If "cafe and wine bar" implies modesty of scale, Purple Cafe & Wine Bar defies expectations in the grandest way. The place is so vast, it practically has its own weather systems. Purple occupies the boxy space of the former downtown branch of University Book Store at Fourth Avenue and University Street. At its center is a two-story-high steel tower that functions as a gigantic wine rack. It holds 5,000 bottles, accessed by an exterior spiral stair. A fairy-tale princess could be comfortably imprisoned in this tower. Rescuers would be spurned.
If Purple sounds excessive, it isn't. While a Vegas-based firm oversaw the remodel, glitzy lighting and white tigers have been avoided. The tower's finish matches the dark wrought iron of the chairs, the semicircle bar, the napkin rings, the basket containing paper towels in the bathroom—even the ceiling has an overlay of what looks like latticework iron (it's aluminum, lest you feel concerned about its support system). All the heavy metal gives the place a postmodern medieval gravitas, like a bigger Barça or Brouwer's, while floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides look out on city trees and streets. It's a strange but successful meeting of heaviness and light. The resulting glamour is thoughtful and restrained.
Less than a week into its existence, on a Thursday evening, Purple is filled with a near-capacity crowd. While tablesful of young professionals dominate—lots of expensive jeans and carefully messy hair, a sulking Paris Hilton look-alike with the aspect of a purebred dog waiting to bite—the clientele is surprisingly diverse. At the bar, a lesbian couple is deeply involved in conversation; an older gentleman sports a natty pair of braces. Tourists gape up from seating on the dining-room floor, and presumably more tourists gape down from the mezzanine level, which has its own sushi-style tasting bar. There's even a family, its single child urbanely bored.
Squadrons of servers, dressed in black with identically folded strips of white napkin over one shoulder, weave their way efficiently around. They're all on their way to having amazing biceps; flights of wine are served in wrought-iron racks holding eight glasses, which, from a seated position, are difficult to budge. The array of menus—wine, tasting bar, dinner (including pastas, salads, pizzas, entrées, sandwiches, sides), cheese, dessert—overwhelms and probably overreaches (though with two other Purples already in existence, in Kirkland and Woodinville, the kitchen is presumably up to the task). Drinkers will be drawn to the tasting bar's good snacks—raw fish crudos, bruschetta with fancy toppings, small plates of smoked tasso ham or trout, upgraded grilled cheese.
Where does the tower's spiral stair ultimately lead? Nowhere. "It just ends in nothing," says a server. Will they escort you up to nowhere? Absolutely. "If you're wearing a dress, the boys'll be excited."