Have you ever been to Mercer Island? You might think of it as just one of the bus stops along your commute to work or somewhere your elderly relative lives. One episode of Frasier apparently mentioned a Mercer Island Zoo (thanks Wikipedia, although, of course, there is no Mercer Island Zoo). Although known as a somewhat non-descript, large stepping stone between Seattle and the Eastside, Mercer Island does have several places worth checking out. My personal picks are The Roanoke Inn, Island Books and Stopsky’s Deli.
First, a bit of history (I promise it’s relevant). Mercer Island was settled in the 1870s by brothers Thomas and Asa Shinn Mercer (the latter, inventor of the “Mercer Girls” project). The island originally was a sort of natural oasis away from the “bustling metropolis” that was Seattle. The brothers Mercer apparently used it to hunt and fish.
Although it wasn’t much more than a frontier town in the 19th century, things started to pick up a bit in 1914 when the Roanoke Inn was built. Originally constructed to attract tourists coming in from the nearby ferry dock, this small establishment was, over the course of several decades, a chicken-dinner inn, a hotel and a place of “ill-repute” as well as a speak easy during prohibition.
Today the Roanoke looks similar to its 1914 incarnation and serves some truly legit brews (think cult beer Pliny the Younger). The décor is rustic-chic, a bit reminiscent of Northern Exposure. There’s a jukebox and a few old-timey video games (e.g.“Big Buck Hunter”).
Another place of note on MI is Island Books. This establishment has been around since 1973, so that makes it one of the oldest businesses on the island besides the Roanoke. Small but mighty, Island Books stocks a surprising variety of titles. And generally, what they don’t carry they’re willing to order for you. They also have an amazing kids’ section with a cool house you can crawl around in.
If you’re hungry after an afternoon of book shopping, Stopsky’s Deli is right next door to Island Books. They have Stumptown coffee and quality pastries. The Reuben and borscht is good too, though somewhat un-traditional.
So there you have it. While Mercer Island may not have all the attractions of Seattle (and no zoo), it does have a few worthwhile spots to get a book or a beer. Hope you can cross the water one of these days to look around.
Maggie Tarnawa is a contributing blogger for The World is Fun.