A “No Starbucks” Café Crawl | ALA Midwinter, Seattle January 22-29

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For librarians headed to ALA Midwinter in Seattle, may I strongly suggest NO STARBUCKS. As a general rule, this is expected of the resident. For the visitor, abstaining for one day is good enough.

Instead, as a Seattle native, I recommend a 10-minute walk (probably in the rain) to indulge a few of Seattle’s many superlative and nearby–the–Convention-Center cafés, located along the E. Pine/E. Pike St. corridor in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Take a couple of hours respite from ALA panels and meetings. Wake up your mind and rejuvenate your ideas with a new colleague on a neighborhood café crawl. Seattle won’t disappoint you with its special brew, and the people have a way of sitting still and looking charmed in their local café that you won’t see again after you leave.

Start by walking northeast on Pike St. toward E. Pine St. toward your destination, Bauhaus Books and Coffee (301 E. Pine St.), where you’re told, “take a book and tune out.” This landmark café defines one kind of Seattle vibe. While you wait and if you are without reading material, feel free to pick up a book (they’re everywhere) from the Bauhaus’s wall-lined shelves or casually watch the barista craft a cappuccino.

You’ll have time to ruminateyour mood right now is as temperate as the Olympic rainforest, which on a clear day you’re able to view from the Bauhaus, and being only a ferry ride plus 30 miles away by car there’s nothing but a fool keeping you inland. When “hanging out” turns into idleness, grab your book and/or your peers and continue east on E. Pine until you reach Stumptown (616 E. Pine St.), once a personal favorite, and home to an original espresso “bar” feel (my mouth is salivating). Find a seat at the window, or if the drizzle isn’t a bother, sit outside and watch the laissez-faire gaits of Seattleites who saunter past—Capitol Hill is home to Seattle’s quirkiest personalities, all of them spectacular.

The Elliott Bay Book Company

Since you’re really so close, you should continue east on E. Pine and cross Broadway. Take a right onto Tenth Ave. where Seattle’s legendary Elliott Bay Book Company (1521 Tenth Ave.) now lives. Take your time browsing the cedar shelves that hold over 150,000 titles. Read the staff picks spread across one-third of the southwest-facing wall—they’re numerous and among them you’re guaranteed to find a gem: this may be a book or it may be the staff’s recommendation. Seattle is brimming with writers moonlighting as booksellers.

If you’ve started to feel an unsettling fatigue, aka caffeine crash, no need to panic—Seattle loves to eat and to eat well. Next door to Elliott Bay Book Co. is the fairly newly opened (2008) Odd Fellows Café (1525 Tenth Ave.), offering a healthy selection of food and beverages, not limited to regular and/or decaf. The menu itself reflects neighborhood pride as all products are “sustainable, organic, and humane”—plus 90 percent of the furnishings are made from recycled materials. Okay, Empire State, your recycling program is looking dim, and I own an umbrella now.

After you’re sated and finished with your free-range bison burger, sunflower salad, and a cup of wild asparagus soup (menu is editor’s, not Odd Fellows), wash your palate with another shot of flavorful fair-trade, and glance outside to see if it stopped raining. One may get used to this rhythm.

To complete the crawl and what I hope turns out be a sort of sunny afternoon, walk south to E. Pike St., turn left, and enter the friendly and often very crowded with regulars Caffe Vita (1005 E. Pike St.). Vita baristas are super-Seattle savvy, and similar to their Hill counterparts they tend to refrain from chitchat. As you ingest what may be your final shot(s), notice the caramel-colored crema: what shape has the barista poured into your porcelain cup? With the afterglow of fine espresso you steadily descend the Hill—the rain will persist no matter how much you beg. You’ll return to the Convention Center with new books and heightened attention, however desperate for clarity under the clouds—the crawl has made you feel clean, sharp, and coolly observant.

Photo: Excursion to the Elliott Bay Book Company by Attribution-ShareAlike License

Annalisa Pesek About Annalisa Pesek

Annalisa Pesek (apesek@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor, LJ Book Review
[photograph by John Sarsgard]


  1. Haley says:

    If you’re walking toward Pike Place Market, stop at Café D’Arte on the corner of Stewart and 2nd. I work in the area and it’s my absolute favorite. Really delicious coffee and biscotti! http://www.caffedarte.com/

  2. DrWeb says:

    I’m not sure if the writer intended to bash Starbucks, but it seemed that way to me. I like their company and products and services. I think there are other ways to recommend nearby cafes and alternate coffee places, which I suspect is what the writer tried to put forth.

  3. DrWeb says:

    I thought so! Just a little feedback.. disclaimer, my daughter works for them, though not in Seattle.

    • Annalisa Pesek Annalisa Pesek says:

      DrWeb, the impetus behind the post started with me overhearing fragments of a cubicle conversation between two colleagues. Words were, “No Starbucks Monday…ALA…Seattle” (context remains unclear). As a librarian, originally from Seattle, who holds books and coffee to high standards, I felt obliged to take my knee-jerk response of “THERE’S PLENTY OF OTHER PLACES…” further. Starbucks has settled, but their coffee isn’t bad. Daughters be proud!

  4. Thomasi says:

    If I may.

    Yes, Starbucks’ coffee is, in fact, bad. A simple taste comparison between their product and say, Stumptown, which you wisely recommended, will make this plain even to a coffee noob.

  5. Peter McCracken says:

    This walk takes you just steps from the old Espresso Vivace location — in my opinion, the BEST coffee in Seattle, and the home of Dave Schomer, who, I believe, created the whole concept of latte art all on his own. Alas, its new location is a few blocks away, at the other end of Broadway (532 Broadway Ave E), but it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood. There’s a small storefront location at 321 Broadway Ave E, too. And, there’s an Espresso Vivace across the street from the flagship REI, so if you find yourself there, take a break for some truly exceptional coffee.

    • Annalisa Pesek Annalisa Pesek says:

      Vivace is best! Once when a barista scolded me for letting my shot sit while I used the restroom, which he threw out and replaced with another. He found his work terribly important and to this day, I wait.

  6. stevenb says:

    I’d probably just go into SB – I have a reward card so I do like to work towards a free drink. But I appreciate this and will try to make it to one of these cafes.

    If you know any good places for breakfast that open by 6 am (I’m an early riser) please let me know. A lot of SB do open by 5:30 am – but I’d be open to alternatives.

  7. Glad ALA is coming to our town! I’m a donor relations specialist at Seattle Public Library Foundation – if you need more totally cool & very yummy indie cafe’s – here are my 2 faves near SPL Central branch and the convention center: Voxx Coffee (at corner of 6th & University) & Caffe Migliore (on 4th Ave across from the Fairmont Hotel between University & Spring).

  8. Philippe says:

    If you want to stick around downtown and close to the convention center, my favorites are: Monorail Espresso and Voxx Coffee.