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Williwaw complex in downtown Anchorage contains bar, restaurant, coffee shop, 'speak-easy'

  • Author: Suzanna Caldwell
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published January 22, 2016

Williwaw is open and, with half a dozen different dining and entertainment options, it hopes there's something for everyone.

The new bar, restaurant, concert venue, coffee shop and meeting space has been completely open as of December, according to Susynn Snyder, Williwaw's entertainment and marketing director.

The 15,000-square-foot space is in the building formerly occupied by Covenant House, a youth homeless shelter, which moved to a new location in 2013. Project partners on Williwaw include Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse, Pfeffer Development, Pentlarge Law Group and Salamatof Native Association.

Snyder calls Williwaw a "sister establishment" to the Humpy's group that also includes Sub Zero Bistro and Microlounge and Flattop Pizza and Pool. Local coffee roasting company SteamDot leases space from Williwaw for a coffee bar on the ground floor.

Snyder said the process of remodeling the old building, built in the 1950s, held a few more surprises than expected when coupled with the ambitious plan to create a multiuse space. The expected summer opening was pushed to September. Even then, a second-floor Blues Central bar wasn't quite done.

"Some things just took longer than expected," she said.

Now that it's open, Williwaw is working to find its place in the community. It bills itself as a family-friendly, casual coffee and lunch space during the day that transforms into fine dining restaurant and concert venue at night.

Still, Snyder said she still often gets the question, "What is Williwaw?"

"It's eight things in one," she said.

While it might seem like a lot, Penny Smythe, marketing director for the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, said all of the things equals a good thing for downtown.

The different options within Williwaw will help draw people downtown, she said, which will benefit other businesses in the area.

"I think it's great and wonderful," she said. "You don't see a lot of businesses with the capability to do that."

So what exactly is Williwaw? Here's a breakdown of all its different parts.

Williwaw Restaurant

Williwaw's main dining area has spacious booths and long, communal tables capable of fitting up to 22 people at a time. Snyder said the cuisine is "food hall" inspired. Humpy's Regional Chef Tim Farley, who oversees Humpy's, Sub Zero, Flattop and Williwaw, said it's a little more than that. He said the plan is to have a "farm to table" style using Alaska ingredients. That's a challenge during the winter, he said, but they've had success using stored root vegetables and locally sourced meats.

Farley said the restaurant hopes to offer something not seen anywhere else downtown. The eclectic. Think smoothies and stir-fry bowls, Asian-inspired lettuce wraps and charcuterie "social platters." The famous Blues Central French dip and a locally grown beet salad are also on the menu. Farley said he and Miyka'el Taylor, the former executive chef at Sub Zero, are still finding their footing and adjusting the menu where needed.

Concert venue and meeting space

Designed by Pfeffer Development, KBP Architects and Benchmark Construction, small mementos of the building's past as a youth shelter dot the space: worn tiles in the bathroom, stripped-down concrete pilings -- even the "life on the streets" mural, which has been left partially intact behind the stage. The stage is decorated with hand-painted birch trees from Anchorage artist Duke Russell, inspired, Snyder said, by the Doug Fir Lounge, a similar venue in Portland, Oregon. The slatted wood siding that lines the room was recycled from the Pioneers of Alaska building (now located a floor above Flattop and Sub Zero).

Snyder said the venue can hold between 700 to 900 people, standing room that's hard to come by in Anchorage. Events hosted there so far include bands like Big Head Todd and Ginuwine, the awards ceremony for Anchorage Film Festival and even Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign kickoff last month.

Blues Central "speak-easy"

Longtime Anchorage residents are well acquainted with Blues Central, the Midtown bar and restaurant that closed in 2014. It's been resurrected at Williwaw in name and in a liquor license transfer, but with a far different look. Forget the well-worn booths and neon lighting. Blues Central has gone back to the Prohibition era, with a modern twist. Pictures of rock 'n' roll icons line the bar, lit by vintage-style Edison light bulbs. The cocktails include pop culture-inspired mixes alongside Prohibition-era favorites. Getting in to the bar is an event -- requiring a phone booth, password and an unmarked door.

"We wanted to take care with the Blues Central name," Snyder said. "We wanted to take that name and elevate it."

The bar was taken out of Blues Central and installed in the downtown location. It's been refinished, but look closely and you'll still be able to spot gouges and cigarette burns from its previous life.

SteamDot Coffee and Bar

Coffee. Food. And beer. And wine, and, well, really any kind of cocktail. That's the appeal of the SteamDot cafe located on the north side of the building, with seating both upstairs and down and free Wi-Fi.

Rooftop bar

If you want a taste of Portland, it's most present in the venue's rooftop bar that's currently closed for the winter. With hip light strings and Mason jar serving glasses, it feels like a space transported to Anchorage from far, far away. It's only open in the summer when the weather is favorable. Snyder hopes that elements of the rooftop bar will expand to a patio located on the first level that includes murals, a fire pit and, potentially, even a bocce ball court.

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