5216 Ballard Ave. NW, Seattle, 206-789-5012, hotelballardseattle.com. 29 rooms starting at $189 (U.S.).
Visitors to Seattle tend to gravitate toward the vibrant hustle and bustle of the Pike Place Market area. They're likely unaware of Ballard, an invitingly leafy, historic northwestern Seattle enclave a 10-minute drive away. The neighbourhood now has a chic new sleepover location in the Hotel Ballard, a few blocks from busy Salmon Bay, part of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.
Once an independent city and the centre of Seattle's Scandinavian salmon fishing community, Ballard resembles Toronto's Queen Street West or Vancouver's Gastown in the rich variety of its indie clothing and decor shops, funky restaurants, and inviting coffee houses and bars. Just as charming are its arching trees, peaceful ambience and old, architecturally distinctive buildings. Ballard also boasts a legendary live music venue, the Tractor Tavern, just down the street from the new hotel. On one warm evening at this landmark, Jim Lauderdale opened for bluegrass masters Town Mountain, claiming he was "as sweaty as Rush Limbaugh at a Steve Earle concert." If you don't get that joke, perhaps the Tractor is not for you.
Hotel Ballard's honeyed stone exterior, with its black Juliet balconies, is distinguished by the welcoming garage door front of its restaurant, Stoneburner. The hotel's narrow front hall, with its cream, gold and grey colour scheme, emerges into an austere lobby where the huge chandelier is dripping with stylized raindrops – hint, hint.
Some of the best suites in the 29-room hotel are found in the rooftop courtyard and have their own informal patio seating. What strikes you first about these rooms is the luxurious fabrics in sotto voce tones. Some have a dark, elegant, clubby antechamber with a gas fireplace, whose plush sofa can open into another bed. This lounge is divided by a reclaimed wooden barn door from the plush bedroom, with its adjoining shower stall and deep freestanding bath. Molton Brown amenities are provided in large bottles that cut down on wasteful packaging.
EAT IN OR EAT OUT?
Eat in. Stoneburner, which was named for chef Jason Stoneburner, describes its menu as "Mediterranean stone-hearth cooking." Its emphasis on modern Northern Italian fare attracts a clientele of young professionals and well-heeled middle-agers who keep the airy 120-seat room bracingly loud and lively. Start with a smidge of crudo – wafer-thin raw beef bathed in oil with garlic chips and parsley. Proceed to a crisp frisée salad with endive, fennel and Parmesan, kissed by preserved lemon vinaigrette, then dig into a generous pile of bucatini pasta with Taylor clams, young garlic and "preserved green cayenne." Dessert could be fresh blueberries with lemon semifreddo.
The neighbourhood is Hotel Ballard's most compelling asset. No matter how lovely your room or companion, you'll want to head out during the day to explore the shops, the year-round Sunday Farmers Market, the nearby Ballard Locks, the Nordic Heritage Museum, or the adjacent 75,000-square-foot Olympic Athletic Club. Hotel guests have free use of the club's two swimming pools and ball courts, as well as cardio and weight-training equipment.
WHOM YOU'LL MEET
Business travellers from the tech and fishing industries, indie-minded shoppers, celebrants of various ages and pop-culture vultures.
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
There'd be more to the rooftop deck, with its view of the bay, than a few chairs set outside the glass-walled meeting room. Apparently, there will be fire-pits in future, but this area didn't invite lingering in late July.
The writer paid a reduced rate for the hotel stay and was a guest of the restaurant.