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  • Writer's pictureLynn Elsey

On the Ground In Seattle

Old Economy Still Vital In High-Technology City. By LYNN ELSEY

High technology, with Microsoft at the helm, has put Seattle on the map. Still, lumber and agriculture formed the city's industrial backbone, and the old economy continues to play an important role in the Puget Sound area. The retailers Nordstrom and Costco are here, as are the insurance giant Safeco (which has acquired naming rights to the home of the Seattle Mariners, Safeco Field) and, of course, Starbucks and its ubiquitous coffee houses.

The wobbly American economy has not spared Seattle. The jobless rate, which hovered around 3.3 percent in the late 1990's, has doubled since then, and the once robust housing market has weakened. Boeing's decision to move its world headquarters to Chicago last year cost the area 13,800 jobs, to say nothing of a measure of Seattle's pride. On the other hand, Amazon recently reported quarterly results that were slightly better than expected.


The Renaissance style FOUR SEASONS OLYMPIC (206-621-1700, from $295) provides all the expected five-star amenities, including high-speed Internet access, a health club that will lend you running shoes and transportation in the hotel's Mercedes S Class house car. The hotel's stately lobby is popular for informal business meetings.

With its arty atmosphere, the ALEXIS HOTEL (206-624-4844, from $295) reflects the hotel's proximity to Seattle's creative-arts district, although guests are as likely to be corporate lawyers as advertising types.

For those on a tight budget, the MAYFLOWER PARK HOTEL (206-623-8700, from $135) is small enough to be personal but large enough to offer 24-hour concierge service and a small exercise room. It is centrally located and an easy walk to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.

The BELLEVUE CLUB HOTEL (425-454-4424, from $230) is a brief cab ride to Microsoft headquarters as well as the offices of dozens of smaller companies in Seattle's high-technology sphere. Laptops seem de rigueur in the lobby, and the hotel offers free broadband access, cordless phones in all rooms and a technical-support hot line.


Chuck Stonecipher, president of Advanced Digital Information, says he can't remember the last time anybody at his company went out for a traditional business lunch. ''When our suppliers or customers visit, we work over sandwiches that are brought in,'' he said, adding, ''On the rare occasion that we do something more formal, we tend to go to restaurants with good local seafood,'' like RAY'S BOATHOUSE (206-789-3770, $135 for dinner for two with wine and tip) or the THIRD FLOOR FISH CAFE (425-822-3553, $146) in Kirkland.

Downtown, fish gets a serious steakhouse treatment at the OCEANAIRE SEAFOOD ROOM (206-267-2277, $145). The menu features huge portions of seafood favorites like Alaskan halibut cheeks along with old-fashioned comforts like relish trays, creamed corn and asparagus with Hollandaise sauce; diehard steakophiles can always order the filet mignon.

At ANDALUCA (206-382-6999, $100), the ''great glass plates, interesting food and a reasonably priced Spanish wine list'' get a thumbs up from Karen Johnson, senior vice president for corporate development at Metro One Telecommunications in Portland.

Recent renovations have toned down its brocaded stiffness, but the GEORGIAN ROOM ($130) in the Four Seasons Olympic retains an air of hushed formality and is considered one of Seattle's most impressive dining experiences. The menu is light, offering reasonably priced contemporary Northwest cuisine.

Jayne Lipe, president of JLipe Consulting, says her favorite place to take clients is BIS ON MAIN (425-455-2033, $95) in Bellevue. ''The food and wine are absolutely delicious, service is excellent, and the atmosphere is quiet enough for a good discussion,'' she said.


The METROPOLITAN GRILL (206-624-3287), a traditional brass and green-leather place, is a popular spot for business travelers as well as local entrepreneurs; its walls are lined with photos of athletes and well-known business executives who have enjoyed the high-octane Martini and cigar-enhanced atmosphere.

Wine aficionados head to CASCADIA (206-448-8884) for the wine list and live piano music or to BRASA'S bar (206-728-4220) for Mediterranean warmth and celebrity sighting. But the city's best entertainment is found on the field at the Mariner's new ball park, within walking distance of downtown.


Washington State is the country's second-largest producer of premium wines after California, and several wineries on the dry eastern side of the Cascade Range, including CHATEAU ST. MICHELLE (425-415-3633) in Woodinville and HEDGES CELLARS (425-391-6056) in Issaquah offer tours and wine tastings daily.

SEATTLE SEAPLANES (206-329-9638) offers 20-minute flights with views of the city and its landmarks, including the Space Needle, the Elliott Bay waterfront and the homes of the rich and famous along Lake Washington.

If you visit the Seattle Center (home of the Space Needle), be sure to mosey over to the Experience Music Project, Paul Allen's interactive ode to rock 'n' roll. Opened in 2000 with as much fanfare for the building's unusual architecture and vividly colored stainless steel and aluminum walls as the opportunity for the general public to partake in high-end karaoke, it is often rented by corporations for parties and other events.


Originally published in the New York Times on 30 July, 2002.

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