Sunday, February 09, 2014

Postcard from Bellingham

This past week, the Lovely Bride and I celebrated our 31st Anniversary. For our 30th, we snuck off to Maui. For our 31st, we headed north for Bellingham.

We've actually made it a thing for the past few years - doing local weekend getaways - Alderwood down on Hood Canal, Snohomish Lodge, even downtown Seattle. It is a way to break away from the regular duties, and to hang out, play games together, and read.

So, this time, Bellingham. The vibe I got of the town was very much similar to Madison, another railroad town with a university present. Actually, it is four different towns that eventually grew together, which explains both the multiple old-building shopping areas and the street grid, which bounces off at all angles. The place has a strong progressive vibe to it plus an old-time industrial feel, and the current stress seems to be between those pushing for more commercial/tourist activity versus acting as a transportation hub (looking at the recent concerns about a proposed coal-loading platform).

We stayed at the Belleweather, a recent creation on the coast, a peninsula with new buildings including hotel, restaurants, and shops. We had a water view, which meant a view of the marina along one side. The place was nice, but there were weirdnesses - a huge bathroom with an deceptively small tub, a gas fireplace without a couch in front of it (instead two stiff-backed chairs), and those weird louvered windows between the bathroom and bedroom (which work as a concept only if you don't have the toilet visible as a result). The staff was positive, though, and the main room was dominated by Biscuit, the resident yellow lab. It was good but not great, and to be frank, a Sunday morning fire alarm did little to improve things for us (which was when we discovered the phone didn't work).
Henderson Books - Bigger on the Inside

Bellingham is the home of the Whatcom Museum of History and Art and the Sparks Museum of Electrical Invention, neither of which we visited. Instead we pampered ourselves with hot stone massages (at Zazen, also on this peninsula, and recommended), and book shopping. This is probably one point it reminded me of Madison. Michael's on Grand was recommended on the net, and  was a sprawling bookstore in disarray, where you had to do a lot of digging to find anything you are after. Good for treasure hunting, but the history section looked like a small hurricane had hit it. However, Henderson Books directly across the street was neatly arranged, well-organized, and had exactly what I was looking for (Books on the War of 1812 from Canadian or British publishers). So yeah, if you're looking for something specific, head for Henderson.

On restaurants, the ones on the peninsula were totally OK, but the best ones we found were in the city proper. Anthony's has an outpost here, and its Hearthfire was large, noisy (we were fortunate to be in a sub-room), and had good ribs and a crab mac and cheese the LB liked. The local Italian place had for me a good lobster ravioli/shrimp for me, but the LB's veal chop marsala had a burnt sauce. And breakfast at the hotel was a sad thing - mushy oatmeal and an under-seasoned omelette from one of those automatic machines, and a negligible buffet. It was bad enough that on Sunday, after being roused by the fire alarm, we still chose to seek breakfast elsewhere.

The good places in Bellingham were more local oriented as opposed to traveler/tourist formatted. The Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro was pretty damn brilliant. The LB chose it solely for the BLAT (Bacon/Letuce/Avocado/Tomato), but the young lady at the front desk of the day spa raved about their beers, so I ordered a sampler. Six 5 oz. glasses on a place mat informing you of their natures (as I child I would get a place mat with a maze and maybe a word jumble - this was better). The best of their regular brews were the Scotch Ale and the Blonde, but the ESB and Red Ale were excellent, and the Oatmeal Stout went nicely with a well-prepared lamb burger. I'm not a fan of IPAs, I have decided, but discovered by the end of the meal that this sample had vanished as well.
Art at the Harris Avenue Cafe by Gretchin Leggitt.

Anyway, after a Saturday Breakfast Fail at the hotel, we cast out for on the net for a replacement for Sunday, and ended up in Fairhaven, which was one of the OTHER towns that melded to form Bellingham. Fairhaven itself has the small-town charm of old buildings re-purposed to art shops and restaurants, and one of these was the Harris Avenue Cafe (which is attached to Tony's Coffee & Espresso, and in cold weather, you come in through the coffee shop). And it was wonderful. I had an amazing italian sausage omelette that was folded enough times to resemble origami.The LB, daunted by the eggs on the menu, went with oatmeal (which was real, thick, and fruited), toast, and asparagus (the waitress said everything on the menu was available). And she raved on the asparagus (grilled, not steamed), the oatmeal and toast. Yeah, it was a good turn for the final day in Bellingham.

Both Boundary Bay and Harris Avenue were crowded, and the crowd was a mix of townies and students, baseball caps and fashionable scarves. For Bellingham, I would say hair colors not found in nature, tattoos, and piercings are a good sign for the quality of the food. And that's among the clientele. The more traveler-oriented spots were OK, but just OK. The stuff in the older buildings, re-purposed for new businesses, hung with local decor or art (Gretchen Leggit had her art at the Harris, which made me find her site, which I then recommend as well), is where to find the good stuff. It is worth hunting down when you are in Bellingham.

More later,