407 Cedar Street
Seattle, WA 98121
I can picture us–my beloved pusher and me–in our younger days, visiting Seattle from our little Oregon hometown, strolling near the Seattle Center on an early Saturday morning, and stumbling upon Cedar Street. I can see us finding the lovely little brick restaurant that is the Tilikum Place Café, with its shiny windows looking out onto the tree-shaded street, and entering into the glow of the beautifully appointed restaurant.
I can picture the delight and surprise we would feel perusing the menu, sipping a gorgeously sculpted latte, and receiving the many kindnesses of the servers there. What a find this lovely café would have been—the ambiance, the amazing Dutch babies and skillet-served, pea-vine draped eggs, and the loving service–all of it clear evidence that we were not “in Kansas” anymore.
But that vision of meandering from the Kansas of our little Oregon town into Seattle’s Tilikum Place Cafe is an image of us in my walking years. Unfortunately in my wheelchair years, this lovely and delicious restaurant presents some barriers.
I want to emphasize that the problems here for those of us with mobility limitations are not because of the staff. When we called for a reservation, the person answering the phone asked how big my wheelchair was and what kind of seating would be easiest for me—a round table? a rectangular space? She was clearly aware of and thoughtful about the challenges restaurants can present. When we arrived, the hostess saw that our reserved table would require navigation through seating so close together all the diners between us and our table would have had to move, so she quickly seated us at an easier-to-access table, pictured below at the end of the red arrow.
When our trip to the bathroom was blocked by extra chairs, staff quickly and graciously removed them so we could get through and quietly put them back after we returned.
The staff at the Tilikum Place Cafe clearly care about providing a great dining experience for everyone, including those of us with mobility issues. But like all businesses in older buildings, theTilikum Place Café is somewhat at the mercy of the space it inherited, and–adding a further challenge–of a menu so good that the tightly-placed tables are always going to be filled to capacity.
Parking: There is street parking on Cedar and farther away, as well, but, as can be guessed, those parking spaces are often filled with the cars of other diners, visitors to the Seattle Center, and people drawn to the neighborhood by other tourist attractions.
Entrances: The door is at the end of a steep little ramp, probably put in place in order to make it possible for wheelchair users to get into the restaurant. The door opens by hand and the sill is a little bit tall, but both are navigable.
Tables: Tables are close, even for thin walkers. Watching the wait staff move through them with food-laden arms was like watching a complex dance where no movement was repeated but each was graceful and precise. Although the tables are all moveable, the floor space is small, so there is no extra space to move them into! There are two tables that wheelchair diners can access without disturbing others. One is the round table just to the left as you enter the restaurant. The other is the table for four against the post (photo with red arrow) and next to the corridor heading to the bathrooms. This second spot is roomy enough for wheelchair users, but people passing behind still had to squinch themselves in to get through.
Restrooms: Restrooms are difficult to get to. The corridor, as I noted previously, was lined with chairs that my party and the servers had to move so my pusher could get me through. At the end of the corridor, there was a door that opened with a keypad, and it was challenging to punch in the code and open the door around the chair. That door opened into a tight hallway; also, it opened directly in front of the women’s restroom door, which required another keypad entry.
The handicapped stall was occupied by someone speaking on a cellphone when I arrived, so I had to wait in my chair in the hall. Waiting is usually fine with me. I have my walker or a wheelchair so I can sit down. I have my pusher for conversation and my cellphone games so I won’t get bored. And truthfully, most bathroom stalls are so tiny and uncomfortable, I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t head straight for the more human-sized handicapped stalls. Also, I know that just because someone looks able-bodied doesn’t mean she isn’t grateful for a grab bar for reasons we can’t see. Women who appear able-bodied often apologize to me as they leave those handicapped stalls, but I always say, “Those stalls are for everyone. It’s the other stalls that are not.”
This time, though, because of the configuration of the bathroom, I had to wait in a hallway so narrow that men heading for the men’s restroom behind me had to flatten themselves against the wall and balance to get by. Does it feel bad to be sitting in a wheelchair obviously waiting to go to the bathroom while men climb over you to do the same themselves? A little!
Once I was inside it was easy to reach the handicapped and grab-barred stall, but it’s a little stretch from the seat to the toilet paper.
Photos of interior space online: Yes.
Photos of entrances online: Sort of.
Reservations taken: Yes. Let them know your particular needs and the staff will be very helpful. You might specifically ask for the table by the post.
What the wheelchair pusher has to say: I wouldn’t recommend it for all people with limited mobility, although it might work for some. It’s really crowded, and you need so many people unpacking the hallway to get to the bathrooms that it was a hassle. Then, when you get to the doorway, you need to enter a code to get the door open. Once you get through the corridor door, you have to enter a code, again, to get in the bathroom door. It took three of us just to get in there! The door into the Café was also difficult—a kind of steep ramp up to the sill. It’s an older building, and the food and service were great, but access was not.
Photo credit: Tilikum Place Café interior, www.zanda.com