the Ave: developments on the Headwaters and the adjacent U-District

I’ve been meaning to write about the secret renaissance occuring on the Headwaters of the Ave for some time now. Friends have certainly heard me blabbering that phrase on occassion. A map will be forthcoming; in the meantime, a short description will have to do.

The Ave, or more properly University Way NE, runs from about Cowen Park (at Ravenna Blvd and about NE 56th-ish) down to Portage Bay. Since moving here in the fall of Aught-two, I’ve become very familiar with this street. It is, in just about every respect, a street rather than a road. Roads are for cars; streets are for people. Although a move by Calmar McCune, “Mayor of the U-District”, and Alex Shiga in the early 1970s to turn it into a pedestrian mall failed — thanks, in part, to real estate mogul Don Kennedy mobilizing the District’s (absentee) landlords against it — the Ave remains largely in the pedestrian domain.

Sometime after my arrival, I began noticing subtle differences in the Ave’s demeanor, particularly between NE 41st St. and NE 50th St. Thus, I set about dividing the Ave into logical sections: Upper Ave, Main Ave, and Lower Ave. Very roughly, the Lower Ave begins around the parking lot forming the gap between Radio Shack and Chipotle. Below this point, there are more wooden buildings… with larger gaps between them, and less uniformity in building heights and facades. This area, while still rich in eateries, is not as densely packed with them. Still farther, below 41st, what we can call the Ave Delta is characterised by its distributaries of streets. Bus traffic turns off the Ave and flows down Campus Parkway, as do many cars. Those that continue eventually turn off onto Pacific St.

Above the Lower Ave is, essentially, the heart of the Ave, the Main Ave. It is this portion that is densely packed with eateries and people. The buildings are predominantly brick, at least brick veneer, and two stories. Most butt up directly against their neighbors like row houses. This section stretches from the Chipotle, past 45th, to about the Buffalo Exchange — half way up to 47th. Certainly by 47th, density thins out a bit. If you are a UW-ite, chances are likely that your lunch spot has to be really good for you to trek up that far.

Now, as intriguing as all of those portions of the Ave are, the really interesting portion is the part north of 50th. There is a noticeable physical change at 50th: parking turns from parallel to angled. This part of the Ave has always made me forget that I was living in the middle of the city. It is reminiscent of many small-town business districts. It’s also wider and has less traffic. This always makes me feel like this area is in the main business district of some Northwest mountain town. Curiously, though, it is unique in that it is back-in angled parking. I’m not certain that I’ve seen that anywhere else. In any case, by 52nd Street, then, one firmly enters what I call the Headwaters of the Ave.

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed lots of improvements going on here. Much of these visits have come as a result of going to the Galway Arms or the Knarr (!!!) Tavern. There have been at least two or three gaming stores which have opened within a one block stretch. The Taqueria (La Puerta?) has recently renovated and reopened. And most recently, The Brooklyn Grinder packed up shop and moved from Brooklyn (the downtrodden, service-entrance Wabash Ave. to the Ave’s glitzy and popular State Street… to use a Chicago analogy) to the Headwaters. Curiously, this move took it further from campus and much further from the busy Ave/45th crossroads. Additionally, several Headwaters businesses have spruced up their storefronts. And there are some decent and rather new apartment complexes here. These are properly urban, mixed-use buildings with the street level devoted to commercial zoning. A few older businesses and older vintage homes are interspersed to give this stretch of Ave some distinct flavor.

Perhaps some of this Ave-northward development has something to do with the slow development going on, several blocks west, along Roosevelt southward from 65th to 50th. But that’s just pure, wild speculation on my part. Although the European Deli seems like it’s survived on Roosevelt for a while now, warranting its recent move to a newer building one block north, I will be pleasantly surprised if the World Cup cafe and wine bar makes it. It seems an odd place for a cafe — still, though, I have learned that I should never underestimate the draw of Yet Another Cafe in Seattle. It will be interesting to see what happens to this stretch of Roosevelt, between Ravenna and 50th.

Speaking of cafes, I have been watching with great interest the rebirth of the Wayward Cafe, located on the residential corner of 9th Ave NE and NE 53rd Street… a mere block from my house. The place used to be a crunchy, vegan, hippy cafe that seemed to do OK business. Then sometime in 2004, I believe, the owner died and the place was closed for many months. Earlier this year, I noticed some younger people periodically fixing the place up and pretty-fying it with some darker and bolder colors. Then, a few months ago, it flung its doors open, apparently to some eager clientelle. The place is always packed during the daytime, it seems; the bike rack is always loaded with plenty of bikes. A somewhat mangy dog, who has seen spryer days and who seems to be suffering from some sort of joint problem, hobbles around and sleeps on the sidewalk outside. Most fascinating, though, is the clientelle. They tend toward the younger end of their 20s and look far edgier than the older, crunchier, vegan, hippy crowd that used to patronize this place. Were I to label the crowd based on appearance alone, I would say that they look like the textbook “hippy goths” — this, to me, is a somewhat puzzling blend of subcultures that I don’t fully grok yet. The proof, it seems, is in the patchoulli. I smell plenty of it these days coming from ostensibly goth-attired folk. Additionally, some of them look like the genuinely homeless Ave Kids, too. Someday, when I get my research questions all straightened out, perhaps I will inquire about the Wayward’s rebirth and new lease on life.

I spoke about this with E. tonight, after I brought home my pizza (from Atlantic Street Pizza). After conversing about the Wayward, he mentioned the OOK place — on the corner of Brooklyn and 52nd. Apparently, when he moved here, this place was a used book store. I believe I vaguely remember it’s existance as such, though at the time I moved here it would have been going out of business. According to E., this store moved onto the Ave, around the corner from the Grand Illusion. OOK subsequently became some sort of medical supply outlet which never seemed open. Now, over the past year or so, it has been under some constant, though painfully slow, renovation. It looks like the owner is trying to turn it into a cafe perhaps. I remember investigating the place with Brassratgirl one evening a few months ago. Along the window wall, we saw various home-made tables made with various inset materials and intriguing textures. Whatever happens to the place, I hope they keep the OOK sign.

In my conversation with E., he mentioned yet another curiousity, this one up on Roosevelt. There is some relatively new, ostensibly exclusive gay bar… near the place where one always see lots of Vespas. This is not as surprising as it may sound on the surface; this stretch of Roosevelt is a meccah for foreign-vehicle repair. We resolved to keep a closer eye on this newly-codenamed Gay Vespa Club. Reports forthcoming pending further investigation.

Capitol Hill-istines are always quick to describe their neighborhood as the nexus of cool and excitement. Sure, any fool can be paraded around naked on a leash while having a horsetail dildo sticking out of his/her butt. I’m not sayin’ that ain’t exciting; however, there are subtler forms of excitement in the urban landscape that are just as compelling. Gay Vespas, Hippy Goth hangouts, a neighborhood subversively ascending to power??? I tingle. And run of the mill stuff like you’d find on Cap Hill… we gots that too. Why just this evening, while walking home from the Headwaters with my pizza, I turned the corner to see an SPD officer detaining a man. He had a mullet with the long part braided and, of course, he was shirtless. It was just like a scene from Cops.

This entry was posted in Commentary, Places and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s