WHAT IF WE absolutely had to pack up and move to the Eastside? What if we got great jobs on the other side of the lake, and we decided that the commute wasn't worth clinging to our 206 area codes (sniff)? What if we—two young urbanites with a preference for used-record stores and dive bars—actually (gasp) left the city for the suburbs? These are the questions our editor dealt us; seeking the answers, we spent a recent afternoon traversing the Eastside in search of signs of life. We drove, we walked, we sat and watched. We explored strip malls, and we stopped strangers on the street and asked for tips on cool places to visit.
Much of our expedition left us feeling cold, but when we turned onto Kirkland's main drag, Lake Street, we felt as if we had somehow wound up in sunny California. The first storefronts that caught our eyes were those of Trickwood (114 Lake St., 425-828-6002), a skate shop and shoe store; Bombaii Cutters (122 Kirkland Ave., 425-828-4411), a funky, open-air, Venice Beach-style hair salon; and the Central Club Tavern (124 Kirkland Ave., 425-827-0808), a divey former biker bar established in 1936, with a banner advertising pull tabs. Neither of us is a skater, needed a haircut, or had a particular desire to play tabs, but the skate shop was clearly the real deal, the salon fit with our vision of Eastside-as-SoCal seaside town, and the bar was a welcome, unglamorous anomaly on the glossy Eastside. We promptly pulled into the nearest parking lot (there are several in the downtown area that offer free parking for up to two hours during the daytime—try finding that on the Hill or downtown). Then we got out to wander on foot, just like in a real city.
IT WOULD SEEM that a disproportionate number of people get married in Kirkland; there are so many bridal shops downtown that we were seriously creeped out. To seek refuge, we ducked inside the Triple J Café (101 Central Way, 425-822-7319) for sandwiches and coffee. Staffed by friendly high-schoolers and filled with laid-back wi-fi surfers, it's easy to see why the joint is an Eastside favorite. The only disappointment was that the "Wiener Window," the Triple J's no-nonsense, walk-by hot-dog outlet, was closed that day—as it has been since 2001. (Note to fictional selves: A campaign to revive the Window would be our first order of business upon a fictional move across the water.)
Kirkland would also seem to cater to fitness-obsessed Seattleites. Nearby parks offer tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and boat docks; Lake Washington Boulevard is crowded with bike riders, joggers, and various tanned, relaxed citizens strolling around in workout wear—both with and without small dogs and/or baby strollers. Yoga pants are king in Kirkland. Inside the Montlake Bike Shop (211 Kirkland Ave., 425-828-3800) we saw two Bianchi bicycles that instantly won our hearts.
Down on the waterfront at Marina Park, we stopped some teenagers and asked them about cool record stores. We were disappointed that they could only point us in the direction of Tower Records in Bellevue, but maybe kids these days only care about downloading MP3s. One couple did suggest that we check out the Kirkland Arts Center (620 Market St., 425-822-7161) just up the hill, and it was a great tip. The beautiful old brick building houses classrooms, workshops, and a complete ceramics facility.
The Kirkland Sur la Table (90 Central Way, 425-827-1311) hosts cooking classes by nationally renowned experts in its state-of-the-art demo kitchen. The Kirkland PCC (10718 N.E. 68th St., 425-828-4622) sells all the organic eggs we could ever eat. On Central Way, the Parkplace Center mall has an independent bookstore (Parkplace Books, 425-828-6546) and a theater (Parkplace Cinema, 425-827-9000) that actually shows art-house flicks and foreign films—the Oscar- nominated Brazilian City of God was on the marquee during our visit. And TechCity Bowl (13033 N.E. 70th Place, 425-827-0785) hosts something called X-Bowl every Friday and Saturday night. With its disco balls, glow-in-the-dark pins, and live DJs, we defy you to have a bad time—in a cheesy SoCal kind of way, of course.
KIRKLAND MAY BE the closest thing to Santa Monica in the Northwest. Even for a pair of city dwellers like us, finding things to do there wouldn't be an obstacle. The cost of housing, however, is another story—maybe we could manage that with our fictional new high-paying Eastside jobs. Hey, is anyone hiring over there?