Sitting upon a crest that rises above downtown, Seattle’s Capitol Hill district reflects some of the city’s best personality traits – including its love of the arts and music, its thriving food and drink scene and its strong independent streak.
With humble beginnings as a chunk of forest broken up by farms in the late 19th century, the area grew alongside the rest of the surrounding region, gradually seeing a mix of residences and businesses move in. Today, many of those buildings now house restaurants, breweries and bakeries, and the district has blossomed into one of the best places to check out what’s exciting in the Emerald City.
Creative fix: Experience the neighbourhood’s arts and culture hubs
Located at Volunteer Park, this stately museum, housed in a 1933 Art Deco building, recently reopened after two years of renovations. That included the addition of a large, glass-enclosed extension into the park. Inside, you’ll find paintings, sculptures and artefacts from all corners of Asia, with the exhibits covering around 1,500m².
Don’t let the “festival” part of the name fool you: this is a year-round initiative that hosts regular screenings at three venues around the city, including the SIFF Cinema Egyptian on Capitol Hill. Audiences can view documentaries, independent films and restored classics inside a grand, historic building.
This spot is a standout independent arts hub. “[The building’s two flexible theatre venues are] rooms with moveable seats, drapes and lighting, so that the audience almost never sits in the same room twice,” says Greg Carter of Black Box Operations, which runs the theatre spaces.
“Capitol Hill has been the epicentre of artists and art creation for a century, and the spirit of those creators lives on” –Beth Barrett, artistic director of SIFF
Art for the masses: Where to find the best street art in the area
These traffic-light-powering boxes sport Art Deco-inspired graphics that creatively announce the intersections where they’re placed. Find them spread along Broadway Avenue.
Richmark Label building
This label factory is wrapped in colourful art from a menagerie of nine street artists and muralists.
Red Chair Salon
The mural here came as part of a renovation of the building housing the salon. Find it along 15th Avenue, between East Harrison and East Thomas streets.
Feast on this: Top spots in the district to drink and dine
Chef Nathan Lockwood has been a fixture on Capitol Hill since 2011, when he opened his Italian restaurant Altura. It specialises in elaborate, multi-course meals that have earned it a reputation as one of the best in Seattle.
Late last year, Lockwood opened a new Italian joint, Carrello, across the street. It’s made a splash with its fresh approach to Italian food, with a menu combining traditional handmade pasta dishes.
When he’s not busy cooking, Lockwood heads to Cook Weaver, which focuses on dishes from Europe and Asia. Recent items on the seasonal menu have included beer-battered nori dumplings with kimchi and tahini sauce, as well as braised lamb shoulder with carrot noodles, kale and Castelvetrano olives.
And sushi bar By Tae has wowed Lockwood with its nigiri and handrolls. Chef Sun Hong uses whatever he can get his hands on that’s fresh, but diners can expect dishes featuring the likes of scallops, salmon roe and pea shoots.
“My wife Rebecca and I love the energy of the Hill. It’s the first place we lived in Seattle and it feels like the centre and soul of the city to us” — Nathan Lockwood, owner and chef of Carrello and Altura
New in town: Fresh food spots to check out in the area
This local bakery satisfies the sweet tooth with a rotating cast of treats. Options include the pineapple bacon fritter and cinnamon twist. Not into sweets? There are also breakfast sandwiches, sous-vide eggs and espresso.
This eatery takes a modern approach to Korean barbecue, as premium meats such as American wagyu zabuton hit the flames on tabletop grills, complemented by sauces and seasonal banchan dishes.
The jewel-toned décor at Zaika sets the stage for a parade of modern dishes laced with Indian flavours. Snacks such as the panko-breaded cottage cheese sticks pair well with inventive cocktails including their chai Old Fashioned.
Ramen, udon, donburi and tonkatsu are the focus at this daytime destination. Come evening, the spot becomes a cocktail den complete with drinking snacks and perfectly fizzed highball cocktails.
“The action on Capitol Hill is unparalleled in Seattle. Everything starts here: Fashion, music, food” — Heong Soon Park, owner and chef of Meet Korean BBQ
Nightlife thrives on Capitol Hill – here’s where you should go
As co-owner of the live music venue Neumos, Steven Severin is a veteran of the city’s music scene that Capitol Hill sits at the very heart of.
“Seattle established itself as a music city in the early ’90s and never looked back. Emerging musicians and artists, as well as arts, music and nightlife lovers came from all over,” he says.
The area is home to the highest concentration of music venues and dance clubs in the city, starting with Neumos. Here, nationally recognised indie musicians gather in the always-packed, intimate space.
“I can [come here] – a concert venue that’s also a part of Seattle’s music history that just keeps going strong – and check out an artist before they break out and head to arenas. Lizzo, Adele and Muse have all played here on their way up,” Severin says.
On Capitol Hill, it’s easy to pair a night of music and dancing with food and drink. “I’m super excited for chef Shota Nakajima’s Taku,” he says. “It’s an Osaka street-food-inspired eatery with deep fried kushikatsu and Japanese highballs for late-night snacking and drinking.”
Severin’s other go-to is The Highline. “It’s a great metal and punk rock bar that features great local musicians as well as artists from all over the world. They also have a great vegan menu that they serve before the distortion starts blasting out the doors.”
Through the years: A timeline of Seattle’s rich music history
1945: Record producer, musician and songwriter Quincy Jones moves to the Seattle area aged 12.
1959: Jimi Hendrix plays his first ever live performance, inside Seattle’s Temple De Hirsch Sinai synagogue.
1989: Soundgarden, with frontman Chris Cornell, becomes the first grunge band to sign with a major record label, bringing the Seattle-created genre to national attention.
1991: Seattle grunge icons Nirvana release their second studio album, Nevermind. The same year, Pearl Jam hits the mainstream with their debut album, Ten.
2006: Seattle folk-pop band Fleet Foxes release their very first EP.
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This article was originally published in the April 2020 issue of Silkwinds magazine