at the corner of Pike St. and Pike Place. Round the corner, and you’re greeted by a colorful tapestry of chewed gum. Legend says it started in the early ’90s when patrons at the Market Theater started sticking coins to the wall with gum. Eventually, theater employees gave up scraping it off, and it is now a popular—and disgusting—tourist attraction.

Sometimes, even Seattle business become beloved community art. Head to Oxbow Park (6430 Corson Ave. S) in Georgetown for an example you can’t miss. Opened in 1954, the Hat ’n’ Boots started as a western-style gas station—pay in the hat, use the restrooms in the boots. But in the 1960s, the brand-new Interstate 5 meant diverted traffic, and by the ’80s, the once-popular gas station closed, leaving the structures to fall into disrepair. Georgetown residents saved it, moving it four blocks into the park.

Rather check out an art gallery, of sorts? Café Racer (5828 Roosevelt Way NE, 206.523.5282) is home to the Official Bad Art Museum of Art, or O.B.A.M.A. Subjects include portraits—including the museum’s namesake—animals and pop culture. “Basically, it was a way to have some more fun here,” said Café Racer owner Kurt Geissel. “It’s bad [art], but this is good intentions gone bad. People who really wanted to do a beautiful piece of work and it just went south somehow.” Grab a sandwich (everything is made in-house, even the bread) and a beer while you explore. The café also has frequent live (good) music, including the popular Sunday night Racer Sessions.

Other restaurants might be missing the bad art, but aren’t lacking in personality. The Unicorn (1118 E. Pike St., 206.325.6492), on Capitol Hill, is a carnival-themed bar with taxidermy animals looming overhead. Stop in for the Magical Unicorn Burger or, for something sweet, Unicorn Droppings—fried peanut butter cookie dough. Mama’s Mexican Kitchen (2234 Second Ave., 206.728.6262) in Belltown has been serving Seattle for 38 years. Head inside and snag a seat in the Elvis Room, where the King dominates. Have a margarita and one of the famous Elvis Burritos, with carne asada, ranchero sauce and avocado.

Since 1929, the 5 Point Café (415 Cedar St., 206.448.9991) has been serving food and drinks to a huge cross-section of Seattle residents and visitors. If you go, make sure to visit the men’s room. Really. There’s a periscope at the urinal that gives you a view of the top of the Space Needle.

Published in WHERE Seattle, April 2015

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