Seattle’s French Underground

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Seattlites celebrate Bastille Day with performances at Pike Place Market./Photo by Steven Sampson.

Seattle is 5,000 miles from Paris, yet its Francophone roots run deep. Until 1849 most residents in the Seattle region spoke only one European language: French. An 1813 list of “First American Settlers” to the area contains only French names, such as Boucher, Gardepied and Montigny. Published by the Hudson’s Bay Company, a fur trader, the list gives a preview of what would happen almost two centuries later, when a combination of the aerospace, high-tech and green industries brought around 10,000 French residents to Puget Sound.

Seattle is frequently praised in France for being a city where one can have a bio (organic) lifestyle. The French magazine Geo has lauded Seattle’s “energie alternative,” Le Monde dubbed Seattle “the city with a green approach” and Le Figaro calls it a place “where capitalism meets progressive politics.” French people love Seattle, and here are some reasons why:

Air France runs daily flights between Paris and Seattle.

The Alliance Française in Seattle./Picture courtesy Paul Dorpat.

The Alliance Française’s center in Seattle is a lively one. In addition to holding language classes, the school offers cinema presentations and social events. Its electronic newsletters provide updates on local films, events and visits by French luminaries, who range from academics to Charlotte Gainsbourg. The center is located on the beautiful grounds of the landmark Good Shepherd Center.

The Ballard farmer’s market is held Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The market itself is a gorgeous mix of fresh flowers, artisan breads, cheeses, produce and fish, and you’ll find everything from salmon to squash blossoms. Location alone makes this market worth visiting, as the surrounding historic neighborhood is full of charming boutiques. There’s also Bastille, a very large French café/bar that grows its own greens on its 4,500-square-foot roof. The outside deck can be lovely, but avoid the “sexy” backroom bar.

More than 300 bédéistes live in or near Seattle, attracted by Fantagraphics Books, the world’s largest independent publisher of bandes dessinées (comic strips). Well-known in Paris, the publisher runs its own bookstore in a southern Seattle suburb, with a unique array of comic and art books. Go for the rarities, bargains and artist receptions.

With so many boulangeries, Seattle is spoiled for good bread and patisseries. Downtown, we recommend Le Panier; in West Seattle, Bakery Nouveau; and in Bellevue, Belle Pastry.

French film screenings are among the offerings at the Alliance Française.

Seattle has several French conversation groups, but French Conversation Meetup boasts 800 members. These groups meet biweekly in bars and coffeehouses, and they’re easy to join. They attract a surprising array of people, from recently returned students to newly hired French techies.

French football and French newspapers and magazines can be enjoyed with coffee, pastries and classic café food at Café Presse, in Capitol Hill.

Madison Valley calls itself Seattle’s French Quarter. This ritzy neighborhood is home to the elegant French restaurant Rover’s, a pricey gem run by chef Thierry Rautureau. He also runs Luc, which serves less-formal fare. Francophiles on more of a budget might prefer the Côte Crêperie.

The historic Pike Place Market is one of America’s oldest continuously operating farmer’s markets. At First and Pike News you’ll find French newspapers and magazines, while the lovely accessories store Fini will charm credit cards out of your wallet. For French dining you have many choices. The oldest spots are Maximilien and Place Pigalle, and the grandest is Campagne. But by far the most enjoyable is the latter’s brasserie, Café Campagne. There is also casual French fare downtown at the Virginia Inn and Le Pichet, its pricier neighbor.

Café Campagne, at Pike Place Market.

Paris fashion can be found at Lola Pop. While real fashion (as opposed to vintage or grunge) is hard to find in Seattle, the quirky neighborhood of Fremont boasts this tiny yet ultra-French boutique. Owner Muriel Monteiro makes frequent trips to Paris, and she stocks Chantal Thomass umbrellas for Seattle rain, as well as Paris labels like Claudie Pierlot, Barbara Bui, Catherine André and Repetto.

So if you are missing Paris, a quick trip to Seattle might assuage your longings.

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