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Get your summer fling on!
OK, it ain't Vegas, but can't we all just have some fun?
SEATTLE, LET'S take a moment to congratulate ourselves.
We are smart. Our region has nabbed the crown for Most Literate, Most Intelligent and Most Educated by university researchers, national magazines and the U.S. Census Bureau. Tech titans drop anchor here to fish in our local brain pool. We breed innovative ideas faster than Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar can spawn a human.
Which is all fine and good. Except that this overachiever stuff can come off a little — oh, how to put this delicately? — dull. Goody two-shoes. Frigid, if you will.
Right now it's August. It's almost the end of summer. In the few weeks we have before the sun deep-sixes on us, we need to stop playing class president and start vamping it up.
Yes, vamping. As in, channeling our inner diva. As in, unleashing that spirit yearning to surrender to its shallower self but ... can't ... stop... composting...
Sigh. This is a problem. Especially in a place where letting loose consists of blowing a week's paycheck on the latest chicken-coop accouterments. (See compost reference above.)
Lucky for you, we've figured out where to find some pockets of decadence around here. You know, the cheap and easy kinds that are supposed to make you feel indulgent. Even dirty.
No doubt this assignment would send our hotter, flashier cousins to the south, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, convulsing into fits of laughter. (We know, we know. Just try finding those two on a Phi Beta Kappa list.)
Still, they could teach us a few things about fun and frivolity.
So Seattle, it's time. Fire up your MacBook Airs and start taking notes. Class is about to begin.
JUST PAST 9 p.m. on a Saturday, across the 520 bridge and into the heart of Bellevue, dance music pulsates inside Suite Lounge, scattering shivers through the floor and the lining of the upholstered booths.
Curiosity brings me to this bar/restaurant/nightclub inside the Bellevue Hyatt, a place that would have been off my radar had it not been for some enthusiastic comments from Seattle Times photographer and hip twenty-something, Erika Schultz. She'd popped into the lounge once on a whim.
"It is a scene," she told me. "A scene."
Intrigued — Bellevue? For realz? — I do some due diligence. We were looking for a club that didn't take itself too seriously. No cover charges, no live bands, no thug-magnet potential.
To fit our requirements, which was starting to sound more like a Match.com profile, this club would have to be warm and pretty. Filled with happy people. Great DJs, a plus. Loud, but not so loud where you couldn't have a conversation. Would we ever find The One?
Turns out Suite was new in town, having opened last September to bring a "Las Vegas-type feel" to the area. It featured an opulent bar and aerial acts every half-hour between 8 and 10 p.m. No cover. No live bands.
Investigative reporting commenced.
First stop, Yelp.com. As with any venue, it had some huge fans. Others, not so much.
"This place ... made me want to shower when I got home."
Ouch. Undeterred, Schultz and I set out to experience it ourselves.
After slipping into one of the booths and ordering a Berry Bellini, I notice a man scurry by, placing a floor mat underneath a giant, hanging ring.
Soon, a blonde in a sequined red two-piece lifts herself onto the ring and starts doing things. Impressive things, like flips and upside-down splits and twists. It's gauzy yet undeniably athletic. The energy level rises as people cheer.
The crowd is well-dressed and friendly. People chat with other people simply because they're standing next to them. Women, too, are everywhere. One is celebrating her birthday with girlfriends. Another is hosting a bachelorette party.
Kate Tucker, Suite's general manager, says the club was designed to cater to females from their mid-20s to 50s. Hence the sparkly chandelier, graphic pops of damask, and the 30-glass wine list.
Arielle Rush is part of this target demographic. Rush, 22, lives in Sammamish and is headed to grad school in the fall. She grew up on the Eastside and could, eyes closed, give you a rundown on the local nightlife. Suite has "a different vibe."
"It feels loose and relaxed. It's not just about pretty women serving you ... It's an older crowd, but I feel like I can bring my young friends here, too. The mesh of age groups works well."
Then she leans in, offering up some hard-won clubgoer acumen.
"This place," she says, "is ahead of its time."
The beats of David Guetta start pounding, and Rush joins her friends, some of whom are on the dance floor where 56-year-old Nina Biliashova, a self-described "party girl," shakes it in a slinky blue dress.
Biliashova started coming here with her husband in April, and he watches ringside as his wife throws out her arms and loses herself in the music.
It's like stumbling upon a moment of pure abandon. It is, in fact, exactly what we were searching for.
NEXT, WE take you inside a subculture few might know exists in our overcast, pale-bellied jungle: that of the Spray Tan Junkie.
Nicole Munson wouldn't call herself a junkie, per se. Just Irish. Need she elaborate?
Munson, 29, talks about her addiction — er, affection — for pigmented skin as she stands inside her downtown Seattle condo wearing nothing but a green bikini. She can stand around wearing nothing but a green bikini because, ladies, if you had her body, you'd find reason to buy bread in the dead of winter in the aforementioned bikini.
Today there's a purpose to her lack of clothing. She's awaiting a house call from Wendy Smith, her personal spray tanner and owner of Divine Sunless Tanning.
Smith has the kind of career trajectory which, upon hearing the details, makes you think "Genius!" And "I only thought that happened in L.A.!"
She graduated from the Gene Juarez Academy of beauty in the 1990s and later opened her own hair studio. In early 2000, she began offering body bronzing on the side.
Over the years, she saw the demand for sunless tans rise like the chemical mist out of her spray gun. More and more people were hearing about the dangers of ultraviolet rays. At the same time, they wanted darker skin.
In 2007, she decided to scrap hairstyling and go into full-on tanning mode.
Nationally, sunless tanning has seen a meteoric rise over the past decade, according to figures released in April from IBIS World, an industry research firm.
Since 2002, the self-tanning product industry has grown every year, on average, 22.7 percent. It's projected to generate $609 million this year alone.
Smith had no data nor did she run any financial forecasts before she took the leap. She just trusted her gut, closed her salon and went mobile.
"People thought I was from Mars," Smith says. "They were like, 'In Seattle? I don't know why you're doing that. It's never going to take off.' "
Anecdotal accounts told her otherwise. People contacted her constantly, distraught, near tears, over orange, streaky and too-dark tans. Smith often had to play crisis manager.
She approaches her work with this philosophy: "You should not look like a different ethnicity when you have a spray tan."
She starts with an in-person consult. Skin is her canvas, and it is fickle. Sometimes dark in areas, lighter in others with undertones, overtones, dry patches and oily spots. All of it plays into achieving a balanced color.
Word-of-mouth referrals spread, and Smith watched her profit margin climb. She now gets booked out months in advance. True story: Paula Abdul even summoned her for services when she was in town filming "The X Factor" last year.
Melissa Middleton, editor-in-chief of Jenesequa, an iPad style magazine founded in Seattle, attributed this seemingly un-Seattle-like trend to the city's growing focus on beauty as opposed to fashion.
In fact, the American Society of Plastic Surgery released an infographic last year showing Seattle in the top 10 cities of plastic surgeons per capita.
"Beauty is more accessible than fashion," Middleton said. "And it has more staying power. We're a very healthy society. We do a lot of activities outdoors. It's not about the craziest shoe or the loudest handbag here. In Seattle, what looks healthy has a lot of appeal."
This May afternoon, Smith wears a baseball cap and sweats — no need to dress up for her job — and arrives at Munson's door with a rollaway suitcase and a pop-up tent. She gets to work, laying down towels and prepping Munson's skin. The color solution has been customized to give the Irish lass her sought-after glow. Smith's gun starts up and drowns out all other sound.
Ten minutes later, Munson is $60 poorer but pampered, and looks just as she wanted. Like she'd gotten "a little kiss" from the sun.
AND NOW, let us play.
You heard right. P-L-A-Y. Remember that? Running around outside, spinning fantasies out of whole cloth, and doing stuff, physically, with our bodies without even realizing we were "working our core" or "stabilizing our glutes"?
We adults can scarcely imagine play anymore. Once you hit that age where you're supposed to be responsible, dependable, mature — good grief, it's hard to even type those words without yawning — something inside us disappears.
Not that it dies, necessarily. It just gets buried under the demands in our daily lives.
What if you could awaken that again?
This is the dream of the Parkour Visions founders in north Queen Anne.
Parkour, if you've never heard the term, is a sport that's taking off in this country literally by leaps and bounds. The etymology of its name derives from the French word for "route," and it fuses gymnastics, stunts, climbing, running and moving, sometimes on all fours, to get from place to place. All outside. All using walls, fences and whatever is right in front of you.
"Your environment is your playground," said Tyson Cecka, who opened Parkour Visions, a nonprofit, in 2007. "It's integrating movement into the everyday. It's taking the stairs instead of the escalator. It's balancing on the curb instead of walking on the sidewalk. Play, even in small ways, pulls off the blinders in people's everyday lives."
Rafe Kelley is a co-founder and coach. He teaches adults and children, and sees firsthand the deteriorating effects of modern life on our bodies.
Children show up in his class weak, unable to even do a pullup. Not long after, they're swinging, jumping and shimmying up poles. They get stronger and don't have to suffer for it.
"Exercise is drudgery," Kelley says after a recent class at Gas Works Park. "Play is naturally rewarding. The best exercise program is the one that you do."
Beck Anderson is 13 and got excited about Parkour two years ago after a friend showed him some videos of it on YouTube. He's been taking lessons and practicing ever since. The upsides to him: "I can jump higher. I can run faster. It's easier for me to catch a Frisbee."
A young person with priorities. There's hope for us yet.
IF YOU'VE made it this far, patient reader, you deserve something for your time. Can we buy you a shot?
No, not that kind. Do you think we'd actually ply you with alcohol to keep reading? (Wait — does that work?)
Frankly, what we're about to introduce you to is something more obscene than bottom-shelf whiskey. Something known as ... a frosting shot.
Ever heard of one? It's what the cyclists entering Barbara Kiker's cupcake shop in Issaquah slurp down for a burst of fuel during the morning commute. It's what women order while planning bachelorette parties, because whipped sugar and butter apparently qualify as chasers.
The frosting shot is, in Orwellian double-think, evil-good.
Sitting atop the counter of Confetti Cupcakes on Front Street, the dollops of icing, curving elegantly inside small plastic cups, appear innocuous enough. But one taste in, and decadence grips you full-throttle.
Eyes roll back. Tongues loll out. And somehow the spoon, against your better judgment, finds its way back in.
"My mom liked a little cake with her frosting," Kiker says by way of explanation.
Frosting shots are a staple at New York Cupcakes in Bellevue and Madison Valley. Cupcake Royale also offers them on request.
Kiker decided to make the shots part of her business when she opened two years ago not only to cater to people like her mom, but also to offer something for the gluten-free sect and for those "gals I grew up with who used to eat frosting out of cans."
Priced at $1.50, the cups contain 2.8 ounces of frosting. Kiker admits she has no clue how many calories that is.
"I wouldn't want to know, either," she says.
We'd have to agree. Sometimes, what's on the surface is plenty good enough.
Sonia Krishnan is a Pacific NW staff writer. She can be reached at 206-515-5546 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @soniakri. Erika Schultz is a Seattle Times staff photographer.