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Seattle's Arctic Club mines gold rush-era memories

The Doubletree hotel offers a pleasing 'Call of the Wild' aesthetic, rich in detail and consistent with the edifice's history.

October 04, 2009|John Horn

SEATTLE — When you stay at a Doubletree Hotel, little sets it apart from other mid-priced business/leisure hotels except the warm chocolate chip cookies at check-in -- more than 10 million a year, by the chain's count.

But it's not the promise of a chewy nibble that's likely to catch your attention when you enter Doubletree's Arctic Club in downtown Seattle. Rather, it's the property itself: an immaculately restored, nearly century-old social lodge so specific in its Gold Rush details that you want to pull down one of the many vintage maps from the lobby walls, jump on a dog sled and head for the Klondike.

The Hilton chain, which owns Doubletree, recently reopened the 1893-era Roosevelt New Orleans under its Waldorf Astoria brand, but historic properties and big hotel chains otherwise aren't exactly Facebook friends. Still, there's something at work with Hilton in the Pacific Northwest. When we visit my in-laws in Oregon, our family generally stays at the Embassy Suites Portland (part of another Hilton-owned chain), a loving renovation of 1912's grand Multnomah Hotel that, without the chain's trademark breakfast buffet, wouldn't be recognizable as anything but an upscale, architecturally significant lodging.

The Arctic Club, built in 1916, was named for the social organization it once housed. Besides local business leaders (sepia-toned portraits of its earliest members are hung on the walls surrounding the hotel's reception desk, along with displays of period bowler hats and men's detachable shirt collars), the Arctic Club was also populated with explorers, many of whom made their fortunes mining gold in Alaska and the Yukon Territory.

The building features a third-floor exterior decorated with 23 walrus-head moldings, their original ivory tusks long since replaced.

It's a short walk from Pike Place Market and Rem Koolhaas' dramatic Seattle Public Library. The Arctic Club is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a city landmark.

A more than two-year overhaul of this city landmark by the Hotel Group (the Arctic Club became part of the Doubletree chain in March, after it had reopened in the summer of 2008) preserved the Arctic Club's origins and carried the same "Call of the Wild" aesthetic into the guest rooms. The hotel's wood-paneled lobby doesn't share the high, vaulted ceilings of the nearby ultra-luxe Fairmont Olympic Hotel, but the Arctic Club is much cozier than hotels with cavernous atriums, the kind of place that needs (and, in fact, has) a big fireplace.

The lobby-level Polar Bar (an entry sign says "No minors, no firearms") is outfitted with dark leather chairs, wood writing desks with atlases, and lamps with armatures fashioned out of vintage planes. The ceiling fixtures resemble wagon wheels, and the maps along the walls include the 1902-surveyed geologic reconnaissance map of Alaska's Nehana-Kantishna region. The elevator interiors are decorated with hand-painted diagrams of constellations.

Like seven other top-floor guest rooms, my oversized 10th-floor room featured a rooftop terrace, with a small seating area offering views of the skyline and Puget Sound. The spacious rooms are decorated much like the Arctic Club's public areas: Underneath the glass top of my reading table was a sketch of Robert Peary at the North Pole, and one of the two (yes, two) desks in the bedroom was filled with office supplies: scissors, a stapler, rubber bands and paper clips. The dark wood king bed was covered with a wool throw, the hotel's name stitched in a period typeface, and the spacious bathroom (set off from the bedroom by massive wood doors and stenciled, beveled glass) had a marble-and-wood console sink.

There are two food options inside the hotel. The ground-floor lobby bar serves good snacks (risotto croquettes with red onion jam for $6) alongside specialty drinks such as a blood orange sidecar ($10) and Alaskan Amber ($5) beer on draft. The adjoining Juno (get the name?) restaurant has a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu; I had a great French dip sandwich for lunch ($12).

The Arctic Club sits on Seattle's dividing line. Walk three blocks south and you're stepping over homeless people and being asked to buy drugs. About the same distance the other way, you're sipping a latte outside Koolhaas' library. But the best part of the Arctic Club experience is inside its doors.

And how was the famous Doubletree warm cookie? Nobody ever offered me one, and it didn't really matter.




Doubletree Arctic Club Hotel

700 3rd Ave.


(206) 340-0340

Doubles from $159.

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