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. Also at the Market, along the Pike Street Hill Climb, look up at the Market's wall—you can't miss the Lamplighters offering their shining lights to those climbing the stairs.
Sometimes, even Seattle businesses become beloved community art. Head to Oxbow Park 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, where it remains a popular spot today.
Rather check out an art gallery, of sorts? Café Racer 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 all 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.” Among the many pieces, favorites include "Jesus of Peeps," a portrait of Elvis and a particularly striking photo of a person in fetal position on a checked floor, paintings reading "Mom" and "Dad" hanging on either side. "God knows what went through the mind of that person," said Geissel. 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 jazz during the popular Sunday night Racer Sessions.
Other restaurants might be missing the bad art, but aren’t lacking in personality. The Unicorn, 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. On Sundays, the Unicorn plays host to "Mimosas with Mama," Seattle's longest-running drag brunch. A different mama, Mama’s Mexican Cantina 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 restaurants famous Elvis Burritos, made with carne asada, ranchero sauce and avocado slices.
Since 1929, The 5 Point Café has been serving food and drinks to a huge cross-section of Seattle residents and visitors. It’s open 24 hours, seven days a week, so stop in any time—just make sure to visit the men’s room. Really. There’s a periscope at the urinal that gives you a view to the top of the Space Needle.