Alaska is not the only place in the United States where one can still find pristine wilderness, but the magnitude of the expansive unspoiled forest, glacial fiords, diverse wildlife AND good bars make it a worthy trip – one which Thebeerchaser and his spouse experienced for eleven days in late June.
Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Old and young, we are all on our last cruise,” and since we had never been on a cruise, we decided to take the Holland-America Inside Passage cruise on the Statendam – a wonderful decision.
We flew into Anchorage and had a day in this picturesque city, before a day train trip to Denali National Park for two days.
Of course, it was important to get a feel for the bars in Anchorage – not that I could deduct the trip, but Thebeerchaser has a reputation to uphold. So for lunch in the city, we stopped at a brewery recommended by the hotel – The Glacier BrewHouse – for a good salad and split a Glacier Brewery Imperial Blonde – it was good and rejuvenated us after the flight. The Brewery produces more than 4,500 barrels per year.
Adventurous spirit was not required to find the next bar - since it was a half block from our hotel, but Darwin’s Theory will go down as one of my favorite bars on this trip and on the three-year Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs. After dinner, while Janet rested, I walked to this wonderful institution – one that had NO draft beer, wine or hard liquor, but free popcorn, a great jukebox and an outstanding environment. Read two Yelp reviews which were spot on!
“When you step inside, you’ll realize that this is no hipster dive bar. No sir! This has been a dive bar since inception and doesn’t appear to have changed. Beer in the bottle, great service, and interesting patrons round out the perfect dive-bar experience.” Yelp – 11/13 by Eric from Nevada City, CA
On a Friday night, the place was jammed and I sat next to a guy named Bill – in his fifties and an oil field worker, in addition to having fished in the Bering Sea and running marijuana from Mexico to the East coast in the ’70′s. “I had an old Lincoln with really big fenders….” I asked him about bars in Anchorage and he said to be careful because in the last few years there had been a few shootings at bars close by.
I thought he was exaggerating, but checked out stories on the internet and he was correct. To wit:
At J.J.’s Lounge on Oct. 10, 2011 – two people killed.
- Three men shot and injured outside a downtown Anchorage nightclub – the Anchor Pub in June 2013 – three blocks from Darwin’s.
November 11, 2013 – A shooting wounded a woman and left a man in critical condition outside of the Office Lounge, a Midtown Anchorage bar.
One of the reasons, I felt safe in Darwin’s was the bartender - Betty Jean - who told me that the bar was 30 years old and she had worked there 28 of them. She was friendly and her patrons loved her, but she was tough and would not tolerate rowdiness. She put me on the Darwin’s mailing list and didn’t hesitate when I asked to take her picture with Thebeerchaser logo. (Darwin, the last name of the owner celebrated his 70th birthday that Saturday – and there was going to be a big celebration.)
Another review from a Portland guy who visited Darwin’s in November, 2013 is worth quoting from Yelp. Ryan P. said:
“ABSOLUTELY the the best bar I’ve been to in Anchorage! The ladies tending the bar were amazingly nice and welcoming and made me feel right at home. Coming from a local bar town like Portland, it was very nice to have the same type of feel in this place.
From the moment I walked in I felt completely comfortable and welcomed. I LOVE THIS BAR. I’ve heard it can be crowded at times, which is reasonable considering how small the space is, but the service is THE BEST. PLEASE VISIT THIS PLACE! They are amazing!”
I paid $4 for my bottle of PBR and the same amount for a Silver Gulch Brewery’s Silver Gulch’s Northern Light (Bill’s recommendation from a good Anchorage brewery) and paid in cash based on the sign on the bar: “We accept no out-of-town checks and damn few local ones!”
We did not partake at any other Anchorage watering holes, but embarked on a walking tour and took some pictures - it showed a number of interesting options:
Snow Goose Restaurant and Sleeping Lady Brewery - what a great patio on the roof overlooking the bay.
The Pioneer Bar - “As a connoisseur of dive bars this one ranks up there. To start off, despite what opinion you have of PBR, any place that serves 24 oz. cans of PBR has a lot of class. Not to mention all the Alaskan beers on tap and knowledgeable bartenders . (Colin from Anchorage on Yelp 7/2011
Humpy’s Great Alaskan Ale House - presumably named after the whale and not a patron – looked interesting and had “more beers than all the other bars in Anchorage combined,” on tap. It has a sister pub in Kona, Hawaii and got mixed reviews, in part, based on slow service and mediocre food, but does have live music. It will have to wait for another visit, but had a lively crowd, expansive menu and looked intriguing.
The Gaslight Lounge – This is one that you might want to avoid based on violence reported above at other bars. Four of the five reviews on CitySearch did not recommend this bar and two mentioned fights
“Trashlight Lounge – I worked next door for years and every time I regrettably went in, there was an absence of friendliness. Staff were mostly arguing with drunk customers. It became a joke to look out our back window and watch the fights roll out of the bar every night….it seems to revel in it’s low class reputation among downtown. (ja4vlink – pre 2014)
McGinley’s Pub – While one might be suspicious of a bar that advertises itself as “A touch of Old Ireland in the heart of downtown Anchorage,” they have a great website. We ran out of time and just took a picture of the entrance – which looked a little boring – but they have a bunch of dark beers and ciders on tap, serve corned beef and cabbage , sheppards pie, and bangers and mash in addition to standard pub faire.
It got mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, which had them rated 161 of 674 restaurants in Anchorage based on the 67 reviews submitted – 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Glacier Bay Brewery and Darwin’s were definitely hits in Anchorage.
We embarked on the train the next morning for the seven to eight hour trip to Denali National Park through some wonderful scenery. The bald eagles were magnificent and as we saw one dive successfully for a salmon out the window, I reflected on the observation of one Alaskan resident:
Darwin’s Theory 426 G St, Anchorage
737 W 5th Ave Ste 110, Anchorage