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Alaska Visitors Guide

Nightlife in Anchorage: From upscale cocktails to dive bars and full-scale brewpubs

Regulars enjoy Darwin’s Theory’s Kentucky Derby Party in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, on Saturday, May 6, 2017. (Bob Hallinen / ADN archive)

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 tempting bells that dangle above 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. Secondly, 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. Humpy’s has dozens of beers on tap and by the bottle, an impressive number of them locally sourced. It’s a great place to watch sports or live music, and bands grace the 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. 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 St.). Its rooftop bar opens on nice summer days and is unparalleled for its sun-soaked seating and views of Town Square. The Williwaw menu is from the crafty kitchens of Midnight Sun Brewing Co. and can be a real bright spot amid a sea of standard pub fare. Another bright spot at Williwaw is a moody speakeasy-style bar called Blues Central tucked off a second-floor hallway that features throwback, hand-crafted cocktails. They’re spendy but worth it for the discerning drinker.

A 1920s-style speak-easy is hidden away on the second floor of Williwaw Jan. 6, 2016. (ADN archive)

If you’re feeling fancy, several fine-dining restaurants downtown have similarly delicious cocktail creations and extensive wine selections. Three standouts are Ginger, Crush Bistro and Bottle Shops, and Haute Quarter Grill.

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 craft cocktail. 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 (328 G St.) is one of Anchorage’s only restaurants that consistently offers wine flights and is an excellent spot to sample vino alongside delectable snacks like feta-stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto, or potato gnocchi in a Humboldt Fog cream sauce with caramelized broccoli. Look for menu items to subtly shift with the seasons.

Haute Quarter Grill (525 W. Fourth Ave.) boasts upscale American cuisine featuring Alaska seafood and produce whenever possible. This is a great spot on a warm summer night when the bar opens up its front-facing accordion walls and diners can enjoy patio seating.

Ginger, Crush and Haute Quarter all accept reservations via their websites.

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.

Darwin’s Theory (426 G St.) is a cozy pub known for its stiff drinks and free popcorn (OK, so there’s some food after all). The Pioneer Bar (739 W. Fourth Ave.) is a mostly low-key joint but blooms into a lively spot come weekend nights. Pioneer also has two pool tables and a shuffleboard table. Both beloved dives are ideal for kicking back with a beer and mixing with salty locals.

Mad Myrna’s (530 E. Fifth Ave.) is 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 St.). It boasts of 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.

Glacier Brewhouse is also a popular spot downtown. Elsewhere in the city you’ll find King Street Brewing Co., Midnight Sun Brewing Co. and Anchorage Brewing Co., to name a few. Some serve food, and there are often food trucks catering to the brewery crowd as well.

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 Koot’s, don’t miss The Bird House, a tiny adjunct bar with slanted floors and ceilings covered in 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.

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