One of the longest continually operating farmers markets in the country started because of the price of onions. Pike Place Market was born to allow farmers to sell directly to consumers, cutting out the middleman. Now approaching the 110th anniversary, the market has seen many changes through the years; the latest is the new MarketFront, opening in 2017. The market’s many restaurants have histories as diverse as the market itself—it’s worth a trip to dine on fresh food surrounded by history or some of the new spots, just starting to make an indelible mark on what is the heart of the city.
While it’s seen different market locations through its history, Three Girls Bakery is the oldest lunch counter in the market, started by three women in 1912. First located in the Corner Market building (where Pike Place Flowers currently sits), it now sits in the Sanitary Building. The business has gone through peaks and valleys, at one time operating eight shops before shrinking back down to one in the 1920s. Today, it’s still a great place to find lunch, with sandwiches, soup and baked goods.
While Lowell’s Restaurant has been around since 1957, the space has been a restaurant much longer—the three floors began as Manning’s Coffee Shop, and then became Manning’s Cafeteria, in 1914. Manning’s roasted its own coffee; the roaster took prominence in the middle of the restaurant. Today, Lowell's serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Order on the bottom floor and head up to level three for spectacular views of Elliott Bay, the ferries and the Seattle Great Wheel. Or slide into a booth on the second floor for some of the best people watching in the market, through a bank of windows overlooking the Main Arcade.
Near Lowell’s the Athenian Seafood Restaurant and Bar has also been a market staple for generations since its opening in 1909 by Greek brothers. It was a bakery and luncheonette before becoming the restaurant it is today. Fans of “Sleepless in Seattle” may recognize the space, as it was briefly featured in the 1993 movie. Today, stop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner, where there’s a strong seafood focus. Also like Lowell’s, the Athenian remains a spot for locals, and market employees are often grabbing a drink and bite to eat at the bars of both spots after finishing a shift.
Those familiar with Seattle’s history know it isn’t always G-rated. The space that favorite Northwest spot Place Pigalle sits has a part in that history. Starting around 1901, the building was the Cliff House Hotel, where the top floor became the Lotus Inn, which legend has it was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Next door, Seattle’s famous madam Nelly Curtis operated the LaSalle Hotel, providing plenty of patrons for the bar. Even after it became a legitimate hotel, rather than a brothel, the space remained a bar, becoming the Place Pigalle Tavern in the 1950s. Along with neighbors Victrola and the Hideout Tavern, the area was the hot spot for 1960s counterculture. It wasn’t until the 1980s that bartender-turned-owner Bill Frank upgraded the menu and started using fresh market ingredients—one of the first establishments to do so. The tradition of fine dining using seasonal ingredients continues today under the skilled eye of owner Lluvia Walker. The former Hideout Tavern is also a familiar spot: IL Bistro. This Italian eatery also sources local ingredients for elegant dinners.
For one spot that predates even the market, head to the Virginia Inn at the corner of First Ave. and Virginia St. The building was created in 1901 as a hotel with a saloon on the corner. It became the Virginia Inn and Livingston Café in the ’30s. The current owners took over in 1981, and expanded the café into a full restaurant, serving Northwest ingredients at lunch and dinner.
The market is continuing its history of local businesses with new restaurants moving in—and the new MarketFront opening the summer of 2017. A few delicious spots are already serving up signature dishes with plans to move to a space in the new building after it opens. One of those is Honest Biscuits. Currently, find biscuits in classic flavors and varieties that showcase other Pike Place Market vendors like the Pike Place that uses Beecher’s Flagship Cheese. When the new spot opens, look for fried chicken in addition to the southern-style biscuits.
Also moving into the new space, Jarr & Co., from chef Zoi Antonitsas and Bryan Jarr, who currently owns the popular market spot JarrBar. At JarrBar, find cured seafood and meats, inspired by Jarr’s travels to Portugal and Spain. The new spot takes inspiration from Basque, Jewish, Native American, Scandinavian and Japanese dishes, including house-cured, salted, smoked and canned fish and seafood.
Another recent addition to the market is Red Cedar & Sage, a place for contemporary Northwest cuisine with everything from salmon to short ribs. The highlight of this space is the glass-enclosed patio—dine “outside” while staying protected from the weather.
On the opposite side of the market, near the Inn at the Market, sits Sushi Kashiba, Shiro Kashiba’s new sushi restaurant. Kashiba trained under Jiro Ono before coming to Seattle, where he helped create the area’s first sushi bar, in 1970, at Maneki in the International District. This latest restaurant has both à la carte and prix fixe menus—for the full experience, opt for the omakase, a chef’s choice sushi dinner.
No matter what kind of dining experience you’re seeking, the market can provide, as it has for the past 109 years.