Sounds of Reykjavík
Chilling in Iceland with
Kevin Cole, Senior Director of Programming at KEXP

First, Kevin Cole fell in love with the ethereal pop of Sigur Rós; then he fell in love with their country, Iceland. “It was this incredible band with this incredibly mysterious sound that I loved,” he says, “from this interesting country that seemed far away.” Soon he was helping organize Reykjavík Calling with our sister city, bringing Icelandic bands to Seattle, and traveling there himself to broadcast KEXP shows for an Icelandic festival. Instead of a mere stop on the way to Europe, the country had become a singular draw. Perhaps it’s because, at the summer solstice, the country gets 24 hours of sunshine: “I’m not a golfer, but I went golfing at one in the morning just to see what that was like,” he says. But mostly Cole explores the sounds of the small island nation. “The music there is a reflection of where they’re from, this really beautiful and mysterious land.”

Bad Taste Records 
What started as an arts cooperative has grown into a record store and label. A series of political Gorbachev and Reagan postcards, printed in the ’80s, were sold here to fund the first Sugarcubes album—the band that spawned Björk. “They’re like the Easy Street Records of Iceland,” says Cole, who also frequents Lucky Records for old-school soul on vinyl and 12 Tónar for “arty experimental music.”

Cafe Rosenberg 
Cole says the bar, known for its live music, is “kind of like the Tractor.” Bands set up in front of its wooden walls while patrons hang out on couches in the back. “Any given night, Pétur Ben, an Icelandic singer-songwriter, might be there, and then the next night it’s someone like Glen Hansard,” says Cole. Klapparstigur 25 

Part restaurant, part theater, this reception hall has what Cole calls “a weird character to it. Like a VFW hall, but it’s 100 years old and ornate and beautiful.” Classic Icelandic food is served—yep, that means lots of fish—and art is hung upstairs. Theater and opera performances are held regularly.

Reykjavík’s new concert hall has a Scandinavian pedigree. Its blocky glass frame was designed by a Danish firm and Danish-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson. The shiny building is not unlike Seattle’s downtown library. “It’s a stunning piece of architecture,” says Cole. The venue is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera, but a range of bands will appear during the frequent local and international music festivals hosted by the city.

Kex Hostel 
The name describes it: It’s an old biscuit factory, now furnished with “crazy salvaged materials” and operating as a hostel in Reykjavík. But it’s also a community gathering place with a coffee shop and bar where music performances are held. Cole has hosted KEXP from the hostel, last year bringing in 15 Icelandic bands to perform live on the radio. 

Honolulu Alive
Diving for Diversity with Andy Sim, Warm-Water Biologist at Seattle Aquarium 

Every other year, Seattle biologist Andy Sim hops a plane to Oahu to go fishing. But Sim isn’t looking for dinner; he and his staff don snorkels to capture a couple hundred live fish, most smaller than a silver dollar, and ship them back to the Seattle Aquarium. Hawaii is the best spot for such collection, and not just because the permits are easier to obtain domestically. “There are no direct flights from Seattle to Fiji, so if you go there you’re adding a considerable amount of time that animals sit in a shipping box,” says Sim. Plus, he says, “It’s incredibly geographically isolated, so there’s lots of animals found in Hawaii that aren’t found anywhere in the world.” And it doesn’t hurt that Honolulu also has a great diversity of treats.

Waikiki Aquarium
“It’s one of the oldest public aquariums in the U.S, and they have some wonderful displays,” says Sim, who collaborates with the venue while on his specimen-gathering excursions. The aquarium is known for its endangered monk seals and a vast collection of tropical corals from across the Pacific.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve  
Set your alarm to get to the beach—really. As soon as this protected stretch of sand just east of Honolulu reaches capacity, officials close access to the park. “As a snorkeling place, it’s fantastic. The coral cover is still really nice, with lots of great fish diversity.”

Hau Tree Lanai 
Scientists rarely splurge, says Sim, but they will do brunch at this tree-shaded spot just off the main Waikiki strip. Food mixes the traditional brunch with Hawaiian fare, so eggs Benedict is next to poi pancakes on the menu. “That’s the one upscale place where we actually treat ourselves,” he says. 

Leonard’s Bakery
Launched by a Hawaiian of Portuguese descent in 1952, the popular Honolulu bakery is known for its malasadas, or Portuguese doughnuts. The fried balls of dough are so popular, says Sim, that “there will be very significant lines waiting for them.”

Spring Training in Phoenix
A Sporting Tour with
Rick Rizzs, Voice of the Seattle Mariners

For the past 28 Februarys, Rick Rizzs has packed up, left rainy Seattle, and traveled to sunny Phoenix for five weeks of spring training. The Mariners coaches are drilling and selecting the team, and radio sportscaster Rizzs is watching every game. Of course, it’s not all sunny work and no play in Arizona’s Cactus League; while players get up at the crack of dawn for games, Rizzs can take in other matches—some Kansas City over here, Albert Pujols and the Angels over there—and bond with the staff and reporters he sees every year. The M’s moved to a facility in Peoria in 1993, and what was then a small town on Phoenix’s northwest corner has become a bustling city in the desert.

Don and Charlie’s
“You walk in, and there’s a really good chance you’ll see a player or general manager or scout,” says Rizzs. The Scottsdale baseball hangout is full of history, with jerseys on every vertical surface. “A lot of this stuff should be in the Hall of Fame,” he says. The menu is straight tradition: ribs, steaks, seafood.

The only thing more all-American than baseball? Cowboys. Rizzs started taking his son to the old Western town decades ago; now he has grandsons in tow. “They have a little shoot-out in the street, you can take a stagecoach ride, kids can pan for gold,” he says. Old West fans can go even further to Old Tucson, a recreated town that’s used as a movie set.

Peoria Sports Complex
The first shared complex of its kind—the San Diego Padres use the Mariners’ spring training site, too—has six practice diamonds, and Rizzs recommends heading to Field 1. “Get out to the ballpark early, around 9:30am; you can sit on the little bleachers and watch the team,” he says. “A lot of the guys come and say hello if they have the chance.” Most games start at 1:05pm.

“Peoria has done a really good job of growing up,” says Rizzs. Back in the day, he and other spring training visitors schlepped into Scottsdale for dinner; now there are options like this chain Mexican spot. You often see staff and reporters from the Padres, as well as plenty of Dodgers and White Sox caps—they have a field just down the road.

Old Town Scottsdale 
“For tourists, you can’t go wrong with old Scottsdale,” says Rizzs. Parts of the original town’s site are still there, like a mission church made of adobe and the Little Red Schoolhouse, built in 1909, which now houses a museum. Shopping is plentiful in the area, especially for silver and turquoise jewelry. Scottsdale & Indian School Rds

New York City on Stage
A Theater Tour with David Armstrong, Artistic Director of the 5th Avenue Theatre 

How far is it from Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre to Broadway? Just a quick hop, skip, and a flight; since 1989, eight shows have leapt from our stage to the Great White Way (including Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can, and in 2014, Aladdin). Many were under the eye of 5th Ave executive producer and artistic director David Armstrong, who spent 30 years on the Big Apple’s Upper West Side before decamping to Seattle.

Though he first wandered Manhattan’s Times Square and Theater District back when peep shows and pimps shared the sidewalk with box offices, Armstrong doesn’t decry the Disneyification of 42nd Street—he calls the Disney-renovated New Amsterdam Theatre "brilliantly authentic and historically accurate." With a record-breaking 40 theaters, the city is undeniably the play and musical capital of the world. Once upon a time Armstrong was a wide-eyed midwestern teenager cramming 11 performances in a nine-day trip to NYC; now his near-monthly business trips to New York take him straight backstage.

The Theater District is centered around buzzy, busy Times Square, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat at the centrally located Olive Garden. “I always go to Ninth Avenue—it’s really where the theater folk will go to eat.” Armstrong often takes meetings at this gluten-free joint, since he’s never seen anyone dislike Nizza’s northern Italian–meets–French Riviera fare.

Zen Palate
“A great place for a really fast meal,” says Armstrong, as long as you’re not craving steak. The vegetarian fusion restaurant chain has dominated the meat-free NYC dining scene since 1991, serving Asian fusion creations (soy moo shu! tofu puff curry!) in a space dominated by wooden stools and Buddhist figurines.

Cookies are the new pie, which was itself the new cupcake, making this bakery’s treats “the new fad for the theater community of New York,” according to Armstrong. Broadway’s chorus guys and gals pop over during breaks for key lime–iced cookies and malt shakes, or belly up to the “bar” for a $6 happy hour special that won’t make them wobbly: two cookies and a glass of milk. 

New York Theatre Workshop 
“It’s not like I see a hard line between Broadway and Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway,” says Armstrong—theaters are grouped that way due to size, location, and union status, but actors can bounce between 42nd Street’s palaces and this East Village creative group. Back in the ’90s, it birthed a scrappy little musical called Rent, and this spring it returns to the bohemian with the Paris-set play Belleville, then will stage portions of Susan Sontag’s journals.

Delacorte Theater 
It’s Armstrong’s favorite theater in New York City, and would be the Bard’s as well. For 50 years, the Public Theater has staged alfresco Shakespeare in the Park in the Central Park space, with luminaries such as Meryl Streep and Al Pacino leading the casts. Tickets are free but harder to come by every summer; an online lottery has supplemented the old model, which meant hauling a chair to the outdoor line before the sun rises. “It’s really a delight,” says Armstrong. “It almost doesn’t matter what the show is.”

Plaza Hotel
It isn’t the rooms that bring Armstrong to the 105-year-old building at the fanciest corner of Central Park—it’s the foodie heaven known as Shops at the Plaza in the basement. “It’s the highest-end food court, but that name does not do it justice. It is a food bazaar.”

Tropical Escape to Puerto Vallarta
Beach Bound with Joann ArrudaWedding Photographer

When Joann Arruda packs her camera and heads to Mexico, she doesn’t necessarily stop in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta. She keeps going another half an hour to the “funny, quirky little” surfing town of Sayulita on the outskirts of PV. There are horses and Mexican cowboys, surfing camps and unpaved roads. And when she wants a busier feel, she heads to the rebuilt malecón, or esplanade, of Puerto Vallarta, where street performers and pedestrians—locals, even—ramble the streets on warm nights. When she isn’t shooting beachside nuptials, Arruda just relaxes in the cove of Sayulita. It’s her little secret, but more expats are arriving on the Pacific coast every year.

El Camarón
Years ago, this town’s beachfront property was a coconut plantation, and Mexican cowboys rode their horses through the fields. Right on the town’s main beach, this bar sits in a tiny hut surrounded by the trees that remain. “It’s definitely the late-night hangout,” says Arruda; music plays when the sun goes down. North end of Sayulita beach 

Tacos Ivan
“One very awesome taco place,” says Arruda. In what’s little more than a stand, two or three men make what she calls “the famous kind of taco”: pork topped with pineapple, the meat cut from a spit in a style called al pastor. But Ivan doesn’t start slicing until about 6pm. Sayulita plaza

Mercado del Pueblo 
Friday’s farmers market in Sayulita isn’t merely about fresh produce. There are empanadas, olive oils, and, from a baker named Bruno, great French pastries. Of course, the crops are the stars: mangoes, papayas, pineapple, and mamey (a burnt-orange-colored fruit). Calle Miramar

Playa de los Muertos
Yes, you walk through the cemetery to get to this beach, but it’s anything but dead. A jungle path leads to a stretch of sand, “small and sweet, a little nicer than on the main drag,” says Arruda. Gentle waves mean it’s not as popular with surfers, so snorkeling is an option.

Villa Amor
Arruda says the collection of beach-front villas are “the first and only hotel” she'd recommend. The boutique property is only four stories and faces the topaz ocean that draws so many tourists to this part of Mexico. Greenery climbs the adobe-style walls, and many bedrooms and dining rooms open directly to the outdoors.

Drinks in Dubai
Luxuriating in the United Arab Emirates with Kathy Casey, Food and Beverage Consultant 

It gets as hot as 145 degrees Fahrenheit in Dubai; you could probably use a drink. But in a country with strict liquor laws—bars must be attached to hotels in the United Arab Emirates—it takes a little bit of work to find the best tipples. Seattle chef and dining consultant Kathy Casey has developed menus around the globe, including in several Emirati luxury spots. “The thing about Dubai is that there’s everything,” she says—that means fleets of security guards at fancy hotels, oysters flown in from France, and camel races on television. “Everybody has so much money there. So many different people live there. Pretty much it’s the best of the best.

Skyview Bar 
Bring your currency converter to the bar at the top of the iconic Burj Al Arab; some drinks are a little spendy—the cognac-and-bitters Diamonds Are Forever is about $1,350 (but you can keep the Swarovski crystal glass). An Arabic Lemon Drop, on the other hand, is a mere $33. The 26 hotel floors below are full of two-story suites, including the sheikh’s own apartment decked with gold-plated tissue boxes; the service and waterfront views at the top-floor bar are hardly less luxe. 

Cafe Blanc 
“Everything is at a mall or a hotel,” says Casey of the Dubai dining scene, but “it’s not like malls we’d think of here.” With a patio overlooking the sweeping Dubai Mall lake and dancing fountain, the restaurant serves modern Lebanese meze and entrees. “You sit along the water, and everybody’s smoking the shisha pipe,” says Casey. “It’s not a bazillion dollars and they have those super weird blended drinks: avocado and date and rose on top.”

What does a foodie do for entertainment? “It’s really, really fun to go to the grocery store,” says Casey, who loves the French market chain that anchors the Mall of the Emirates. Nearly everything gets flown into the UAE (“there are no local products except honey—it’s the desert”), so the shelves of Carrefour are lined with products from around the world.

The world’s largest candy store prohibits photography, but Casey snapped some photos anyway—she couldn’t resist the towers of brightly colored bulk sweets. The chain began in Singapore and carries more than 5,000 varieties, from Belgian chocolates to Harajuku candy rings.

Heritage Village 
Only 45 minutes away in the next emirate, Abu Dhabi, is a cultural center with outdoor exhibits and a market for shopping. “There’s camels and old pots, in an outdoor museum kind of thing,” says Casey. “Great place to find trinkets, traditional scarves, and a flying carpet mouse pad!”

Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
The Abu Dhabi Fairmont has a view of the opulent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Casey developed a drink called the Bollywood for the hotel’s Chameleon bar: “fresh mint, gin, fresh lemon, and a light curry syrup, topped with a rose and coconut milk foam. And then I put 24-carat gold on top.”

Spirit of Seoul
Connecting to K-Pop with Nicole Miller, Owner of Blackbird Ballard 

The Korean fashion world is its own crazy animal; Nicole Miller discovered that during Seoul Fashion Week, when K-pop superstars would attend the runway shows inside and something akin to Beatlemania erupted outside. “All the teens came to see their heartthrobs. They’re there screaming,” she says. With tickets to the shows available to the public, it was livelier than the Paris or Milan equivalents. “Korean fashion is more for the people. Less highfalutin.” When she comes into Seoul to get inspiration and connect with Korean designers, Miller is sad to see the trend of removing historic buildings: “They want to turn their city into this shiny metropolis.” But as she infuses her Ballard men’s boutique with Seoul’s spirit, she looks to the people. “The kids are loud, people are sassy… . Things are dirty and funny and weird, and it’s just an adventure.

“You walk in and you know you’re in the coolest store ever. We don’t have anything like this in America,” says Miller. “It’s filled to brim with new styles, and all the brands are smaller brands.” The chain sells men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, and Koreans embrace sartorial expression. “Korean fashion is so crazy. They love color,” says Miller.

Boon the Shop
Not all Seoul fashion is cutting edge; this “little Barneys kind of thing,” as Miller puts it, carries international brands like Comme des Garçons and Alexander McQueen. The clothing store even pulls creative directors with global vision; the man behind French retailer Colette joined in 2011. “Everybody who wears higher-end fashion shops here,” she says. 82-3 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnamgu

Gopchang Jeongol
The rock bar is named for stew—beef tripe stew, at that. But that’s not all it serves; there’s also a slate of obscure psychedelic folk and rock being played on the stereo. The menu itself is full of the varied cuisine that Americans know little about: “Americans turn their noses up at Korean food, but they have no idea,” says Miller. “My favorite thing about Korean food is that the things that look the most disgusting taste the best,” she says, and yes, she’s eaten dog in Seoul. The bar, however, is better known for rice wine, makkoli, served in a giant bowl with shaved ice. Mapo-gu Seogyo-dong 327-17

Yogiga Expression Gallery
No, Korean tunes aren’t all “Gangnam Style”; the music scene is “incredible,” says Miller, “and the experimental music scene is really interesting.” This small independent gallery offers an open-mic event on the last Sunday of the month called Bulgasari, making it a hotbed of improvised and experimental musical performance.

Miller’s Blackbird Ballard associate Matt Alspaugh calls Seoul his “favorite city ever,” and he stays at a hostel in the middle of the buzzy neighborhood of Hongdae. The touristy vibe and podlike beds are worth enduring to be close to nightlife, restaurants, and shopping.

Fashionable Paris 
Follow the Couture Crowd with Louis-Xavier Le Bron, Stylist 

What is Paris, the style capital of the world, like during fashion week? “It’s like summer camp!” claims Seattle stylist Louis-Xavier Le Bron. He travels to France four or five times a year, shopping and keeping an eye on new trends for his celebrity, dignitary, and Middle Eastern royalty clients. The French call his casual Levi's-and-clogs look “bobo”: a little bohemian, a little bourgeois, for “people who have a little bit of money who act like they have none.” And when he’s not at fashion shows—he marks Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent as his two favorites—he’s hanging with fellow stylists at Paris’s crowded cafes and chic boutiques; that’s what summer camp looks like for the well-heeled crowd.

La Perle
The Parisian cafe gained infamy when designer John Galliano went on a racist rant against fellow patrons, leading to his exile from Christian Dior. Now “it’s kind of a melting pot of hipster people, and it’s not too touristy,” says Le Bron. Afternoon is the best time to hit the brasserie, before the DJ starts playing and fashionable crowds descend. 78 Rue Vieille du Temple

The surreal club in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. comes to life, designed by Lynch himself—who’s also a pal of Le Bron’s. During Paris Fashion Week, says Le Bron, the performance-and-party spot is the place to be: “Really great events constantly—every night something different, something to be really excited about.” The reflective, curved ceiling in the semiprivate hangout has gold leaf applied by the same folks who maintain Napoleon’s tomb.

Parc Montsouris
“It’s probably the loveliest park in Paris,” says Le Bron of the greenery in the 14th arrondissement, just around the corner from a university. Though the park’s name translates to “Mice Mountain,” it’s not infested. It’s the ultimate city retreat, he says: “Do some yoga and fall asleep there. You can get some work done if you want—it’s a little bit away from the hustle and bustle, and not a lot of tourists go there.”

Didier Ludot
Le Bron’s pal Ludot has “the most spectacular finds” in his vintage clothing boutique that’s as fancy as the Palais-Royal it faces. “He knows how to scavenge the world and find really good things for his shop.” That translates into iconic or trademark pieces of clothing from the most famous designers, like an Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dress from the ’60s.

Galeries Lafayette
“It’s kind of like a Macy’s, but it’s so lovely. The architecture alone is worth looking at,” says Le Bron. He goes into the beauty department of Paris’s most famous department store and looks up at the iron and stained-glass roof. “I honestly know this sounds really cheesy, but I don’t shop there per se. I just appreciate the architecture.” Of course, there are 10 floors of high-end men’s, women’s, and home items for those who actually want to spend, and a free fashion show is held on the seventh floor at 3pm every Friday.

Mama Shelter Paris
There’s nothing momlike at this boutique hotel designed by Philippe Starck, a cutting-edge French designer. Yellow accent walls and bright linens complement the modern furniture, and light sconces made from masks glow beside the beds.

Taste of Tokyo
Navigating Japan’s Cuisine with Taichi Kitamura, Owner of Sushi Kappo Tamura

If he’s being honest, Tokyo isn’t the favorite destination of the owner of Eastlake’s Sushi Kappo Tamura; his home city of Kyoto, he says, is better. But what Tokyo does have is variety: “Sushi is just one of the many different cuisines in Japanese food,” says Kitamura. “There’s izakaya, ramen, and soba; things like that.” He fell in love with Seattle when he arrived as an exchange student at Lynnwood High School; the fly-fishing here sealed the deal. Now when he returns to Japan, he finds Tokyo an overwhelming metropolis, full of amazing food. And then, he says, you can take the train over to Kyoto for the art, temples, and history.

When you enter a Tokyo department store, head straight for the basement—that’s where the grocery section is. “There’s nothing like it in the states,” says Kitamura. Hundreds of small booths serve everything from noodles to cheese, and then there are the desserts, raves the sushi chef: “Confectionery and pastries are the main thing. I’ve never been to New York City, but it’s hard for me to imagine it gets any better than that.”

Sukiyabashi Jiro
There’s mixed opinion about the 10-seat metro sushi bar that earned three Michelin stars and inspired the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, says Kitamura. But he’s a fan of the man known as the best sushi chef in the world. The eponymous owner is still composing sushi bites in his 80s: “Who knows how much and for how much longer. Go before it’s too late.” Ginza Metro Station Exit C6 

Coco Donut
“They take it seriously,” says Kitamura of Tokyo’s doughnut scene. He calls this wood-furnished Aoyama shop the best in Tokyo: “It was the most delicious thing I’ve put in my mouth. Burnt sugar on top; the dough is so airy and creamy, it tastes like creme brulee.”

Tsukiji Fish Market
Get to this famous, frantic seafood bazaar early—both in the day (tickets to see the auction of tuna the size of porpoises are gone by 5am) and before it moves in 2014. “They have every kind of seafood you can imagine,” says Kitamura, but “it’s very crazy, because everyone’s driving forklifts like racing cars. They really don’t give you a break.” 

Yodobashi Camera
The Shibuya area of Tokyo is “crazy fascinating” for its collection of electronic stores, says Kitamura; this mega warehouse is one of the biggest. “It’s really noisy and they sell everything from watches to appliances,” he says. Salespeople will haggle if you’re brave enough, and speakers play the store’s theme song, to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”



Published: March 2013

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