Three retailers in two of Seattle’s tourist districts—downtown and Pioneer Square—are using coffee to carve out new niches. These coffee collaborations take advantage of having great “location, location, location” with ready access to sports fans (the Mariners and Seahawks have stadiums nearby) and daily office workers, not to mention the hordes who descend on the area during the high season when city-sized cruise liners dock along the shoreline.
Let’s explore how these trendsetters are upping the game for coffee + retail joint efforts in Seattle.
Chrome Industries: Biker Bags and Blue Bottle Coffee in Seattle
A coffee cart in a retail shop known for selling messenger bags and forged rubber sneakers is the first to bring Blue Bottle Coffee to Seattle? Yes, that’s how the now iconic and ever-expanding coffee brand is elbowing in on the Seattle scene.
News that Blue Bottle has arrived is spreading fast, but currently the Chrome Cafe is only open on weekdays. Amy Ross, a barista at the Chrome Cafe, said it may not be long before morning hours on weekend days are added if there's suitable local demand.
Espressos, Americanos, and pour-overs are all priced for a steal at $2.75, but be sure to bring some greenbacks as the cart is cash only. Rip van Wafels are among the limited non-beverage items currently available, along with Irish Oatmeal and a don't-spill-it-on-the-messenger-bags affogato. Mine featured Empire Ice Cream, though you can expect to see a rotating selection of dairies as the staff surveys neighborhood producers.
Open Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm, the store is located on the west side of First Avenue just south of Seneca Street. If you are out for a stroll in downtown Seattle and happen past the Chrome Hub, keep an eye out for the Blue Bottle Coffee Co. tag on the Chrome sandwich board.
E. Smith Mercantile: Lured by Scent-sation
“Scents bring people in,” said Kate Poole, the matriarch of the ownership team behind this old-timey retail shop. She and her two daughters, Sara and Jessie Poole, opened this store that carries an eclectic collection of dry goods, clothing, and apothecary items for sale.
Kate is a seasoned wildcrafter and the store has become an outlet for very limited runs of BBQ or Lavender Bitters. She makes the crème de rose often featured in cocktails served in the back bar. One such cocktail, The Black Rose, is a concoction of rum, crème de rose, cold-brewed coffee and cream. Craft cocktails in a classy environment is key among the special elements that have drawn staunchly loyal neighborhood regulars to the mercantile.
The staff has culinary cred, too. Michalina Pawluskiewicz, part of the kitchen crew at Bar Sajor, and Brandon Weaver of Slate Coffee both work there. Drop by on a Saturday and Pawluskiewicz is likely to be the salesperson who greets you. Weaver tends bar part-time.
As of September, the Pooles have added a daytime lunch service. That the back bar often does not close until 2am, rivaling any other late night option in the area, is evidence these women have found an unserved niche.
All coffee, served hot or cold, starts out with the house-made cold brews from Bio Willy’s Beans‘ blend of pulped natural and natural dry Brazilian beans. The Pooles want to have a fresh-brewed hot option for their coffee service. Weaver is working with Bio Willy’s and Sara Poole to identify a single origin to add a pour-over choice to the menu soon.
Cone & Steiner: Lunch and Lattes
Dani Cone and Josh Henderson have opened a second Cone & Steiner location in Pioneer Square within easy walking distance of the International District/Chinatown Station, Clink Field, and the 505 Union Station building which houses Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. The duo's take on updating the neighborhood general store concept has a more utilitarian aesthetic compared to the high ceilings and exposed brick walls of E. Smith Mercantile.
The multipurpose center island serves as coffee counter, bar, and retail display. Shelving built in under the countertops and on the interior and exterior of the faux soffit adds loads of additional storage room, which helps keeps deep stock of items like Stumptown's popular cold brew stubbies, which the store plans to carry year-round.
This being one of Cone’s businesses, of course Fuel Coffee fuels the in-store café. All the staffers have been trained on the art of pulling a shot by the team at Caffé Vita. So far, though, it seems the lunchtime shot has a slight lead over morning lattes in terms of customers’ preferred general store drinks.
The day of my second visit, Soundgarden was playing barely a block away, separated by a heavily secure parking lot from the passers-by. The guitar licks, drum beats, and Chris Cornell’s growling voice could not be heard inside the store. Instead, Cone & Steiner lunch patrons busted a move to old-style funk while waiting to get their coffees to go.
Whether you want to listen to a bit of soul by the stadium, perch yourself at a bar surrounded by turn-of-the-century brick, or savor some Blue Bottle Coffee with you shop for “bomb-proof gear,” Seattle’s newest retailers have you covered.
Photos by Mike Russell unless credited to Jenny Neill.