Seattle’s Funky Alternative Museums

EMP and SFM dazzle music and sci-fi fans

By: Andréa R. Vaucher

SEATTLE Seattle really benefited from that fateful day when I fantasize Paul Allen’s girlfriend told the Microsoft cofounder to “get that stuff out of the house!” and the billionaire had to find a place to house his extensive collection of rock memorabilia and sci-fi artifacts.

“People keep coming over,” she probably complained. “Maybe they’ll pay to see it.”

First came the Experience Music Project, or EMP, which Frank Gehry designed, taking his cue from those vibrantly hued electric guitars Allen loved to collect.

What began five years ago as an ode to Jimi Hendrix Allen’s favorite musician morphed into an all-encompassing interactive music experience as other collectors loaned or sold Allen their own musical rarities.

Today, EMP includes not only extensive Hendrix and Beatles collections, but also a display of guitars played by the music world’s Who’s-Who and a Sound Lab that will turn any would-be musician into a virtual rock star by recreating the rock arena experience.

A few months ago, Allen’s outer space and science fiction booty became the nucleus of the new Science Fiction Museum, located in the same building.

Here, sci-fi aficionados can enjoy first editions of sci-fi classics by everyone from Bradbury to Verne, artifacts from Harlan Ellison’s old Remington typewriter to Darth Vader’s helmet; plus posters, costumes and scary props from films such as “Star Wars” and “Alien.”

There’s much less interactivity here than at the EMP, but on a recent visit all the kids I encountered had eyes as big as saucers as they came face to face with E.T., the Alien Queen and R2D2. They gawked at Klingon daggers and light sabers, explored wormholes and cool spaceships, and watched film clips of Jim Cameron and George Lucas, who have lent numerous relics to the museum, explaining how they turned their sci-fi fantasies into blockbuster films.

I’m not a sci-fi buff and, frankly, other than the suit Sean Young wore in “Blade Runner,” one of my favorite movies, nothing really made my jaw drop.

I did get a kick out of seeing the M&Ms that recently ventured into space and back on SpaceShipOne, the first non-government manned rocket ship, another Paul Allen-financed venture. And I was dazzled by a computer generated trip to sci-fi’s most famous cities including those of “The Matrix” and “The Jetsons.”

On the other hand, even those who have never understood the hoopla surrounding the now 63-year-old singer-songwriter will be drawn into EMP’s new exhibit “Bob Dylan’s American History: 1956-1966,” which runs through Sept. 5.

Curator Jasen Emmons amassed an impressive array of items from Dylan collectors around the world that includes handwritten lyrics to “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Blowing in the Wind,” which give an intimate glimpse into Dylan’ s creative process. Emmons also found a German collector with over 100 different cover versions of “Blowing in the Wind,” which visitors can listen to.

Besides high school yearbooks, his first Martin guitar and the tambourine that inspired “Mr. Tambourine Man,” there are recent interviews with Dylan shot by Martin Scorsese for a PBS “American Masters” series that will air in 2005.

If your clients combine visits to EMP and SFM with a quick trip to SAM (Seattle Art Museum) to see the magnificent works by Goya, El Greco and Velazquez in the current show, “Spain in the Age of Exploration: 1492-1819,” which runs until Jan. 2, they’ll surely find a dose of culture for every age group and inclination in the family.



Across the street from the grande dame of Seattle hotels, the Fairmont Olympic, the W stands in no other hotel’s shadow.

Sleek as a whippet yet cozy as a Tahoe cabin with its blazing fireplace in the sunken lobby library, the W is one of the hippest places to stay in Seattle these days. Its bar is where the latte set gathers in the afternoon and the martini sippers congregate at night, its “Whatever, Whenever” service cranks the concierge trade up a notch and its beds are sumptuous.

Best of all, rooms are priced according to occupancy, so a rate of about $199 for a “wonderful king” is fairly standard.

Even if the W Seattle didn’t have such dreamy beds, clients should still go there to eat at Earth & Ocean, the testament to executive chef Maria Hines’ love affair with the local food resources and small organic farms of the Pacific Northwest.

As part of a triumvirate that includes award-winning pastry chef Sue McCowen and sommelier Marc Papineau, Earth & Ocean is sophisticated enough to serve sweetbreads and fun enough to offer a gooey desert called

Tell your clients not to miss the free-range Sonoma duck leg confit or the truffle fries, golden brown French fries showered with garlic and truffle oil. And oenophiles will delight in sipping and conversing with Papineau who’s as humble as he is knowledgeable about Washington and Oregon wines.

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