The Mayflower Park
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On a busy weekend where I sang in two concerts, I then received the royal treatment at Seattle's historic Mayflower Park Hotel.

Built in 1927 and lavishly restored from 1974-1988, the Mayflower is my kind of hotel - full of beautiful period details, from the gorgeous lobby in brass and crystal to the hardwood banisters in the otherwise discrete fire escapes. For the whole weekend, I felt like a pampered celebrity singer rather than just another member of the chorus.

My weekend started with a drop-off at valet parking and a walk up the few short stairs to the lobby. I knew immediately that this was going to be a weekend to remember. For starters, the lobby is on two levels: one level is a comfy seating area with brass lighting and fresh cut flowers for those times when you're ready to leave the hotel but your companion is not; the other level features a roaring fireplace and reading nooks for that much needed privacy in a public space. Both floors of the lobby are filled with beautiful antiques, some traditional European and some Asian, immediately reminding you that Seattle is growing into its mixed heritage as a hub on the Pacific Rim. The gleaming brass, roaring fire, and extra light from huge 14-foot windows helped ward off the drizzle and mist that keep Seattle green in April. (Hint: bring a raincoat or umbrella no matter what time of year you come. You'll probably need it.)

Since I had to be at the concert venue by 6:30 p.m.and the restaurant doesn't start serving until 5:00, I thought I might have to skip dinner that night. I talked to the front desk staff and they told me it would be no problem. For one, the restaurant can work around your schedule, and for two, the hotel is so nicely situated that other parts of the city are only minutes away.

With that, and a brief spiel about hotel services, we were given a key and directions to our King Suite on the 5th floor. I'm used to seeing a restored lobby and then finding that the restoration efforts haven't quite reached the floor I'm on, but not in this case. Here the rooms were as beautiful as the lobby.

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No fresh cut flowers in the room, but otherwise beautiful. (Note to self: next time make broader hints to traveling companion re: singing fantasy.) The first room had a nice sitting area with 8 foot windows, the standard TV hidden in antique wardrobe armoire, small kitchenette, and surprise, a mini-business office complete with desk, phone, and data port. This room by itself was as big as many hotel rooms I've stayed in. The sweet part was that the bedroom was nicely cordoned off behind a glass door with curtains so that you could effectively entertain guests or work on that presentation to a client without disturbing your companion.
As the name King Suite implies, the bedroom had a huge California King bed, again with 8 foot windows, lovely period details in the bath such as tiled floor and huge tub, and yet another TV. As to be expected at this type of hotel, the room had all the amenities of luxurious robes, extra pillows, blow dryer, iron, coffee maker, and those extendable make-up mirrors. Two odd things were that there was no in-room safe and there didn't seem to be a mini bar -- though the kitchenette did have a mini refrigerator. If those things are important to you, you might make sure to ask for that when making your reservation. However, the front desk has safety deposit boxes for your use and room service will be delighted to make one of Oliver's award winning martinis for you right there in your room (shaken not stirred, you 007 fans).

Despite only being 5 floors above one of the city's most popular martini bars, the room was quiet and comfortable. The hotel is in THE perfect spot in the city - located between The Bon and Nordstrom's (the two largest department stores in Seattle), and actually physically connected to Westlake Mall (and Westlake Park, thus the name Mayflower Park Hotel).

Westlake Park, somewhat misnamed itself, is actually a cobbled square in the heart of the shopping district. This is the kind of square where people gather, speeches are made, holiday shoppers take in the temporary carousel erected every year, etc. What makes it a great location is that you can get to any of the department stores and shops without getting wet on a really rainy day. The Mall is also where you can catch the Monorail to Seattle Center -- home of the Space Needle, Experience Music Project, and several city theaters, the opera house, the ballet, and many of the big events of the year (Bumbershoot, Folklife, Seattle Bite, and others).

You're also within walking distance of Pike Place Market, the USA's oldest continually working farmer's market (since 1907) and oh so much more. You may have seen the Spike Lee directed Levi's commercial with the fish market where they actually throw the salmon over the counter at other workers who catch the fish and then hand it to you. This is it! You'll find everything here, from fresh dahlias, organic star fruit, and simply the best fresh vegetables in the city, to specialty shops like the Mexican grocery store (handmade tamales anybody?), THE original Starbuck's complete with the non-watered down logo of a mermaid who still has tailfins and breasts, to comic book stores, vintage movie collectibles, and locally made clothing. Of course, you will also find souvenir shops, which you can spend all day in or ignore depending on your preferences.

Sleepless In Seattle
Two of my favorite things at the Marketplace (as it is known locally) are the Crumpet Shop (try the maple spread) and the people watching. It's on a hill overlooking Elliott Bay (connected to the waterfront by something called the Pike Street Hill Climb and they aren't exaggerating). On a sunny day, there's a little park at the north end of the Marketplace where you can eat your poppy seed piroshky and sip your latté as you gaze out over the water at the combination of parasailors, Washington State ferries, Puget Sound islands, ice-capped mountains, and water that make for one extraordinary view. On a rainy day, try the Sound View Café for cheap eats, the Athenian if you're a Sleepless in Seattle fan, or any number of gourmet restaurants like Place Pigalle or Campagne.

The concierge at the Mayflower Park hotel had great suggestions for what I could do with my free time that weekend. The Washington State Ferries are one of the cheapest ways to see the harbor and get a stunning ride across the water ($4.50 each way); or the concierge can hook you up with a float plane tour with Kenmore Air. The Fifth Avenue Theater, the Paramount Theater, and the Moore Theater are all within easy walking distance (or quick cab ride on a rainy day). The Experience Music Project (architecture by Frank Gehry) and the Pacific Science Center are just a Monorail trip away and both great fun for that interactive museum experience you've been looking for (add your drum or vocal track to your favorite song or visit an entire room of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia at EMP or take the kids to learn how things work at the Science Center).

If you like things with a historic bent, Pioneer Square is a free bus ride away (or a longish walk in good weather). This Victorian era square has the Underground Tour (they raised the city streets an entire floor in this district sometime before the turn of the century - you can still tour the "basements" and streets of the underground parts of this district).

The hotel management has dozens of specialty packages throughout the year. Whatever your interests are, chances are the hotel offers a package for you. The historic package, the Christmas package, and the Romantic package spring to mind as perfect, whether it's your first time in Seattle, or just a weekend getaway for locals.

My perfect weekend began with the lobby, continued with shopping through the local craft boutiques in Westlake Mall and a hotel discount at The Bon, followed by an amazing dinner at Andaluca, a performance at St. Joseph's (okay, I can't really do this without plugging the
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group I sing with: check out, and drinks and dessert at Oliver's. The next day, we had breakfast in the hotel, and finally took the Monorail to EMP. We exhausted ourselves with music history and interactive exhibits long before finishing all the exhibits at EMP, so the admission price is well worth it.

Finally, I talked the concierge into giving me a tour of the other facilities in the hotel. Not every room is as big and lush as the King Suite, but the rooms I saw seemed to be comfortable. For a nice romantic weekend, feeling fully pampered, you might start with a larger room, but the best bet would be to ask for the Romance Package (champagne and Godiva Truffles in your room). Other notable packages include the History Never Sleeps in Seattle package, including theater tickets to the restored 5th Avenue Theatre, built in 1926.

A few quibbles before I wrap up: If you're big on working out while traveling, the hotel does have a teensy gym, but it might be more fun to just bring jogging shoes and jog or walk through the city. Be sure to give the valet plenty of time to collect your car (the garage is not close). And I finally gave up trying to find ice for my room and asked one of the housekeepers where it was (not on my floor apparently). The hotel doesn't have spa services in house, but there are several day spas near the hotel, so just ask the concierge to book you into one of these for that extra special finish to your weekend. But these are small things in the overall feelings of escape and being pampered that I walked away with. And despite just being one of the chorus, I walked away feeling like a star. After all, a hotel that has its own annual employee art show must know a little about treating guests like stars. Even the waiter at Andaluca told me to break a leg before I went off to perform. With that and the general pampering, I think I glowed the entire weekend.

I've eaten at many Seattle restaurants in my time, but my new favorite is Andaluca (The waiter explained that Andalusia, the region of Spain that influences most of the dishes, was considered too long of a name for most Americans to remember.). From the moment we stepped inside, I knew I was going to have a good time. The walls are colorful, but the lighting is discrete and the flow of the wooden backed booths and the details on the ceiling made me think of Gaudi's naturalist architecture - smooth curves ending in nautilus shell swirls without feeling overly ornamented.

The restaurant and staff had already set the mood, but the real test ia the food -- it didn't disappoint. The menu had too many wonderful sounding decisions, so we took some suggestions from the waiter and started with the grilled scallop bruschetta (tomato, cerignola olive relish) and the stuffed dates (chevre cheese, chorizo sausage, radicchio, carrots, and blood orange vinaigrette). How does one stuff a date, you might ask?: the concept seemed similar to a twice-baked potato. Scrape out the meat of the date, mix in lots of other good things, stuff, and then roast. Eat one, gasp in ecstasy, repeat. Try not to eat too many since the main course is still to come. (The grilled scallop bruschetta was also amazing, but the name speaks for itself.)

We moved on to share a Pear Salad (field greens, Stilton blue cheese, hazelnuts, balsamic vinaigrette). This is a simple salad you can make at home, but it was a nice complement to the more exotic flavors of the appetizers and the main course.

For wine, we selected a Conde de Valdema Rioja Reserva '96 from Spain and sampled a Fattoria Del Cerro Rosso di Montepulciano '98 from those crazy monks in Italy. The Montepulciano was acceptable, but the Rioja was the one we ordered more of. I'll be looking for that one in the wine stores.

Finally, for the main course, we ordered the Cabrales Crusted Beef Tenderloin (Spanish blue cheese, grilled pears, Marsala demi glace, idiazabal mashed potatoes -- and voted one of the best entrées in Seattle in a local newspaper poll), and the Stuffed Game Hen (kalamata olives, preserved lemons, marjoram pine nuts, wild rice with romesco sauce - romesco sauce is similar to a pesto but flavored with red peppers and chili flakes).

The food from start to finish was divine. I think my favorite was the Cabrales Beef. It reminded me of a steak I had while sitting in an 1823 vintage café in northern Spain. It's not many dishes that can sweep you across the world in one bite. Sure, Andaluca is consistently voted the Best Mediterranean Restaurant in the city, but this steak transported me to Spain! As far as I was concerned the other dishes were just regional specialties firmly rooted in Seattle ingredients. The steak was insane.

I sampled the Stuffed Game Hen and could have raved about that as well. But my dish was so good, I didn't want to share. Is that selfish or just clever? When food is this good, you have to wonder. 5-Piece Martini Set (Barware) 5-Piece Martini Set (Barware)

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There's nothing quite like looking out at a rain swept Seattle street from a snug, cozy bar. Or so I thought until I tried Oliver's in the lobby of the Mayflower Park Hotel. Oliver's somehow manages to make 20-foot ceilings and huge mullioned windows looking out at rainy streets into something quite unique in Seattle. Cozy and 20-foot ceilings don't quite go together, but there's some indefinable quality about Oliver's that makes you think you're a world away from the people you see walking by hunched against the rain or hiding under their umbrellas.

Maybe it's the fact that few Seattle establishments that just look out onto city streets have View (with a capital V) windows. And there aren't many warm, friendly, bars hip deep in the shopping district that take people watching seriously. Or maybe it's the martini talking. Oliver's won the International Martini Classic Challenge (between Vancouver notables such as Delilah's and the Hotel Vancouver and Seattle martini favorites like The Four Seasons and Metropolitan Grill) and has been voted the best classic martini in town since 1993.

There are 9 steps to the classic martini recipe at Oliver's as opposed to the 4 steps I've always used (my recipe involves putting the three ingredients - gin, vermouth, olives -- in a glass and stirring with my finger). Maybe it's time I ate out more often.

Whether you like quiet bars or full of life, pre-dinner drinks or after theater nightcaps, Oliver's is there for you. The part of the bar with the huge windows is the noisier side, but even there I had no trouble hearing my companions or feeling like I was in a private bubble as the rain blew around under the streetlight outside the huge window. The quiet side foregoes the 20-foot ceilings in favor of a more intimate seating arrangement.

We sampled both the desserts and the fruit and cheese plate. Although I can recommend the cheese plate to share, I must say that the Warm Liquid Chocolate Cake, oozing with caramel sauce and espresso chip ice cream, was the highlight of my evening. When you press your fork into what looks like a huge brownie on a plate, the liquid chocolate center starts to leak out. You'll be tempted to lick your plate clean. But don't. This is a martini bar after all.

Oliver's Martini Recipes?

- By Kevin Fansler, Seattle Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent.

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