FUN FACT: Before Prohibition, the Rainier, Bayview, and Brown breweries established Georgetown as the sixth-largest beer-manufacturing center in the world.

As a 16-year-old growing up in the suburbs of Seattle, I'd frequently drive my Mazda around aimlessly, belting out Smiths lyrics, trying to escape the saccharine emptiness the suburbs filled me with. My freeway excursions were structured around driving-distances that were long enough to explore entire albums. And after many lost-and-panicked roadside phone calls, describing surrounding buildings and streets to my dad ("Sounds like you're in--!" he would chirp as a truck crashed past), I would realize just how far from home I was.

Which brings me to Georgetown. Then, and now.

As an adult receiving low-income dental care at the Georgetown Dental Clinic, I discovered that my inability to find my way around was not due to a terrible sense of direction as much as the fact that Georgetown's streets baffle the most clear-headed of drivers. Those streets tell stories as winding and chaotic as the place's history.

As resident historian and activist Chris Chinn tells it, Georgetown was the earliest Euro-American settlement in Seattle, built around the mighty Duwamish River. First there were farms in the 1850s; then breweries sprung up along the Duwamish's banks at the turn of the century. Over the next century, the Duwamish was rechaneled, and Georgetown was annexed into Seattle, whereupon street names were changed and city plans in the 1920s and '50s zoned much of the area as "industrial."

I-5 was laid down smack in the middle of town in 1962, effectively slicing a thriving residential community in two. During the 1970s, like a lot of working-class neighborhoods in Seattle, Georgetown's little corner stores and other neighborhood amenities stood vacant.

Recently, Georgetown has been hailed as the new Pioneer Square, Belltown, Ballard, etc.--or what those bastions of community co-opted from artists were like 10, 15 years ago. Georgetown has certainly maintained some of its original gritty beauty, and is so noisy, dusty, and urban, it reminds me of Brooklyn (without all the people). The snarl from the train tracks, on-ramps, thunderous flight paths overhead, one-way streets, and giant trucks hurtling down at terrifying speeds--these all speak of unchecked industrialization while preserving the melancholy of abandoned buildings wrought with history, emitting that sense of place I was so drawn to as a teenager.

Today, what appear to be abandoned storefronts open their doors on sweaty afternoons to reveal a range of artists carving out affordable studio spaces. People's reactions to working artists setting up shop and planting hardy flowers along blown-out sidewalks tell volumes about Americans' attitudes toward artists in general: Every time I mention Georgetown, somebody rolls his/her eyes and comments on how "hip it is down there now," as if those artists have taken the "edge" off what used to be such a divinely stiff slug of pissed-on, polluted Real America. Labeling Georgetown citizens who band together to create a more livable neighborhood as "hipsters" bugs me. Not that there is anything wrong with hipness--but for folks to conclude that affordable workspace for artists renders a neighborhood "hip" in the derogatory sense of the word reveals the disdain often heaped upon artists, mistaking them for professional hipsters who contribute nothing to society except excellent fashion sense.

Clearly, Georgetown is gathering momentum as organized, passionate groups of citizens preserve the distinct, frontier feel of the place. Georgetown appeals to the pioneering spirit: The environment is less than friendly (due in part to the airport, the trucking industry, chemical waste), and the residential and artistic community is small and tightly woven.

Georgetown is now occupied by a mix of oldsters, people living in houses their grandparents built, recently immigrated families, and artist-types who haven't moved to Tacoma yet. They all seem to welcome new restaurants and bars, which have recently sprung up in the old commercial core. It's hard to imagine this place ever morphing into a current Belltown scene, mainly because of the noise. Georgetown resident/artist Kathryn Rathke admits to wearing earplugs to sleep, and waking at 5 a.m. every day to the claustrophobically dense aroma of chicken frying at the nearby Texaco. But as I walk around, ogling the modest, beautiful houses, many built in the 1890s, I can't help but feel the urge to move in.

While I am a big fan of the crusty and decidedly unhip oldster diner/tavern (R.I.P. Jules Maes), I must admit to being charmed with the relaxing combination of Oly stubbies, pizza, a well-endowed jukebox, and pinball at Stella Pizza & Ale, one of the unpretentious new services resulting from G-Town's "creative people." The roomy, high-ceilinged newcomer tosses New York-style pizzas ($13.50-$20), reminding me a little of the bygone days of World Pizza (Remember the potato pizza? Stella's got it). I can't recommend the salads--what is it with pizza joints and their heavy-handed dousing of vinegar on greens?--because pieces of my mouth began to peel off while I gingerly chewed on the Greek ($6.75). But I did take guilty pleasure in a recent buffalo-wings special ($5), resulting in a delicious slow-burn that had me slathering my lips with accompanying bleu-cheese dressing, using it as a cooling balm. Next door to Stella is the lovely Industrial Coffee (and bar), which serves tasty, inexpensive sandwiches and salads; Industrial also boasts live music on weekend nights and a Tuesday-night movie, as well as providing the upper-downer menu of coffee and beer/wine. I am a big fan of Industrial's outdoor seating--an assortment of vintage chairs and tables screening out Airport Way with dried-grass curtains and a view of the train tracks. Down Airport Way a few blocks south is All City Coffee, a cozy spot that screams out "New!" with its fancy coffee, pastries, and blond wood. All City is adjacent to the much-murmured-about Gem Studios, a block of affordable workspace for artists, sculptors, and welders.

While Georgetown is an excellent place for wandering around crumbling sidewalks, glimpsing the occasional hunky welder/painter in a genuinely dirty T-shirt, I was not overwhelmed with arch hipness. Instead, I was charmed by the old restaurants and businesses, and impressed with the new use of old spaces. Rather than constructing monstrous new buildings-on-steroids ringed with parking-lot moats, the purportedly "hip" movement in Georgetown over the past 15 or so years is focused on preservation and revitalization of old buildings. If it takes "hipster artists" to see that the inevitable change is done right, then praise be.

Stella Pizza & Ale

5513 Airport Way S, 763-1660.

Industrial Coffee

5503 Airport Way S, 763-0354.

All City Coffee

1205 S Vale, 767-7146.