Affectionately considered a shtetl in the South End, Seward Park houses Seattle’s largest observant Jewish community. The eruv-bound neighborhood has five synagogues and a Kollel, and its main thoroughfare becomes a family parade on Shabbat and holidays. The neighborhood, which was established after the Jewish community of the Central District relocated en masse in the early 1960s, has a suburban feel — yet it maintains proximity to the wildlife wonderland of Seward Park and the bustling north-south Rainier Avenue corridor, with its public transportation, immigrant businesses, and the hip districts of Hillman City and Columbia City.
Seward Park’s business district— if you can call it that — went up a couple of notches when Raconteur and Third Place Books moved into the old PCC a few years ago. The restaurant-pub-bookstore is regularly bumping, especially on trivia night. It gets extra points for keeping kosher wine on tap, which is best sipped on balmy summer evenings on the small patio. The space succeeds at being multipurpose, with a café that serves a solid latte to the work-from-coffee-shop crowd and the lit lovers drawn to the shelves of books and nerd swag like moths to the light. The place as a whole has provided a welcome new central meeting point for Seward Parkers. Across the street is the
equally popular Caffe Vita, the neighborhood’s long-standing meeting spot where you will — every time, without exception — run into someone you know, from a local rabbi to that mom from the playground. A few blocks north, on the corner of Genesee and Wilson, are the raved-about Flying Squirrel Pizza Co and brunch hot spot Both Ways Cafe. Pop over to Rainier Avenue for the subdued beer scene at NW Peaks Brewery and Slow Boat Tavern in Hillman City. This little stretch of Rainier is a prelude to Columbia City, home to a crop of new restaurants, like industrial-chic Super Six and smoothie-centric Taproot Cafe & Bar.
Seward Park emerged as Seattle’s largest observant community when, in the mid-20th century, three congregations relocated to the lakeside neighborhood from the crowded Central District. The state’s oldest Ashkenazi Orthodox congregation, Bikur Cholim Machzikay-Hadath (BCMH), runs a campus that includes the local mikveh, a summer camp, and the girls’ high school Derech Emunah. Across the street is Sephardic Bikur Holim, which carries the torch of Turkish tradition, and about half a mile up the road is Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, honoring the Island of Rhodes. These latter two congregations anchor Seattle’s Sephardic population — the third largest community in the country — not only with liturgy and programming but also with food festivals touting delectable pastries. Within the last decade, as the Ashkenazi community diversified, two new shuls popped up: the Modern Orthodox Minyan Ohr Chadash and the Hasidic-leaning Ashreichem Yisrael. All the congregations open their doors for daily, Shabbat, and holiday prayer services, as well as community-wide speakers and events.
Down the hill from the cluster of synagogues is Seward Park, the neighborhood’s namesake, which juts out into Lake Washington like a big thumbs-up. Next to a much-loved playground — with views of Mount Rainier and rafts of ducks idling by — the Audubon Center
offers family-friendly events like owl prowls, bat walks, and toddler “Tales and Trails.” On summer days, kids (and grownups) splash at the beach until the sun goes down, and all year round the 2.5-mile “loop” is enjoyed by outdoor lovers who stop to gawk at eagles above and turtles sunning on docks. For the opposite experience, the venues along Rainier Avenue provide nightlife exciting enough for the low-key local populace (hey, we have to work tomorrow). Ark Lodge is a worthy independent cinema deserving of our business. Catch a flick, then grab a scoop of Thin Mint ice cream at Molly Moon’s, or spend an afternoon adopting new houseplants at Columbia City Bouquet, browsing the racks of quality second-hand clothing at Gather, or shopping for your precocious niece at Retroactive Kids.