2043 Eastlake Avenue East Seattle, WA 98102
Multiply-windowed and magically lit, Serafina is a sweet little Italian restaurant with an elegant but not fussy neighborhood feel. White tablecloths, dark walls, twinkly lights, candles, and delicious food —every meal I’ve had there has been a joyful chorus of flavors, colors, aromas, and great company. Even a lunch stop at Serafina, sandwiched into a busy workday, feels like a gift you are giving yourself, not because you deserve it but because you need a little time in the lush land of the senses. In this particular trip to Serafina, I was joined by a delightful young woman who agreed to make the trip in a wheelchair herself in order to better understand the wheeled dining experience. As usual, the dinner we had was delicious, and the service was attentive, generous, and warm. (Really—is every server in Seattle wonderful? I’m starting to think so.)
Most of the restaurant space is a step up from the entrance, but a comfortable area along one wall is easily accessed by wheelchairs. Luckily, that accessible seating area is also the path to the wonderful patio space that connects Serafina to its sister restaurant, Ciccetti, so patio dining on a soft summer day is available to wheelchair users. We had called ahead for reservations and were seated at a spacious round table near the patio doors.
Even so, while one wheelchair can easily fit at the ends of most tables, getting two wheelchairs around a single table can be difficult. Guests at the table next to ours had to move over so my friend could get her wheelchair into the comfortable space next to mine. The other guests were gracious about shifting, and the staff were quick and quiet about moving tables and chairs. How did my young friend feel about getting to the table? Worried that she was causing others problems, was her response, and aware that she was drawing attention to herself.
The worry that you are disrupting other people’s meals so that you can get your chair around them and the near impossibility of getting in and out without having others’ eyes drawn to you are two of the discomforts of wheelchair dining. I suspect these worries are bigger issues for some of us than for others, and they are amplified if your beloved pusher sideswipes a table, pushes you over a lime Gucci bag that is worth more than your car, or decides to use you as a weapon, but pusher issues are discussions for another post. No matter how careful your pusher is, however, if you are out in a wheelchair, some level of these discomforts will be the small fee you pay for the joy of getting out there.
Parking: Parking near Serafina can be a problem for wheelchair users and pushers. There is street parking in front and near the restaurant with ramped curbs at the crosswalks. Just north and across the street from the restaurant is a small pay-for parking lot next to a dry-cleaning business. Unless you park there or on the street north of that lot, you will be pushing up a hill. Eastlake is a heavily-parked street, as well, so the only available parking is often far away. There are no handicapped spaces on the street.
Entrances: Serafina’s front door is at street level, so there are no stairs at the entry. In the winter, you’ll have two doors to open to get into the restaurant, a thin outer door that keeps the wind at bay and a heavy wood and glass inner door. The combination of the two doors presents a bit of a challenge. Both are narrow and close to each other. In addition, the high threshold into the restaurant makes getting in a bit of a juggle. If one of the staff sees you coming, she will be right there helping you with the doors. In the spring, the outer door is whisked away, making it a little easier to get inside the restaurant.
Tables: In the area of the restaurant that accommodates wheelchairs, tables can be close together, but all of them work for a wheelchair customer accompanied by two or more walking friends. Tables are moveable, so there is maximum flexibility in seating, and the staff members are great about moving them as needed.
Restrooms: The restrooms pose a bit of a problem. They are located at the back of the restaurant in an area very convenient to the space that accommodates wheelchairs. You have to wheel up a short ramp to the end of a very narrow (but also short) corridor to get to the one bathroom with grab bars around the toilet. Bathrooms are unisex, so you can take a helper in with you.
I don’t have much trouble navigating the space because I don’t take my wheelchair with me. I leave it at the bottom of the short ramp, and use my cane and a cupboard ledge as a handhold to get to and from the bathroom. It’s a beautiful bathroom, too, by the way, with a vase of branches or fresh flowers on a little cabinet that stocks toilet paper. All is in easy reach. On this visit, when she saw me hobbling back down the corridor to my wheelchair, one of the sweet staff members told me to let them know if I would like to have them open Cicchetti’s for me, because access to that bathroom, just across the patio, was easier.
This offer was generous and thoughtful, but it brings us back to those issues of causing others problems and drawing attention to oneself. Am I going to do both by asking my wait person to open up Cicchetti’s because I need to go to the bathroom? Or am I going to continue to grope my way into the bathroom at the end of the corridor?
My issues with that bathroom were nothing compared with those of my young friend, who rolled up the ramp, down the corridor, and into the handicapped bathroom with the help of her pusher. Once her pusher left her there, however, she did not have enough space to turn her chair so she could get to the toilet. To add to the “causing others problems and drawing attention to oneself” issue, the chair was blocking the bathroom door, holding it open, and she was afraid someone would come along and offer help! Eventually, she gave up, got out of the chair, turned it, and closed the door.
One of the problems I have with identifying the bathroom problems like this is that I can’t imagine what Serafina (or others in the same boat) could do about them. The bathrooms have been in place since the restaurant opened in 1991. One of them was made to be wheelchair-friendly. To improve it for the few of us who use it would be incredibly expensive, if even possible.
Nevertheless, my fellow wheelchair travelers need to know what to look out for. If the Serafina bathroom seems to present too much difficulty, ask a staff member if you can roll across the patio to Cicchetti’s bathroom!
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 and tell them Spoken Wheel highly recommended them!
What the wheelchair pusher has to say: The area around the restaurant is challenging; the sidewalk is uneven and there is no handicapped parking nearby. You can’t get through the front door without assistance. Once you are inside, however, it is very nice. All the wait staff are helpful and considerate. You have a choice of three tables in a lovely space near the bathroom, which is up a slight ramp. A normal sized wheelchair can get up the ramp, but it would be hard with a wide one.
Overall: Four wheels for good access, with some bathroom and entry problems.
Pasta photo credit: serafinaseattle.com