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Romantic Grit

The Sou’Wester Lodge peeks out among a cluster of midcentury cabins. Photo by Jonathan Zwickel

As in many of Washington’s salty coastal towns, the ebb and flow of seasons dictates the shifting ambiance of Seaview, a tiny municipality nestled along the Pacific Ocean three hours southwest of Seattle. In the cold season, the ocean churns and the sky is paper-white, occasionally dappled with razor-bright sun. Coastal locals trounce around the edge of the ocean, punching the beach with clam guns. During short-lived summer, vacationers flock for seaboard festivities, the pastel taffy shops and go-kart tracks flush with sticky-fingered children.

At the locus of this rugged, romantic grit is the Sou’Wester Lodge—a destination for every artist and aesthete’s bucket list. With vibes that rival the twee charm of a Portlandia sketch, the Sou’Wester comprises a labyrinthine campground of small brick-red cabins, campsites, vintage Airstream trailers and one august, three-story lodge. The lodge was built in 1892 by businessman and U.S. Senator Henry Winslow Corbett as a private vacation home. In the ’50s the place was opened to the public, its second-story ballroom carved into guest rooms.

Cabins were added soon after, along with an assortment of trailers that range from the tiny, rustic “Potato Bug” to deluxe models like the elephantine “African Queen,” which sleeps six and sports a spacious loft. Sou’Wester founder Thandi Rosenbaum bought the property in 2012 after she stumbled across it—by then dilapidated—for sale. Bent on transforming the space into an artistic haven, she embarked on a project that would become as much gesamtkunstwerk as hospitality.

History still clings to the corners of the lodge, with its rustic feel, crackling turn-of-the-century hearth and library stocked with vintage vinyl and VHS tapes. On weekends, the lodge’s common room doubles as a performance space, featuring touring bands from around the Northwest. Mamook Wellness, which operates out of a 1954 Boles Aero camper with a Finnish sauna and outdoor spa garden, offers workshops, massage and meditation on site. Artists lead summer camps for students of any age, with workshops in printmaking, painting, foraging and writing.

The Sou’Wester’s artist residency, offered on weekdays year-round, eschews the standard requirements and panelist reviews. Artists can apply anytime and, if accepted, they’re left alone to hole up in a trailer at a discount. A 1968 Ford Champion motorhome is outfitted as an analog recording studio, equipped with mics, reel-to-reel recorders, amps, vintage Califone record players and crates filled with toy instruments.

Ten steps from the campground, Seaview’s crown-jewel restaurant The Depot resides in a turn-of-the-century train depot. There, chef Michael Lalewicz prepares “Oysters ‘Scargot” with impossibly fresh, wild Willapa petite oysters broiled in garlic-lime butter. House-made potato gnocchi are smothered in a ragout of braised wild boar and red wine. On Wednesday’s burger night, build your own burger—beef, oyster or buffalo—
and eat alongside locals instead of tourists.

Across the street in a less-glamorous lemon-yellow compound is Rod’s Lamplighter, Seaview’s dive bar. If you didn’t stumble in, you’ll definitely stumble out, thanks to the hair-raisingly stiff drinks.

The 1953 Zelmar Cruiser model camper—with wood-paneled walls and windows dressed in heavy, moss green curtains—is one of a fleet of vintage travel trailers available for nightly rentals. Photo by Amanda Manitach

Borrow one of the Sou’Wester’s creaky cruiser bikes and head up Pacific Avenue to the 70-year-old Crab Pot, where the captain’s platter arrives as a mountain of breaded, deep fried local razor clams, scallops, oysters and tartar sauce—perfect for soaking up last night’s adventure at the Lamplighter.

Further into town, there’s no end to the sugary oddities at the Candy Man, with its specialty “sea foam” chocolates, puck-size nuggets of spun molasses dipped in milk chocolate; nuclear peppers, monster jalapenos stuffed with crunchy peanut butter and dipped in chocolate; and maple-covered bacon slabs. The mayor of Long Beach operates the Cottage Bakery & Delicatessen, where the clam chowder tastes of the sea and the old-fashioned donuts are worth their fluffy weight in gold.

Back at the Sou’Wester, the lodge’s wraparound porch functions as a 24-hour dry goods shop where guests tally purchases on a notepad posted by the reception door. A vintage fridge is stuffed with bottles of extra-tart organic cranberry juice produced at the nearby Starvation Alley Cranberry Farms. Shelves are stocked with locally produced craft soaps and zines by Sou’Wester artists-in-residence and weathered wooden bins overflow with onions and potatoes grown in Krist Novoselic’s garden in the neighboring town of Deep River.

Leaving Seaview is bittersweet, a return to a century momentarily forgotten. This littoral dreamscape—set where Lewis and Clark reached the edge of the continent to confront the vastness of the sea—collects the detritus of time, the dilapidation of rusty carnival rides and candy shops still cared-for, surrounded by whipped waves and cranberry bogs the color of blood, and tiny houses where the present melts into past.

See more in the April 2017 issue   →