I have been doing a lot of coveting this summer.
Technically, the year-old Ballpark Market does not qualify as a flea market, although it bills itself that way. Few of the pieces for sale are flea-bitten, or even moth-eaten. Instead, the dozens of vendors who take over the corner lot at 22nd and Larimer streets one Saturday a month have many quality items, and their prices reflect that. But you get what you pay for, and what I have gotten, so far, are the following: one pair of allegedly alligator shorty cowboy boots, only slightly worn (and very rare, the vendor assured me); one cow-print cowgirl dress with black fringe; one almost-completed hooked rug; three toddler-sized vintage Hawaiian shirts; a flowery chenille bedspread; and an antique cream separator that I am sure will make a cunning wine decanter. Finally, purchased on the run through a chain-link fence on my last visit, since I couldn't stand to leave empty-handed, a wooden box etched with the figure of a bear and the words "Tacoma, Washington."
Here is what I have not yet acquired but will consider again at next Saturday's market (unless thy neighbor has already gotten to them): two paint-by-number paintings of pastoral farm scenes and a leopard-print coat that was part of an Absolutely Fabulous promotion. While it didn't seem quite the thing in June, as the temperatures drop, that garment could be looking, well, absolutely fabulous.
The Ballpark Neighborhood certainly is. Though Coors Field looms just two blocks away, on this corner the emphasis is refreshingly arty. Many of the vendors sell art -- exquisite handmade papers and jewelry, not doorstops made of slipcovered bricks. (Last year's kitschy craftspeople took one look at the decidedly urban crowd and did not return.) Across the street are several antique and architectural-salvage shops, including rue 22, whose owners started the market. By now, it's become a tradition, a must-visit for people who appreciate that this part of town is returning to its turn-of-the-century mercantile roots -- or who simply appreciate the chance to get out in the sun, shop and talk shop.
And although a few food vendors usually sell their wares at the market, this is an ideal opportunity to sample a little more down-home neighborhood flavor. Specifically, after you make your purchases, you must take them to the Mexico City Lounge, at 2115 Larimer, where you can spread your finds across the chile-patterned tablecloth and admire them while waiting for the kitchen to put together your breakfast burrito ($2 without meat, $2.50 smothered, and another 25 cents for the very hot -- and they mean it -- green). And the people-watching inside the Mexico City is almost as entertaining as it is at the market: At one recent meal, an Elvis impersonator sported a baseball cap over his plastic hair.
That hair got me thinking about all those other potential purchases just a few hundred feet away. Fortunately, the Mexico City starts serving beer as soon as it starts serving food. And after a few (or five, if you go for the $6 bucket of Coronitas), those two paint-by-number paintings just up the street will start calling to you.
Thou must have them. Now.