It's time to test our Assumptions about summer festivals.
Ah yes, Assumption. That would be the 15th of August, a feast day in the Catholic church, known as Ferragosto in Italy. It happened to fall on a Sunday this year, and it turned into the hottest weekend of the summer in Seattle. We checked in on a few events between Friday night and Sunday afternoon and found that bigger isn't necessarily better.
Two summers ago, I wrote about Osteria La Spiga's mahvelous Ferragosto buffet. This year, they outdid themselves: They turned the whole street, 12th Avenue between Pike and Union streets, into a block party. They had help planning the event, obviously; joining La Spiga's Pietro Borghesi and Sabrina Tinsley were Jim Drohman of Café Presse, John Sundstrom of Lark, the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, and the folks at Capitol Hill Housing. Two dozen vendors filled the street between, including Scott Staples and his two "restaurant kids," Zoe and Quinn.
The weekend celebrations actually started Friday, at Westlake Avenue and Denny Way, where downtown meets South Lake Union, with a block party sponsored by Vulcan Real Estate to promote its new neighborhood, with apparent success. Two years ago, the condos were still a-building; but even six months ago they were still not a-selling. Now it seems Vulcan has pulled it off, closing on enough units (at Enso, specifically) to allow buyers into their new high-rise homes. A dozen or so wineries were pouring samples inside the Discovery Center for a $15 entrance fee, the best bargain of the month.
Over in Bellevue, El Gaucho commandeered the lawn in front of City Center Plaza for a $95, three-hour, 28-winery tasting Saturday afternoon. "My favorite event of the summer," said one young matron in summer decolleté and matching wide-brimmed hat. "I can actually talk to the wine makers, because they're here." And it's true: The food was terrific, the wines by and large excellent, the attendance, alas, somewhat sparse.
Down in Belltown, organizers of the inaugural Founders Day celebration explained it was time to present the neighborhood as more than a nightlife destination. They hired actors to portray Doc Maynard, Arthur Denny, etc. As festival director Ben Borgman, owner of Bedlam Coffee, told The Seattle Times, it's "more than what Seattle has already seen." And less, truth be told. Although the adjacent restaurants along Second Avenue were open, there were very few food vendors in the widely spaced tents, which were on the sunny (and exceedingly hot) side of the street.
Which takes us to the top of Queen Anne, to the block-square park known as the East Queen Anne Playground. Here the Canlis family, for the past four years, has sponsored a community gathering of exceeding simplicity for the young families of the neighborhood. Burgers cost $3, with paterfamilias Chris Canlis himself collecting the cash and dropping the bills into a giant kettle that gets turned over to the Queen Anne Farmers Market. Everything else — condiments, Tim's Cascade chips, watermelon, soda, chipped ice — is free. No giant bandstand, just a good-natured crowd and muted, feel-good Hawaiian melodies. The Fire Department hooks up a hose, kids run through the spray, now that's summer in Seattle.