Illustration by Mary Anne Carter.
When I was a kid my mom used to point at the glowing ball at the peak of The Smith Tower and say, “That’s where my friend Maura and I go to drink the blood of the gods!” I later discovered their monthly nights out were spent at the movies, but my perception of the tower as magic never changed. In fact, every experience I have there increases the number of mythological creatures whose blood I imagine the place has on tap.
I was reviewing an Irish bar at the base (or shaft, for those who refer to it as the Cock and Balls Building) of the tower when I got a ticket to the Chinese Room. I thought at the time this was the top floor of the tower. It is furnished entirely with antiques from Empress Dowager Cixi, the last empress of the Quing Dynasty. In the middle of the room, framed by a dizzying view of the sound, was an ornate chair a nearby plaque explained is magic. The rumor about the chair is that any single woman who sits in it will be married within a year, and that any wish made in the chair will be granted. I thought about this—in myths and fables, people always get themselves in trouble with such wishes. The problem is usually semantics—the wish is worded carelessly, and wish-granting entity gives them exactly the disastrous thing their words describe.
So, I sat in the chair and imagined, without words, the thing I want more than anything. I sat there steeping in the wish for a few minutes before I departed.
A month or so later, I interviewed the owner of Cassis, who once ran a French restaurant on the ground floor of the tower. “That is the most haunted building I’ve ever been in,” he told me, “the staff used to see this man in the wine cellar who was completely opaque, like a human-shaped slab of concrete. There were other ghosts too.” When he invited a specialist on these matters to investigate the haunting, he was told it would stay haunted—the land the building is on is something like a bus stop for ghosts traveling between planes.
One night I was crying in a café because my mom’s cat died, when I got a random Facebook message from someone named Petra inviting me for “drinks in the globe.” A drink sounded great. I thought “The Globe” was some bar I’d never been to, so I asked for directions. An hour later I was drinking wine with Petra and her friends inside the very lightbulb where my mom imbibed the blood of the gods. Nothing I can say does that sunset justice—the city looked like some perfect train set model of itself. I’d never seen seagulls in flight from above. At dusk, the bulb inside the glass globe flickered to life, turning everyone inside Nickelodeon purple.
Petra Franklin has lived in the apartment occupying the pyramid-shaped crown of the tower for almost 20 years. She scored a deal on the space when she agreed to give it the renovation it badly needed. She now hosts a live music series there curated by musician Kris Orlowski—the waiting list for the series can be found here.
I recently attended a Tower Session with my girlfriend and a pal who had no idea where we were going. Tickets are pricey, but if you’re looking to surprise someone you care about, you are buying an experience they’ll still be talking about in the nursing home cafeteria when they’re 90.
We met at a bar in Pioneer Square and at 6pm joined the other guests filing into the tower’s gem-like hardwood and brass elevator—the last in town that requires an operator. The dapper, uniformed operators collect tips in a brass nook and tend to be gregarious Smith Tower historians. The gathering in Petra’s living room was the closest thing I’ve seen in real life to descriptions of salons in 20s Paris—local artists dressed to the nines sipped champagne and exchanged stories beneath the catwalk that houses Petra’s extensive home library. Kris Orlowski invited us in and told us about the musicians who were on the bill that evening: Allen Stone, Corey harper, and Danielle Henry, in addition to himself. I’d encouraged my friend to dress up because I could think of nowhere we’d be more likely to encounter Oscar Wilde, and I think I saw him in the corner, making Theodore Roethke snort-laugh Moet while deftly brushing grave-dirt from his ascot.
Every flat surface was bejeweled with hors-d’oeuvres, from smoked salmon to chutney to miniature bahn mi, and wine of shades various enough Home Depot could have used the bar as a paint chip display. (I should mention this regal spread comes with the price of admission.)
I made my way up the spiral staircase and through the narrow, chimney-like aperture to the globe, and immediately burnt my hair on the light bulb inside it. “Your hair is on fire!” said the woman sitting next to me. Brimming with excitement (and champagne) I hardly cared.
I held Mary Anne’s hand, watching the performance, and feeling like, well, I was drinking the blood of the gods. The atmosphere was a rare combination of house-show intimacy and the high-art schmanciness of an evening at the opera house or town hall. Whatever makes that place special—enchanted furnishings, ghost bus stops, the 70’s bathhouse sitting vacant and pristine in the basement, the beauty of the tower’s design so lacking from the majority of new Seattle developments—hummed in the air, the sound of the city’s weird, haunted blood pumping. The next show will be on April 16th, and as the venue is a normal-sized living room, I’d encourage you to get on the list as soon as possible.
As for my wish—I’m among those who believe wishes lose their power if you tell people what you wish for. But I will say that so far, knock on wood, it seems to be coming true.