‘De Liberta Quirkas,’ meaning ‘Freedom to be Peculiar,’ is the Fremont neighbourhood motto. This declaration blazons a giant 1950’s cold war era rocket fuselage, fully equipped with laser lights and a smoke machine, on the corner of N 35th St and Evanston Ave N.
In league with the rocket is the 17 foot hideous-yet-endearing troll under the Aurora Bridge, as is the raucous Summer Solstice Parade in all its stilted, puppet bearing, naked cyclist glory that drums to the beat of its own whacked-out marching band.
Fremont lives up to its motto, to a point. This neighbourhood, less than five miles north of the heart of downtown Seattle, continues its legacy of public art, everyday weirdness and off-the-wall-events inclined towards nudity and costumes. Yet its popularity, soaring rent prices, new luxury condos and inundation of high tech company offices have transformed it into something a tad different than its tie-dyed forefathers and mothers anticipated.
In the early 1900’s, Fremont was centred around an assemblage of industries on the north shores Lake Union. When the interurban rail line and trolley cutting through the neighbourhood were taken out of service in 1939 and 1941, respectively, the area went into rapid decline. Just north of the Fremont Bridge, a sculpture called Waiting for the Interurban commemorates the fallen rail line. These days locals routinely decorate and costume the statues.
In the 1960s, low rent attracted a counter-culture of bohemians, bikers, students and artists. The artistic renaissance led residents to proclaim that they were the ‘Center of the Universe.’ Today welcome signs still declare as much, even as the words ‘gentrification’ and ‘yuppiedom’ are muttered in the background.
With a completely different vibe from the glitz of high-brow stores of downtown, Fremont retailers and galleries tend to be unique and independently-owned. Farm-fresh produce, artwork, textiles and antiques can be perused weekly at the Fremont Sunday Market (400 N 34th St, between N Phinney Ave & Canal St). Located along a closed-off section of N 34th Street, this cacophonous flea market hosts up to 200 motley vendors.
Both innovative and sassy, Hub and Bespoke is a cycling boutique that caters to a distinctive slice of Seattle’s bicycle commuting culture. Their motto is ‘bike your style’, and they sell items like fashionable galoshes that fit over flats, vintage-inspired handlebar satchels and bike art.
Fremont holds its own when it comes to delicious cuisine. Health nuts might implode with joy when visiting the Flying Apron Bakery. It’s gluten-free, vegan and organic. On top of that, the berry-dolloped tea cakes and vegetable pizza are delicious.
On the other end of the spectrum, Seattle has a raging lust after the best burger, and Fremont’s Uneeda Burger (206-547-2600, 4306 Fremont Ave N) draws many connoisseurs its way. Inhabiting a remodeled auto garage, Uneeda Burger packs a sumptuous menu. The burger with caramelized onions, watercress and blue cheese (made with local, grass-fed Kobe beef) is pure, juicy hedonism.
Cozied up next to the University District, Fremont’s bar scene continues to build momentum, for better or worse. Folks come from all over the city for the beer selection at Brouwer’s Cafe. If you can get through its defensive line of bouncers, Brouwer’s offers 64 beers on tap and over 300 bottled brands, not to mention over 60 kinds of scotch.
Fremont also is abreast with the high Pacific Northwest standard for the other ultra-important brew: coffee. Outside of ETG Cafe (206 633-3685, 3512 Fremont Place N) a banner states in vintage lettering ‘Coffee, Scones, Pastries, Live Girls.’ There are no actual dancers, but the cafe produces an unworldly espresso that zings you to your hair follicles. The antique cash register and ethereal ceiling mural are among the creative details that make this an awesome place to caffeinate.
www.fremontuniverse.com – a blog that provides up to the minute updates on all aspects of Fremont.
www.fremontseattle.com – the chamber of commerce’s official site that includes information about neighborhood history, events and local businesses.
This article was originally published in January 2011. It was updated in June 2015 by Valerie Stimac.