Alaska Visitors Guide

In Anchorage, cafe life is inspired

Even the hardiest Alaskans need a coping mechanism or two to help them through the long winter: sun lamps, blackout curtains, aromatherapy — you name it, we’ve probably tried it. And, sure, long walks and vitamin D are great, but have you tried coffee? One thing most Alaskans rely on is year-round coffee-therapy.

A hot, frothy cappuccino sipped in a cozy cafe can be the perfect cure for the low-winter-sun blues. Or, skip the trudge through a snowy parking lot and pick up a hot brew from one of Anchorage’s many drive-thru coffee carts. Sip smugly in your warm car.

Caffeinated pick-me-ups are no less valuable in summer, when Alaskans are burning the candle at both ends. After all, if the sun never goes down, is it ever really bedtime?

Which is why Alaska’s coffee roasters are household names to the locals. There’s Kaladi Brothers, which grew from a lone espresso cart in 1984 to a burgeoning business with cafes around the state. There is SteamDot Coffee Co., whose Midtown cafe features a “slow bar” with a rotating menu of origin coffees, where your coffee is ground and brewed fresh to order. Or try “The Lab,” which they describe as the mothership of their operation. Here you can enjoy your favorite hand-crafted beverage or take a seat at their pour-over bar if you like your brew with a little bravado. And then there’s Black Cup Coffee — they serve a full menu of espresso drinks but their motto, as their name implies, is: “Extraordinary coffee best served black.” Undecided? Head over to Sip Coffee Lounge, where you can order a rotating flight of coffees featuring both Kaladi Brothers and Black Cup brews. The flight as of this writing is chocolate con panna with strawberry whip, white chocolate raspberry mocha and a coconut cream latte. (Sip is also known to do other unusual flights — pickle and beer flight, anyone?)

It’s a friendly battle of the beans. Everyone has their favorite, but each of these coffee purveyors enjoys a well-earned popularity.

But coffee can be as much about cafe culture as it is about beans. A good coffeehouse is part community center, part extended office, part mental day spa and part art gallery. It’s a great way to learn about someplace new. And in Anchorage, cafe culture is thriving.

That Feeling Co. (logo: “Plants, Coffee, and All the Feels), located in Midtown and downtown, is an eclectic houseplant, gift and coffee shop. The downtown location shares its space with Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop and Johnny’s Produce, making this a one-stop shopping, can’t-miss experience, and a shrine to the Alaska hygge lifestyle. Fire Island makes some of the best breads, pastries, sandwiches and cookies in town, and we all know that pastries get lonely without a cup of coffee to keep them company. As you sip and munch in the indoor jungle of houseplants, you’ll appreciate this site’s popularity with the locals. I personally appreciate the little produce stand because if you come home from an afternoon of mochas and croissants carrying a bag of local carrots, you can say you’ve been “doing errands.”


Another cozy spot is Moose A’La Mode, featuring expertly made coffee drinks, fantastic hot dogs (really!), lunch specials and some of the best cupcakes in town — inventive flavors include s’mores, blueberry lemonade and cinnamon toast crunch. Another spot that specializes in sweet treats and brew is Gelatte (located downtown and at the Dimond Center mall), where, as the name suggests, you can warm up with a specialty drink or cool down with house-made ice cream. Or you can thread both needles and order an affogato, if you want a grown-up sip that pleases your inner child. Another local favorite is Dark Horse Coffee, a cozy, slightly out-of-the-way spot with a reputation for great coffee, avocado toast and warm welcomes. Bonus points for their inviting little porch, where you can sit and sip on sunny days. One of the newer entries on the list is Kaffee Klatsch, an artisanal German-style pastry and coffee shop with top-notch European pastries.

Kobuk Coffee, in the historic Kimball Building by Town Square Park, is a charming little gift shop that retains some of its original fixtures and flooring. In a store packed full of unnecessary necessities (old-timey candy, scented candles and teacups), you’ll be hard-pressed to make it to the coffee room without doing some impromptu browsing (and, if you’re like me, buying). Kobuk offers a whole range of espresso drinks and a wide variety of teas but, whichever you choose, make sure you get house-made doughnuts to keep it company. What kind of doughnuts, you ask? Like everything else in the store: old-fashioned.

The Cubby, the spacious and comfortable coffee shop in Anchorage’s most elegant hotel, the Captain Cook, serves delicious Kaladi Brothers coffee drinks with a side of nautical style. With big windows, it’s an excellent place to put your feet up and do some people-watching. Open later in the day than some downtown coffee spots, they now offer wine and beer if you’re needing a different kind of pick-me-up.

If you require an American breakfast alongside your Americano, Kaladi Brothers coffee is served up at the friendly Snow City Cafe. A favorite with locals, this funky, vibrant spot features rotating local art, an impressive variety of eggs Benedict and well-crafted espresso drinks. I’m particularly partial to their use of tall, sleeved pint glasses to serve large lattes and mochas. Hot drinks taste better served this way. It’s just science.

Originale is an authentic Italian deli downtown that serves a variety of traditional specialty Italian coffee drinks. And if you can resist their incredible sandwiches stuffed with imported Italian salumi — like my favorite, the “Don Quixote” with ham, homemade garlic mousse and manchego cheese — then I bow to your superior willpower. You can also purchase vacuum-sealed sandwiches that are perfect for road trips, camping, or your plane ride home. Picking up your morning coffee and your afternoon lunch in one stop is a delicious way to multitask.

For a unique coffeehouse experience with a bohemian vibe, hit up Spenard Joe’s (motto: Not Your Average Joe) for some of the most unique coffee creations in town. Try the “Lady Godiva,” a lavender mocha with salted black currant whipped cream or the “Spenard Fog,” made from whiskey barrel-aged black tea with vanilla and cayenne, topped with cinnamon frothed milk.

In East Anchorage, Cafecito Bonito is a warm, community-spirited coffee spot that serves espresso drinks with a Latin flair. Try a Spanish latte with sweetened condensed milk, a cafe de Olla featuring piloncillo (unrefined sugar, which lends a caramel flavor to drinks), or horchata, which features rice milk and cinnamon. They also host popular and unique events like drag loteria and brunches. The baked goods are unique and delicious, such as scones with flavors like strawberry basil, maple bacon and lavender.

If you’re looking to head south and fuel up for out-of-town adventures, or you just feel like a quick jaunt on one of the most beautiful stretches of road in America, head to Indian, Alaska, for a coffee and a bite at Birch and Alder. Their specialty drinks are crafted with house-made syrups and their brunch menu is made with undiluted love (don’t miss The Bagel Experience). As of this writing, their dining room is not yet open for service, but the view of Turnagain Arm as you eat and sip will make your car the best seat in town.

One of the best places to soak up local color and read up on local lore is The Writer’s Block, a cozy book shop with an excellent cafe featuring local coffee, beer and wine and an eclectic food menu (I’m partial to the curry-dusted pelmeni).

The Writer’s Block has a unique origin story. Four good friends reclaimed a bit of old Spenard and transformed the site of an adult bookstore (literally named Adult Book Store) into a welcome and inclusive cultural hub. With comforting food, expertly concocted drinks, a lovingly selected range of books featuring local writers, and a menu of eclectic events like poetry slams, book launches and even the occasional Japanese sake tasting, this space has quickly become the neighborhood’s living room.

The cafe took a hit in the 2018 earthquake. Glasses shattered, books scattered and a heavy filing cabinet took a dive. But when the doors opened that morning, they were not the only ones who got to work. “Our first customers walked in and asked for brooms,” recalls Vered Mares, one of the bookstore’s founders. “They said, ‘We’ll sweep up. You make the coffee.’”

It’s a reminder that a cup of coffee can invigorate, but a cafe can inspire.