A wet, cold Wednesday evening. Finding a parking place near the restaurant — especially in Renton — I thought would be a snap...
RENTON — A wet, cold Wednesday evening. Finding a parking place near the restaurant — especially in Renton — I thought would be a snap.
It turned out to be a challenge — the place was crowded with people. A decade ago, when I worked in downtown Renton, I could have had my choice of parking spots on a damp weeknight, and I likely wouldn’t have seen anyone else on the street. Those were the days when community leaders cringed when Seattle comedian John Keister made Renton the punchline on the “Almost Live” television show. They agreed it was time to put “Renton. Ahead of the Curve” both in marketing and community attitude.
Fast forward to this January … Was it really Keister on that paid-for-by-Renton commercial during the football playoffs? Did he really claim the town is “ahead of the curve” these days? It was time to pay my old stomping grounds a visit.
It is easy to spend a day in Renton’s downtown. Here is how to do it:
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9 a.m.: Getting started
For a quick jolt, have an espresso and one — or more — of the made-from-scratch (using real sour cream and butter) frosted cupcakes, the specialty of the house at Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes, 900 S. Third St. (425-235-1717 or www.commongroundcupcakes.com). This spacious coffeehouse is a popular gathering place for “moms” groups; their little ones make for good entertainment.
The large armchairs near the fireplace at The Met Coffee & Wine Bar, 232-C Burnett Ave. S. (425-687-7989), may cause you to linger until lunch or for a later wine tasting. This cozy corner coffeehouse and wine bar has a loyal following, with one regular proclaiming it “Renton’s gathering place.”
10 a.m.: Antique District and art
Start at St. Charles Place Antiques and Restorations, 230 Wells Ave. S. (425-226-8427), a three-story showcase so jampacked that you’ll be turning sideways to squeeze past the displays. You’ll find another half-dozen antiques and collectible stores in the area, most on Third Street.
Don’t miss Uptown Glassworks, 230 Main Ave S. (425-228-1849 or www.uptownglassworks.com), next to Veterans Memorial Park. Glass art by some 70 Pacific Northwest artists is displayed in this cavernous 100-year-old building. You may catch an artist or two blowing glass in the workshop at the back of the gallery.
The Renton History Museum, 235 Mill Ave. S. (425-255-2330 or www.rentonhistory.org), is just around the corner and east of Uptown Glassworks.
Heat up your visit with a stop at Naan-N-Curry, 709 S. Third St. (425-271-6226 or www.nncurry.com), serving aromatic East Indian and Pakistani selections for lunch and dinner. Approach with a hearty appetite.
Lidya’s Boutique and Grocery Store, 601 S. Third St. (425-988-3489), offers a traditional deli sandwich of roast beef, turkey or ham ($7.99), or try an antelope, bison or elk burger ($9.99). Browse the store’s eclectic inventory — grocery items to organic cotton bed sheets — while waiting for your sandwich, which can be eaten onsite or made to go.
Early afternoon: Shopping
Renton’s downtown is a mix of locally owned, one-of-a-kind shops. Indiana Allen’s Hats Exclusively for You, 415 S. Third St. (866-793-0652 or www.hatsexclusivelyforyou.com), features designer hats and wigs. The stylish collection of designer bonnets will tempt.
Sweetgrass Home & Garden, 332 Burnett Ave. S. (425-226-7280 or www.sweetgrasshome.com), has high-end home and garden decorating items as well as ladies lounge wear; children’s garments; and gifts, creams and lotions. Across the hall, BJ’s Boutique (206-679-3864 or www.BJ-fashionboutique.com) sells upscale women’s clothing and accessories.
The Cedar River runs through the heart of town, and because the Renton Public Library, 100 Mill Ave. S., straddles it, the library’s entryway patio is perfect for river watching. If you’ve got the energy, you can walk to Lake Washington from here along the Cedar River Trail.
The Red House Beer and Wine Shoppe and Tapas Bar, 410 Burnett Ave. S. (425-226-2666 or www.redhousebeerandwine.com), has more than 700 labels of wines and 500 beers from around the world. Guests to this mid-century home-turned-restaurant-store sit and sip in rooms with walls lined with wine racks and displays of beer. We chose a $6.95 cheese “plate” from the extensive tapas menu; what arrived was a meal-sized platter heaped with six types of cheese, olives, capers and toasted rustic bread.
The Whistle Stop Ale House, a longtime Renton favorite, has moved to a new location, 809 S. Fourth St. (425-277-3039 or www.whistlestopalehouse.com).
The Triple Crown of fine dining has come to the corner of Wells Avenue and Houser Way. There are fish, steak and chops served — and live jazz Friday and Saturday nights — at Fin-N-Bone, 330 Wells Ave. S. (425-271-6644 or www.finnbone.com), or Italian fare at the longtime Renton favorite, Armondo’s Cafe Italiano, now in new upscale digs at 310 Wells Ave. S. (425-228-0759 or www.armondos.com). We chose the historic Melrose Grill, a steakhouse at 819 Houser Way (425-254-0759 or www.melrosegrill.com). Back in 1901, the place was a 60-room-hotel, with cafe and saloon. The original ornate wood bars are still in use.
Catch a performance at the Renton Civic Theater, 507 S. Third St. (425-226-5529 or www.rentoncivictheater.org), a restored 1920s movie house with its art-deco lobby and spiraling staircase, or the 546-seat community Ikea Performing Arts Center, 400 S. Second St., at Renton High School (425-204-3454).
Jackie Smith is a freelance writer who lives in Kirkland.