Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dale Chihuly's Urge to Collect Stuff

Dale Chihuly is something of a pack-rat, and now that he's rich and famous he can indulge his inclination. The new Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center, a $20 million project funded by the Space Needle, is a sort of corporate vanity project. They're careful not to call it a museum; it's more like an indoor-outdoor library of Chihuly's Greatest Hits (the chandeliers, ceilings, sunbursts and flowers; the forests, sea creatures, globes and reeds) on the former Funhouse site that's sure to become a treasured tourist destination.

Tucked onto the north end is a moderately priced restaurant called the Collections Cafe, which houses some 28 displays of Chichuly's personal stash of ephemera: ceramic dogs, bottle openers, Mexican ashtrays, pocket knives, inkwells, alarm clocks, vintage plastic radios, kitchen string holders (like Tom Douglas has at Cuoco), cast-iron dogs, fish lures, tin toys, carnival prizes, dollhouse furniture, shaving brushes, Christmas ornaments, and, hanging from the ceiling, a cacaphony of accordions, squeezeboxes, concertinas and stomach Steinways.

No one's pretending that these are carefully curated examples of, say, the perfect cast-iron bouquet doorstop. But isn't this the territory Tom Robbins satirized two decades ago in Another Roadside Attraction? Personally, I'm more impressed with Chihuly's talent as a draughtsman; three dozen of his colorful drawings adorn one of the walls.

No matter! Let's move on to the food and wine: custom bottles of Dunham Cellars chardonnay and syrah labeled Billy O "Mazie" and "Mighty," respectively, named for Chihuly's right-hand man, Billy O'Neill. Craft beers from local brewers. Regional fare designed by Seattle's pre-eminent menu consultant, Jason Wilson, and executed by former Hunt Club exec chef Ivan Szilac under the watchful eye of the Needle's exec chef Jeff Maxfield. For a 50-seat restaurant, the kitchen is way overbuilt; that's because it will also handle catering for the Glasshouse, a spectacular, new 40-foot-tall conservatory appended to the building. There, under a 100-foot vine of red-yellow-orange-amber glass blossoms, Seattle swells will find their new fave gathering spot for prestigious parties.

But watch out! Chihuly's latest purchase, announced to a gathering of writers sampling the Cafe's fare, was described as a warehouse full of milkshake mixers.
Collections Cafe, 305 Harrison, Seattle, 206-753-4940 Collections Cafe  on Urbanspoon

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