A town's nightlife offers an entertaining look at its local culture, and downtown Anchorage boasts an inclusive array of bar-hopping options.
For the visitor, there are a few basic things to know about Anchorage bars. First, never, ever ring the ubiquitous bells that dangle over bar tops; doing so signals you are buying a round for the house, and while it may find you fast friends, it will also burn a huge hole in your budget. Second, know that many bars don't serve food, so if you're looking to eat, choose your destination carefully.
And third, know that, like most things in Alaska, the nightlife scene is generally pretty casual, from the dress codes (there really aren't any) to the cover charges (very rare) to the general low-key ambiance that translates to a non-intimidating and accessible bar scene for the curious traveler.
A good place to start your pub crawl is the corner of G Street and Sixth Avenue, where you'll find a nexus of bars, anchored by Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse (610 W. Sixth Ave.).
Humpy's serves lunch and dinner daily and brunch on weekends. While it covers the gamut of pub grub – like fried halibut and king crab nuggets – Humpy's real draw is its beer selection. In addition to its comprehensive offering of liquor, including its very popular weekend bloody mary bar, Humpy's has dozens of beers on tap and by the bottle, an impressive number of them locally sourced. Humpy's is a great place to watch sports or live music. Bands grace its stage every Friday and Saturday evening.
Next door to Humpy's is one of its offspring bars, Flattop Pizza + Pool (600 W. Sixth Ave.). Another fun place to watch a game while enjoying a melty slice of pie and a pint, Flattop – named after Anchorage's most popular mountain hike – has a laid-back, urban vibe. Flattop features a DJ on weekends, and its website always includes a calendar of upcoming events, often with a hipster slant, like beer pong competitions and cornhole tournaments.
Across the street is Williwaw (601 F Street). Its rooftop bar opens on nice summer days and is unparalleled for its sun-soaked seating and views of Town Square. Another bright spot at Williwaw is Blues Central, a moody speakeasy-style bar tucked off a second-floor hallway that features throwback, hand-crafted cocktails.
Ginger (425 W. Fifth Ave.) serves Pacific Rim-influenced cuisine and is open for lunch and dinner and brunch on weekends. Treat yourself to a seat at the chic bar and enjoy a cocktail from its extensive menu. The house martini, with its blue cheese-stuffed olives, is old-school fabulous, and any of the Champagne cocktails will prove a bubbly delight.
Crush Wine Bistro and Cellar also delivers a tasty one-two punch of pretty plates of food and satisfying drinks. One of the only Anchorage restaurants that always offers wine flights, it's an excellent spot to sample different wines and pair them with delectable snacks like feta-stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto, or potato gnocchi in a Humboldt Fog cream sauce with caramelized broccoli.
On the other end of the spectrum are dive bars, and Darwin's Theory and Pioneer Bar are two of Anchorage's finest. Both have been around for decades and share some commonalities – no food, no-frills bartenders and no shortage of loyal regulars. These are the spots to go if you want to just kick back with a beer or simple mixed drink and inadvertently absorb some real Alaska stories from locals.
Darwin's (426 G Street) is a cozy pub known for it stiff drinks and free popcorn (OK, so there's some food after all). The Pioneer (739 W. Fourth Ave.) is a mostly low-key joint but blooms into a lively spot come weekend nights, when DJs spin dance tunes. Pioneer also has two pool tables and a shuffleboard table.
For an original Anchorage experience, head to Mad Myrna's (530 E. Fifth Ave.), downtown's lively and welcoming gay club. With drag shows, cabaret performances, karaoke nights and dancing, Myrna's is a true staple and standout. Myrna's has made a reputation for its welcoming, inclusive and high-energy vibe.
Another longtime downtown establishment is F Street Station (325 F Street). It boasts being the oldest bar in Anchorage at its original location. Locals know the food here is sublime – greens topped with blackened halibut, killer fish and chips, and memorable daily specials. The congenial chefs work in an open kitchen surrounded by bar seating. It's mesmerizing to watch them work the grill and shuck oysters. The only drawback: seating at this tiny and always-busy bar is first come, first served, so you've got to sometimes be fast and aggressive in grabbing a spot.
In your nightlife explorations, don't forget Anchorage's growing number of breweries. There's a fabulous one right downtown: 49th State Brewing Co. (717 W. Third Ave). They brew their own right on site and have a huge bar and massive menu with a little something for everyone. Its crown jewel: an epic deck with fantastic views of the inlet on those sun-soaked Alaska summer nights.
Finally, a true trip through Anchorage's bar scene is incomplete without a stop at Koot's (2435 Spenard Road). Once known as Chilkoot Charlie's, this decades-old mega-bar includes three main stages, dancing, live music, comedy shows, food, pool tables, multiple bars, a spacious outdoor patio and more.
If you go to Koots, don't miss the Bird House, a tiny adjunct bar with slanted floors and ceilings covered in panties and bras and dollar bills. It's a direct rebuild of the original Bird House on Turnagain Arm that was destroyed years ago by fire and is the closest you'll come in Anchorage to experiencing a quirky roadhouse.