Category Archives: Local culture: Seattle

How to get your mom drunk for $1

Kidding, Mom!

If you have out-of-town guests coming to Washington and they enjoy a relaxing afternoon of imbibing, take them to Woodinville, a 30-minute drive northeast of Seattle. There are close to 40 wineries out there, with many offering daily tours and tastings. (Seattle Metropolitan magazine has a great article on local wine country weekends that helps narrow down the options.)

When my family visited this past weekend, we did the winery-brewery combo package: first, we stopped at Chateau Ste Michelle for a 35-minute tour of its wine-bottling/fermenting plant. The grapes aren’t grown on this property – that happens farther east in the Columbia Valley – so the tour guide has to make do with maps and pictures. But she has a lovely French accent, so that helps. The tour ends with a tasting of three of their Columbia Valley wines and a quick lesson on sniffing and swirling. As long as your brother doesn’t shout that he smells hints of Cream of Wheat, then drain his glass and ask for another, you can pretend to be sommeliers for the afternoon. Or, you too can chug your vino. I won’t judge, and they won’t either.

Cost: Free. Tours run from 10.30am-4.30pm daily.

After Chateau Ste Michelle, wander across the street to Redhook Brewery, which offers tours on the hour, Sat & Sun, noon-5pm, for $1. (Note: After Labor Day, tours are at 1, 3, and 5pm Sat & Sun, and 2 and 4pm Mon-Fri.) This dollar goes a long way. It gets you a souvenir tasting glass, a “tour” (you stay in one room and turn around a couple times), and five samples of beer. Those are the basics – but what does that really mean?

It means that you enter a room that smells a bit like college, manned by a tour guide who used to study opera and could double as a stand-up comedian. You hear about the history of Redhook – then try a beer! Look at the brewing tanks – now have a beer! Answer a trivia question right? Win a beer! It’s informative and entertaining, and by the end of it, you’ve had 2 pints of beer for the cost of a Snickers. I would have paid 20 times that just to hear my mom say “I love Washington!” again, giggle, then ask for another glass of the porter.

Cost: $1.

For information on the other Woodinville wineries, go to


Follow-up on fun

I wrote recently about the indie pop band fun (yes lowercase, yes one word, yes confusing). Just saw them in concert tonight at Chop Suey in Seattle, and they definitely lived up to their name. Despite some early sound trouble and hideous feedback, they played an energetic set that got a better response from the crowd than headliner HelloGoodbye‘s act. Single “Walk the Dog” is about as charming as it gets. They’re clearly not used to the fame yet — they mentioned several times that it was their CD debut night, and that they cracked the top 20 on iTunes, “beating Black Eyed Peas” — but their insecurity only supplements their earnest showmanship. Check out their album Aim and Ignite or their live show in a town near you.

New finds

Happened upon a couple things worth mentioning this week:


Glenn Martin, DDS: This new stop-motion animated comedy from Tornante Animation (Michael Eisner’s company) is a fun, clever addition to the Nick at Nite lineup. The titular character (a dentist voiced by Kevin Nealon) takes his family on an RV trip across America in an effort to bring everyone closer together. Silliness ensues, thanks to a witty script and an impressive cast that also includes Catherine O’Hara and Judy Greer. The show has its sight gags for younger viewers, but it’s definitely geared towards an older crowd. Case in point: Last night’s premier episode featured a visit to the Amish, and a horse with a long, blond mane joining in a “Sex in the City”-style knitting circle. Get it? All I ask is that they get rid of the distracting laugh-track.

This week, watch episodes every night at 8pm, or catch all four on Friday from 8-10pm. Comedy Central will re-air the previous night’s episodes at 6pm. Regular season shows air Mondays at 8pm on Nick at Nite.

In Seattle…

Bang Bang Café: No, it’s not a gentleman’s club – it’s a haven for anyone living in Elliott Bay Plaza on an otherwise desolate stretch of Western Avenue between Wall and Battery streets in Belltown. This café, which opened across the street just four days ago, now ups to the ante of shops on this block to three, in addition to a meager convenience store and “Beauty is Pain” hair salon.

Pretty, chipper sisters at Bang Bang serve coffee, affordable paninis (all in the $5-$6 range) and – get this – an assortment of breakfast burritos all day. Not just a breakfast burritos – five kinds! Be still my stomach… The setting is just as welcoming, light and airy, and to top it off, they have a backgammon set for customers to use. This might be my new favorite place. Poor Macrina – if you were only one block closer…

Hempfest: This is my Sunday morning drill: get up, go for a walk from Olympic Sculpture Park to Elliott Bay Park, rehydrate with coffee. But this past Sunday, my boyfriend and I noticed that there were a lot of people — a lot of people — doing the same thing we were doing. As we got closer to OSP, we also noticed it smelled…different. And there were security guards at the entrance. Eh? Welcome to Hempfest, the 18th annual gathering of 200,000 people celebrating weed in all its glory, right in our backyard. Two. Hundred. Thousand. Judging by the crowd, it looked like Michael Jackson had come back from the dead and was doing a free benefit concert. Don’t ask me how we didn’t notice the throngs all weekend — I just thought traffic was bad because of tourists. In-TUITIVE.

We wandered around for a while (we’re curious!) and were impressed by how many different kinds of people were there. Young, old, hippie, yuppie skinny, not so fat (surprising considering the accompanying munchies). No age limit since no alcohol was being served — it must be the first Seattle fest this summer without a beer garden — so people were there with their kids. There were war protesters, vegans fighting for animal rights, a member of the ACLU trumpeting marijuana’s economic benefits. Yes, organizers tout Hempfest as a “protestival,” but it’s about as heated as a company picnic.

There were booths on medical marijuana clubs — it’s legal in 13 states, including Washington. A band dressed as vampires played in 85 degree heat. People sold paraphernalia of every sort: bongs, pipes, vaporizers, gas masks with bongs attached. Some sold homemade glass out of shopping carts. There was organic clothing, artwork, virgin margaritas, burrito stands, books signed by Ken Kesey. One poor guy was trying to sell windows — easily the loneliest booth at the fest.

By the time we left, we had walked the length of the park, eaten a monster burrito, listened to a great ’20s band from Oregon called the Shangai Woolies, and people-watched to our hearts’ content. I’m kicking myself for not having my camera, but maybe it was best if I didn’t. Even a picture wouldn’t do Hempfest justice.

Too much of a good thing

It’s festival season in Seattle, which starts with the Fremont Fair on the first official day of summer and ends with three-day music fest Bumbershoot (Sept. 5-7). In between, it feels like there are more festivals than workdays, with every neighborhood taking turns hosting an extravaganza that gives sausage makers and beer vendors full-time work for three months.

Don’t get me wrong — I loved it in the beginning. Take a New Jersey transplant and drop them in the middle of a ‘Solstice Parade’ with naked bicyclists, and you’ll have her calling New York City “tame” by the end of the day. I didn’t go voyeur and take those pics, but here are a few of the rest of the parade:

But that was just the first festival. Soon, I found myself speaking in “fest” and scoffing at activities that weren’t free. Was there a beer garden? I wasn’t going. There was West Seattle SummerFest, Pride Fest, Seattle International Beer Fest (not to be confused with the Washington Brewers Fest), Kirkland Uncorked (wine fest!), Georgetown Artopia (art fest!), Bite of Seattle (food fest!), Ballard Seafood (fest!)…it was getting out of control. It was like everyone was offering free ice cream all the time, and I was going into diabetic shock.

But now that I’ve decided to learn some self control, the mother of all Seattle summer festivals rolls into town: Seafair. It’s essentially Fleet Week: West Coast, though when I mentioned Fleet Week to my boyfriend, he had no idea what I was talking about. I balked; he assured me not everyone knew that episode of “Sex and the City.”

This Fleet Week includes a Blue Angels show that grown men whine about missing, hydroplane races, fireworks, and a nighttime “Torchlight” parade complete with pirates firing blanks out of a cannon. (For an entire week prior to the parade, I thought someone was hunting birds or humans in my neighborhood because of those damn pirates and that damn cannon.)

So now I ask myself: do I give into Seafair? When does it stop? Which festivals should I actually attend?

And should I bemoan the fact that I missed these? (I swear they’re all real.)

Slug Fest, Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival, Viking Days, Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games and Clan Gathering…

At what point is free during a recession a bad thing?

Putting the “fun” in “funemployment”

One of the latest pop words to enter our lexicon is “funemployment” — that period of time when the newly unemployed, typically single and in their 20s and 30s, embrace their excess free time like a drunk man hugging an empty keg. One guy told the Los Angeles Times that after being laid off by Yahoo, he planned to “go to the beach and enjoy some margaritas.” After all, there’s only so much job hunting you can do in one day. For those buoyed by buyouts and looking to enjoy all the recession has given them, this band is for you: fun.

That’s what it’s called. fun.  fun

With its debut album, Aim and Ignite, set to launch Aug. 25, this New York trio introduces itself as Silver Lining Incarnate, with singles like “At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)” and “Walking the Dog” set to be anthems for the funemployed in their never-ending summer. The lyrics are more bittersweet than bubblegum — in “Walking the Dog,” heartbreak lingers, though “It’s not like the movies/ it’s not all skin and bones.”  Rich vocals and soaring melodies give the entire experience a singalong, “aw, what the hell!” feeling, leaving you thinking that maybe losing your job was the best thing that ever happened to you.

Give fun a shot. They’ll probably be in a city near you soon — they’re playing Seattle at Chop Suey on Aug. 25 (my birthday!).

(Thanks to Norm for the heads-up.)

Recession-proof: The Bard

In 1594, England suffered the first of five bad harvests – prompting the beginning of a paralyzing economic recession – and endured another outbreak of the bubonic plague. Sounds like fun, right?

Take note, Recession Renaissance unbelievers: In the early 1590s, even when London’s theaters were closed to prevent further spread of the plague, William Shakespeare was credited with the creation of his earliest works – histories Richard III and Henry VI, and tragedy Titus Andronicus. Some contend he also wrote The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1594. The next decade (1595-1605) was his most prolific, with more than 20 plays written, including some of his most beloved: Romeo and Juliet (1594-5), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595-6), Hamlet (1600-01), Othello (1604), King Lear and Macbeth (both 1605-06). [Source: The New York Times’ Guide to Essential Knowledge. See Charlene, I use it!]

Admittedly, debate ensues over whether Shakespeare even wrote these plays, but for the sake of argument, let’s agree that they exist and came from around this time period. I can’t think of a better example of something good coming from such a rotten time. Except for maybe the new $.89 burrito at Taco Bell.


As we sludge through our own recession, I recommend holing up in a dark theater or on a park lawn with a picnic and watching a summer production of Shakespeare. It helps take the edge off things. In Seattle, the Bard is in abundance: the Seattle Shakespeare Company is putting on free performances of The Taming of the Shrew and Richard III around King County through Aug. 2 — check the website for details. Non-profit Seattle’s Shakespeare in the Park is throwing down some kind of turf war by also putting on free performances around the area, through Aug. 15, of The Comedy of Errors and King John.


Not so free, but definitely worth noting: Intiman Theatre (near the Seattle Center) is currently hosting Theatre for a New Audience’s production of Othello until Aug. 2. What started as an Off Broadway show in New York is now receiving standing ovations in Seattle. At least, it did last night when I attended. I was impressed — I typically only see that when I go to my mother’s community theater performances, where the audience is 97% family and friends.

Intiman’s Othello stars Sean Patrick Thomas as the Moor, Othello — a.k.a. the guy who taught a white girl (Julia Stiles) rhythm in the movie Save the Last Dance.


If this performance is any indication of Thomas’s acting chops, he’s moved on considerably since then. Though he’s a few inches shorter than his on-stage love, Desdemona (played tearfully by Elisabeth Waterson), he can convey a larger presence, particularly during a scene where his jealousy sends him into an epileptic fit. He writes about so convincingly, you think he might disintegrate — just shrivel up like the Wicked Witch of the West in her final scene.

However, Othello is one of the Bard’s greatest because of the extremity of its emotions — passion, jealousy, betrayal, racism, fear. And unfortunately, this production lacks about a notch or two of intensity. It starts with a minimalist set: stark (but recession-friendly!), with a table, bed, handkerchief and basket of linens on rotation as props. From there, it walks the line, teasing with epileptic fits and haunting dirges (sung by Desdemona before her death), but ultimately not delivering the searing emotion one comes to expect from this tragedy.

In particular, I wasn’t entirely convinced of Iago’s villainy. Though the performance by classically trained actor John Campion was admirable, I couldn’t help comparing it to one I saw back in college, when “the Ancient” Iago was played by a handsome 21-year-old blond. That collegiate Iago was multidimensional, in turns both charming and dreadful, impassioned and icy cool. Simply put, he was menacing. Campion’s Iago was not. With his muddled accent, he seemed more a meddler than anything else.

There’s a talented supporting cast — extra applause goes to Robert Langdon Lloyd’s short turn as The Duke, which got some of the night’s biggest laughs, and Lucas Hall as a charmingly oblivious Cassio. All in all, it was an entertaining performance, and for any fan of Othello, one worth checking out. Tickets are $10-$55; performance runs 2 hrs 55 minutes with an intermission.

Shakespeare always gets a thumbs-up. thumbsup