Dine amongst the objects of Dale Chihuly’s obsessions at Collections Café in Seattle, Washington.
Story By Jill Gleeson
If the food wasn’t so good at Seattle’s Collections Café, which is located right under the Space Needle within Chihuly Garden and Glass, you might barely take notice of it. Because inside this restaurant, above your head and under your plate and alongside your table—in short, surrounding you—are the assemblages of articles that give this place its name: Dale Chihuly’s collections.
Or some of them, at least. The legendary glass artist, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and lives and works in Seattle, has been a collector of what he has called “bits and bobs” since he used to gather pieces of beach glass along Puget Sound in his youth. He’s still at it, too, and apparently always will be. “I don’t know what it is about collecting,” he’s famously said, “but I love to collect things, I’ll never stop.”
Among the groups of goods Chihuly has amassed over his nearly eight decades are Native American blankets and baskets, stamps (a collection he also started in childhood), and the more whimsical items found in the café: fishing lures, Chalkware statues, transistor radios, Christmas ornaments, vintage cameras, toy soldiers, and shaving brushes—of which the artist says, “One shaving brush is not so interesting, but when you put a bunch of them together, they make quite a statement.”
Some of the collections line shelves around the restaurant’s interior, like the Chalkware and radios, while the accordions dangle merrily from the ceiling. Smaller goodies, including pocket knives, inkwells and toy cars, are displayed within the dining tables—shadow boxes are topped with glass to handle this dual functionality. Despite his international renown, Chihuly can occasionally be found dining beside his admirers in Collections Café—he’s partial to bringing friends who are visiting from out of town.
You don’t have to spot the artist to go a little gaga in his café. The cuisine and cocktails have the kind of charm Chihuly’s collections do. Makes sense, as Max George, Chef de Cuisine says his team “draws inspiration from Dale’s use of color in his art and his whimsical collections to create dishes utilizing locally-sourced products that are quintessentially Pacific Northwest…wild, sustainable seafood, locally-foraged mushrooms and produce grown in Seattle’s backyard lend themselves to many signature dishes at Collections. Some of our guests favorites are the RR Ranch burger with Beecher’s cheese and the Dungeness crab roll on an Essential bakery brioche roll.”
There’s some pleasing playfulness to the Collections Café menu, just as in the surroundings. The burrata is served with “purple asparagus tapenade,” and the vegan spring pea bruschetta features alliums and pistachio butter. The fresh lemonade offers hints of strawberry and lavender. But the guest and staff favorite is the made-to-order beignets with berries and honeycomb—which are good enough to compete with beignets in the Big Easy—that George says “are not to be missed.”
It’s not necessary to buy a ticket to Chihuly Garden and Glass to enter the restaurant, but why wouldn’t you? Now exhibited in more than 200 botanical gardens and museums around the world, Chihuly changed glass art forever, pushing boundaries and creating massive, vibrantly-colored sculptures that are often inspired by the natural world.
Go in the morning, wander the exhibition’s eight galleries and the jaw-dropping Glasshouse, a 40-foot tall conservatory from which hangs a 100-foot Chihuly sculpture in reds, oranges and yellows, the hues of the sun that shines down upon it. Be sure to meander through the exquisite garden, also graced by Chihily’s work. Then head over to the café and continue to feast your eyes as you fill your tummy. For as the man himself says, “I love to find the beauty in everyday objects.”
Plan A Trip
For sleek, modern digs conveniently located in downtown Seattle a stone’s throw from legendary Pike Place Market, book a room at Thompson Seattle. Designed by the city’s lauded Olson Kundig Architects, it offers rooms with stunning views of Puget Sound or the Olympic Mountains, as well as Conversation, headed by the downright audacious Executive Chef Derek Simcik. Order the whole pig’s head, if you dare.
Rising 605 feet above Chihuly Garden and Glass is the funky, fabulous Space Needle, a Seattle icon. Built in 1962 for the World Fair, it’s gotten a grand new $100 million update that added features like the world’s only revolving glass floor and frameless glass panels wrapping around the observation deck. They not only provide an unobstructed view of the city, they also tilt outward, so if you’ve got the gumption you can lean against them and feel a bit like you’re flying. There are also seriously nifty (and free) “skyhigh” selfie stations located here and there that will download your pics into the Space Needle’s well-designed (and also free) app.
Seattle’s culinary scene continues to impress, thanks to restaurants like Sawyer, which debuted a little more than a year ago in Ballard, the city’s hot new foodie hood. Located in a converted 1920s sawmill, it’s the brainchild of Chef Mitch Mayers, who snared a nomination this year by The James Beard Foundation for Best New Restaurant in the country. Influences and inspirations include Mexican and Korean fare. Be sure to sample to pork belly steam buns with sweet pickles, gochujang, hoisin and Taiwanese peanuts.
Jill Gleeson is a memorist and travel journalist living in the Appalachians of central Pennsylvania. Find her at gleesonreboots.com.