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Bird House Tavern, risen from the ashes

  • Author: Patti Epler
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published May 25, 2011

Talk about a blast from the past.

The quirky old Bird House bar that burned down in 1996 lives on inside another venerable Anchorage-area watering hole, Chilkoot Charlie's on Spenard Road.

If you were one of the thousands of 20-somethings who flocked to Alaska in the '70s looking to just get off of that L.A. freeway, you probably also made the pilgrimage to the Bird House Bar, the funky, circa-1903 miner's cabin halfway between Anchorage and Girdwood at Bird Creek.

Prankster-turned-bar-owner Dick Delak took over the place in 1968 (he died in a plane crash in 1993) and made the tavern into a must-do for pipeliners, hippies, skiers, tourists and anybody who wanted a unique Alaska experience.

The Bird House went up in smoke in 1996; faulty wiring, the fire inspectors said. It's a wonder it took that long. Its walls were covered -- literally covered, inches thick in some places -- with business cards and women's panties. The tilted wooden floor was always thick with sawdust or peanut shells, and people were packed elbow to elbow in the tiny one-room establishment.

Flash forward to 2011 and a Friday evening on the north end of Spenard Road. Chilkoots is not yet humming, and the cavernous log-sided nightclub is weirdly quiet inside. But wander through the cavernous interior, past the long wooden bars and the bouncers guarding their special sections, and you'll come upon a small doorway. Step through and you're back in the day when hitchhiking was still cool and you could make $50k a year as a maid in a pipeline construction camp.

It seems Chilkoots' longtime owner Mike Gordon once owned a piece of the Bird House, and he didn't want to let it die. He bought the name from Delak's widow, Susan, and set about re-creating the low-ceilinged, dimly lit dive inside the ever-expanding Chilkoots. He and his crew studied photos and other available material on the old bar and got a lot of help from folks who had tended the bar there, either from behind it or trying to find a comfortable spot on one of the butt-gouging log bar stools. Yes, those stools live again, and so does the bar that is so slanted you'll want to keep your hand on your beer mug to keep it from sliding down the counter.

Also still very much alive are the pranks that the Bird House was famous for. You can still try to call the ptarmigan to the small window put there just for that one, stroke an oosik, or eat a pickle or whatever -- Dick Delak had a lot of things up his sleeve. The original "Bird House Bird" statue (or one just like it) sits outside on the 25th Avenue side.

The walls are once again thick with business cards and other personal paperwork that people still plaster as they get plastered. Like the women's -- and men's -- underwear that are shed right then and there and pasted up by their owners. A current bartender explains that it was kind of hard to replicate the exact look because thongs have replaced bikini briefs in women's fashion, so Gordon and his artists had to look a little harder for the old stuff.

It's still one of a kind. And it's still, like they used to say, the only place you can rob with a Bic lighter.

Contact Patti Epler at patti@alaskadispatch.com

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