Pike Place Market is a frequent lunchtime wondering destination for me. Oh sure, it’s touristy, but it’s full of tourists because it’s awesome. Many visitors never explore further than the fish throwers and tulips, but Pike Place rewards those who wander. Perhaps you saw the Gum Wall featured in National Geographic’s June 2010 Visions of Earth? The same street is home to some pretty cool paste art.
I see the art wall as a sort of giant outdoor collage; a collaboration not just between artists but also with the architecture and even with the ambiance of the Market itself. In fact, the whole Market can be viewed as a living art piece. The art wall is just a small set piece in the ongoing performance that is Pike Place. Best of all, everyone who works at, lives in, or visits the Market gets to participate in the show.
If the Space Needle is Seattle’s future of 1962, then Pike Place is its contemporary 1890. The Market is a historic site, of course. It has been in continuous operation for over a century, and it certainly doesn’t try to put on any sort of living history charade á la Colonial Williamsburg. It does, however, cultivate a sort of dated, bohemian, carnival-like atmosphere.
Vendors in suspenders hawk their wares. Buskers, street performers, and living statues line the sidewalks. You can try a real English crumpet at the Crumpet Shop, or explain your feline woes to the resident cat whisperer (he brings his own cat). When the sun goes down, stop in for a Pim’s cup at the White Horse, the Markets local British pub, or indulge your fantasies at a Can Can burlesque show.
None of these shops or performers are trying to be anything they aren’t, but the sum total of them creates an effect that feels a bit like the opening chapter of a Neil Gaimen novel. One can easily imagine wandering through the labyrinth of passages beneath the Market finding something that will lead to a mythic adventure. Will it begin with a fortune told by a mysterious magician? Perhaps it will start with a passage read from an old tome hidden in a quaint little bookstore. Maybe it will be instigated by an exotic elixir from the Far East? You know how these stories begin, and so too, I would guess, do the vendors at Pike Place. They sure know how to sell it!
I don’t think one could intentionally create the eclectic fantasy that thrives in the Market. It’s vitality comes from the collaboration of quarky personalities and unorthadox skill sets. No one person’s artistic vision presides here, but everyone’s shows through, and there is always room for one more. Whether you just want to see a fish get tossed or you are searching for that rare Egyptian amulet that, when combined with the ring of power, will open the gate to the ninth ring of hell, Pike Place Market is definitely a worthwhile destination.