No, it's not the name of the new major league soccer team. It's a phenomenon. It's what happens when a restaurant, bar or other public establishment is deemed hip by Seattleites due to a series of write-ups in local publications, and hordes flock to it despite obvious deterrences such as long waits, harried service, deafening social noise, tight spaces, and strangers stepping on your toes and sucking up your air. The Swarm persists even with perfectly viable, maybe even preferable, alternatives in the vicinity. Why wouldn't you bypass Freelard's breakfast diner Dish and try Silence~Heart~Nest instead? Maybe it's the sari-clad wait staff or the quirky Sri Chinmoy décor or the subconscious fear of eating food prepared by members of a cult. But the vegetarian "neatloaf" is the best comfort food you can get on that side of the dietary spectrum.
Recent swarm of note: Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard. The descending hordes gave rise to new, stiff rules such as no seating before your entire party has arrived and absolutely no seating a minute before the doors open at 5 p.m., even if you discovered Carta when it was this fledgling, possibly out-of-place eatery. The wait staff no longer recognizes you in their quest to seat patrons wearing much better clothing. Your Ballard resident cred carries no weight at all.
Hungry-looking diners will wait 45 minutes or more for a table at Oaxaca while delightful Thaiku just across the cobblestones sits half-empty. They're even owned by the same people, the smart Seattle Investment Network (SIN), whose acronym belies the rather healthy food served in these two places. Maybe SIN has more to do with their newer Ballard venture, The Copper Gate, which is themed around images of nude women, in honor of the longtime owner, who was reportedly a nudist (and a redhead, which makes the bar's moniker a real wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Plus, the food tends to the more sinful side, what with the potatoes and skewered pork.
Since Thaiku and Oaxaca are so close, perhaps the answer is to seat waiting Carta diners in the comparatively larger Thaiku and let them order off the other's admittedly yummy menu. Oh, but the hordes come for the atmosphere, too–gorgeous black and white photos of Oaxaca, Mexico hung salon style on two-story tall walls, the bright but somehow also warm-and-whimsical twisted wire chandeliers, the long tables where you can get to know the strangers rubbing your elbows. The packed house gives rise to a lively din even on weekday nights, set to the music of the constantly shaking margarita mixer. There's a reason behind every swarm.