Sorrow at the Space Needle: Dinner at one of Seattle’s most expensive restaurants

The iconic building is getting a major overhaul. But what about the food at SkyCity restaurant?

No one’s playing the baby grand at the restaurant at the top of the Seattle Space Needle. A sign on top of it reads “PLEASE DON’T PLAY THE PIANO.” Upon arriving for our dinner reservation, we’ve been told, peremptorily, “Go stand by the piano and we’ll call your name” — no “welcome,” no “good evening,” no “how do you do?”

A man by the piano asks a server about beer, and she names several local ones. He looks confused and says he’d like a lager. She tells him that one of the beers is the most like Manny’s. “Mayonnaise?” he says, perplexed. It’s as if somewhere in the employee manual, it says, in all caps, to act as if you do not know that pretty much everyone dining here is from somewhere else.

SkyCity at the Space Needle is set to get a major renovation by superstar architecture firm Olson Kundig, closing Sept. 5 and reopening in late spring of next year. The outer, revolving ring of the restaurant will have a cool-sounding, if acrophobic-challenging, glass floor. The current motor responsible for rotation, alarmingly lurchy at points during a visit last week, will be replaced. The stairs from the observation deck down to the restaurant will go from a brightly lit, claustrophobic passageway to a grand circular affair.

The current interior, while unobtrusive, has a dated, upscale-office aesthetic: abstract-patterned carpet, different-abstract-patterned inner walls, glass-panel dividers along the backs of banquettes. A rendering of the future SkyCity space shows spare, swooping lines and well-heeled, stylish people. An update is a great idea. But, as Mom always says, pretty is as pretty does. And dinner last week at the Space Needle wasn’t pretty, and it was damned expensive.

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After more than half a century, isn’t it about time that one of our city’s most expensive restaurants, housed in its most iconic structure, was also one of its best?

The “freshly prepared seasonal soup” promised by the menu was, our brusque server said, chicken tortilla. The staff at the Space Needle should be forgiven some short-timers’ apathy (though they have been guaranteed their jobs back and will receive a years-of-service payment, plus a stipend for benefits, during the closure), but our server’s manner and the soup du jour both…

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