2901 E. Madison St.
Seattle, WA 98112
As a non-meat-eater for close to 30 years, I have loved dining at Café Flora during my life as a walker, a cane-user, a walker-user, and a wheelchair user. I have made sure that all our out-of-town guests have sampled the amazing Cheesy Grits that accompany beautiful and delicious breakfast scrambles. I have introduced lunch buddies
to the addictive Portobello French Dip sandwich and perfectly crisped yam fries. I have made a full dinner out of Café Flora’s wonderful coconut tofu appetizer, having to fight with daughters and sisters over that last cube of tofu. I have felt lucky to be able to take my vegan and gluten-free friends to Café Flora for a meal that is creative, satisfying, and anxiety-free.
Not only have I loved the food at Café Flora, but I have loved the space itself. The garden room is a gorgeous place to dine whether in August with the sweet summer air wafting through the room’s open windows or in November with only the silvery Seattle light shining through. I have also loved the staff. They are attentive and interesting. Such a frequent guest am I that once in a Thai restaurant a Café Flora waitress came up to me and said, “I know you from Café Flora. Aren’t you the one who leaves the big tips?”
Because I love this place so much, it is very hard for me to give it only three and a half wheels, but in terms of access, there are some problems here.
Parking: The combination of parking difficulty and entrance issues creates some challenges for people using canes, walkers, or wheelchairs. There is street parking near the restaurant, but it is almost always full. Down the road about a half block or so from Café Flora is a parking area that guests can use. Spaces in that area are tight; the lot is gravelly so uneven; and it is far enough away to be a workout for those using a walker or a cane.
There is also a tiny parking area behind the restaurant with one handicapped spot right next to the back door. If that spot is not blocked by delivery trucks, taken by others, or crowded by the SUV next to it, it’s a good place to park if you are ambulatory and not self-conscious. It is not so great if you are in a wheelchair. More about that space in “Entrances.”
There is a bus stop directly in front of the restaurant, as well as a serious curb, so having dinner companions drop you off and pick you up in front is risky. One day after lunch, my friend, Kim, who had parked in the gravelly lot down the street, came back to pick me up at the front of the restaurant. Behind my walker, I was wondering how I was going to navigate the curb and the bus stop area, when Kim, in one smooth movement, u-balled up onto the sidewalk, stopping directly in front of me. Getting in was a breeze. As she bounced us off the sidewalk back into the street, she harrumphed: “It should be easier for people who are disabled!”
Entrances: The entrances complicate the parking problem. If you’re lucky enough to get the handicapped spot behind the restaurant, you have to ring the bell at the back door to be admitted. That means that a waitperson has to stop whatever she’s doing, come over, and open the door. Then, you have to make your way—with your walker, cane, or chair—through the garden room of the restaurant and into the main area where the hostess is seating people, calling attention to yourself. Furthermore, my wheelchair, which is a little wider than average, can’t fit through the back door next to the coveted parking space if the chair is unfolded and I’m in it, and, to make matters harder for the chair, there’s a high lip on the doorframe at that entrance.
It’s clear that the restaurant is trying to accommodate handicapped diners with the disabled parking space and the back entry, and it is hard to cover or anticipate everyone’s parking/entry needs. For many disabled guests, the parking and entry issues that seem big to me may seem easy to surmount.
Tables: The tables in the garden room are great for wheelchair diners and their companions. They are widely spaced and roomy, as well as moveable. The same is true for the inside room in the restaurant, although to be honest, I have only eaten in that part of the restaurant a few times. Waitstaff are kind and generous about moving chairs, tables, and place settings to accommodate needs.
Restrooms: The restroom is another problem for handicapped visitors to Café Flora. If you are seated in the garden room, the trip to the bathroom takes you through the larger part of the restaurant to a corridor along the east wall (see horizontal red arrow below). If no one is seated at the bar, you can move through that section without disturbing other diners (red arrow on the right below). If that section has even one person seated in it, you will need to go through the restaurant area (red arrow on the left).
If you need to take the restaurant area route, you sometimes have to ask people to move, but generally the space is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
The corridor, however, can be difficult. If you are using the bar-lane route, it’s impossible to make the turn around the chest against the wall at the end and in front of the high chairs and extra chairs stacked in the corridor without moving some or all of them. If staff members see you struggling, they will leap into action to help you through.
Once in the women’s bathroom, there’s a second problem. The toilet in the handicapped stall is lower than normal; it looks like it is the perfect height for an eight year-old. Even with the grab bars next to it, once you’ve lowered yourself onto the toilet, you feel like you are going to have to call in the winch to get yourself off. This problem is easily solved with a higher toilet or a raised seat.
Photos of interior space online: Yes
Photos of entrances online: No
Reservations taken: Yes. When you call to reserve a table, let them know that you will be coming in with a wheelchair. Tell them Spoken Wheel loves them but has some problems with their accessibility!
What the wheelchair pusher has to say: The dining area is flat and easy to handle. It’s great once you’re in. The entry is a problem. You’ll need someone to open the front door for you to get in, and there’s a high lip at the back door and the doorway is narrow. Getting down the corridor to the bathroom requires moving the furniture stored in the corridor.
Featured image of Cafe Flora garden room, www.tripadvisor.com
Image of Cheesy Grits, http://ericriveracooks.com
Image of Portobello French Dip, www.savorandthrive.com
Image of inside passage to restroom, www.healthyincandyland.com