Luxurious sleep and dreams of gold

Seattle's Arctic Club

On a 6-hour layover in Seattle, we took the train into downtown. I've wanted to see the historic Arctic Hotel for a long time. And in my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants traveling style, I didn't look up to see what stop that might be or the actual address.

So I looked at the city map, remembered it was Cherry Street and maybe, Third, and took a stab at Pioneer Square.

As the escalator rose to street level, I looked up and there were the extraordinary walrus heads, once terra cotta now fiberglass, lining the third floor façade. I had done it again!

The staff was very accommodating in allowing me to photograph and ask lots of questions.

The Arctic Club was founded in 1908 by successful veterans of the Klondike Gold Rush. Housed in a building at Third Avenue and Jefferson Street, the members decided after some trouble with the owner to build a club headquarters.

Seattle architect A.Warren Gould designed a building in the Beaux Arts style, fashionable at the time, and with northern touches like the walrus heads. And inside the men's club, the Arctic theme continues with the Polar Bar, originally from the first building but stolen by hoisting it through a window. Good thing too – the bar is a wonder with illuminated ice blue glass panels that remind one of a glacier or an iceberg floating in the Chukchi Sea. Right off the spacious lobby with its deep easy chairs and couches and big stone fireplace, it takes one back to the days of opulence fueled by Klondike riches.

The newspaper of the day reported on its activities, which seemed to revolve around eating and dancing.

The walls are covered with pictures of the founders, and many Edward S. Curtis photographs of Alaska Natives.

If you're used to staying in a Motel 6 or sandwiched into a Westmark room, the accommodations will be a pleasant relief. Spacious and nicely decorated in period style, in mid-winter they are quite an affordable splurge. DoubleTree by Hilton offers a senior rate that brings the price down nicely to $217 for two queen-sized beds and all the usual amenities. If you're celebrating a milestone, go for the king bed, balcony room with a whirlpool bath for $284.

And consider holding a meeting here in the Northern Lights Dome Room, which can hold 320, with its glass ceiling of leaded glass that mimics the lights of the aurora.

Request a room with a view of the Alaska Building. Erected in 1903 and the first steel-frame structure, it was a reaction to the gold rush and intended to encourage commerce between Seattle and Alaska.

A word here about Pioneer Square: it is probably not the best place to walk around alone at night. It's not that it's in a bad neighborhood – the main library and city hall are nearby-it's just more of a rough city atmosphere than some Alaskans might be used to.

There is a good restaurant and a bad restaurant nearby. At Third Avenue take a right to Wild Ginger, a most excellent eatery specializing in Pacific Rim cuisine culled from the owners trips across Asia. It has great ambience, with high ceilings yet not noisy.

To your left at Third, there is a Chinese takeout that will remain unnamed, and never to be entered ever again.

Please, Alaska Airlines, remember your roots

In this state you get to call the governor by their first name, no puffery, no snobbishness - Alaska egalitarianism.

Last time I was waiting in line at the Alaska Airlines gate, I heard them read off a list of, what would you call it, classes? First Class, MVP, MVP Gold, MVP Gold 75K, and then "rows." Rows? Like in a slave galley?

It's bad enough you have to pay extra to sit in exit rows or bulkhead seats now, but to be made to feel like a scum because you can only afford coach is insulting, and yes, un-Alaskan. And if those seats are more expensive, why can't the seats that don't recline be cheaper?

Furthermore, the seats on the new planes, the 737-800s, are so uncomfortable and tight, I'm thinking of not flying Alaska again. I'm short and my feet don't touch the floor so my legs go numb. Please put in plastic footrests - it would be a real PR feat.

And when the airlines celebrated its 75th birthday, they had the cake in only Seattle. What an insult.