A few months ago, Play published what we considered a comprehensive review of signature cocktails in Anchorage. But reader response suggested otherwise. Visits to the Bear Tooth, Spenard Roadhouse, Crossbar, Ginger, F Street Station and the Peanut Farm tell only part of the story. "What about Bernie's?" "Why didn't you visit the Crow's Nest?"
So, with the help of various cocktail research assistants, I visited another six establishments, asking bartenders to whip up their signature drinks and best-sellers. Without further ado, here is the Layperson's Guide to Anchorage Signature Drinks, Part II.
Hours: 5 p.m.-12 a.m., Mon.-Sat.
Location: Hotel Captain Cook, 20th floor, 939 W. Fifth Ave.
Contact: 343-2217 and captaincook.com/dining/crows-nest
The drinks at the Crow's Nest are nearly as good as the view, which, if you have ever visited, is high praise. After denying the oft-spread rumor that the Cosmopolitan was invented at the Crow's Nest, bartender Joel pointed us to an old, tattered binder of off-menu drinks. Though we ended up ordering from the basic menu, the "everything book" is a treat and should be requested.
First, we tried the Sazerac ($10). Rye whiskey, Peychaud bitters and a sugar cube poured over ice in an absinthe-coated glass, the Sazerac made my research assistant gush: "smooth, almondy, and so... gentle!" Considered the first cocktail ever invented in America (New Orleans, 1859), the Sazerac is an impressive example of beginner's pluck. Score: 8
Next, we tried the Negroni ($10), mostly because Joel told us that Huey Lewis tried it six months earlier and gave Joel endless grief about preparing it incorrectly, even making fun of his shaker. Joel took the criticisms to heart, and served us Negronis "Huey Lewis-style." A biting combination of Campari, gin and sweet vermouth, this citrusy drink is not for the faint of taste buds, but leaves a very pleasing aftertaste. If you like your drinks to leave an impression, this is your guy. Score: 7
The Bubbly Mermaid
Location: 417 D St.
Contact: (619) 665-2852 and facebook.com/akfreshseafood
Everything about the Bubbly Mermaid is a surprise. First, it's hard to find. Standing across the street, you could easily miss the sign, simply painted on the front window. Once you find your way inside, another surprise: the "bar" is actually a small boat, refinished and set up for food and drink service. If you are nice enough to the bartender, you might get to see the second bar, hidden behind a secret door. (It's worth being nice.)
But the best surprise: a Champagne bar that can make a mean mixed drink. Bubbly Mermaid does not carry hard alcohol, but this seems to be more a blessing than a constraint. You can make some excellent drinks using Champagne, sparkling wine, beer and orange juice.
First, we tried the Champagne mimosa ($12), made with Tautinger ("Taut-en-jay") Champagne and orange juice. Dry, sharp and very tasty, this seems to be the perfect mimosa. But then we also tried the mimosa made with Italian Asti sparkling wine ($7) -- which tastes more like sweet grape juice than champagne. The Asti leaves a more pleasing aftertaste than the original, making for a sweeter, smoother mimosa -- and it happens to cost $5 less. After much discussion about which mimosa tasted better, one of my research assistants summed it up: "It's just a matter of whether you prefer sweet or dry." I prefer sweet, so the Asti gets the nod, but you can't go wrong. Scores: Champagne mimosa 8, Asti mimosa 9
We also tried an unnamed beer-champagne cocktail, made with Midnight Sun Modern Romance beer and Asti sparkling wine. The dark, chocolatey beer and the sweet Asti combined to mask the alcohol and provide a dreamy drinking experience. Another research assistant noted, "This is very dangerous." It is also my favorite of the drinks sampled in this review. Score: 10
Bernie's Bungalow Lounge
Hours: 2 p.m.-2:30 a.m.
Location: 626 D St.
Contact: 276-8808 and berniesak.com
Be careful: Bernie's Thai Knockout ($8) is named less for its looks and more for its right hook. Made with Thai chili-infused vodka and a few other secret ingredients that Bernie's tightly guards (we suspect simple syrup, pineapple, mango and lemon), this drink is so spicy that it will "slow you down" during an evening of imbibing, noted one research assistant. Other comments ranged from the thrilled ("I'd drink that, I'd drink that so hard") to the unimpressed ("all I taste is the spice"). In short, if you can't handle the heat, order something else. But if you don't mind a little fire from your cocktail, this one is pretty special.
The Thai Knockout was recently taken off the menu, as Bernie's is not sure whether they will infuse another batch of vodka with Thai chilies. But it is still available and should be tried before it goes away.
Also, it's pretty funny to call in and ask the bartenders "what's in the Thai Knockout?" Beware: they may put you on hold, call their trade secret attorney and say "you don't have permission to write about this drink." Score: 8
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight, Mon.-Sat.; 4-10 p.m. Sun.
Location: 417 W. Fifth Ave.
Contact: 277-6332 and clubparisrestaurant.com
Club Paris is a dark steakhouse with an old-timey bar. When asked what the Club Paris vibe is, bartender Stan noted, "we serve the professional drinker." Our drink fit the bill. The Smoky Martini ($7.50) is mostly Stoli vodka with a dash of smoky Lagavulin scotch. No vermouth added. Full disclosure: I don't like martinis, but this is a treat. The smoke taste is thick, but not overwhelming. One research assistant observed, "it tastes like my jacket smells after camping. In a good way!" Score: 8.5
Hours: 10 a.m.-2:30 a.m. weekdays, open until 3 a.m. on weekends
Location: 426 G St.
Contact: 277-5322 and alaska.net/~thndrths
On specific instructions from my editor, my research assistants and I entered Darwin's Theory and asked for the "House Shot." Bartender Victoria poured us a Red Hot ($3), a drink invented by owner Darwin 33 years ago. The drink is simple -- a shot of cinnamon schnapps and a dash of Tabasco -- but the process is more involved. "Don't drink it yet; the regulars will show you how," warned Victoria.
I won't ruin the surprise, but I will recommend this drink and the bar-wide celebration that ensues when someone buys a round. The drink itself is much tastier than the ingredients might make it sound. I don't actually like the taste of cinnamon, but the Tabasco cuts it perfectly, making the drink taste like the candy for which it is named. One of my companions noted, "This is on the good side of cough syrup. I mean, it's better than that. No, seriously." I agree. No, seriously. Score: 7
Postscript: Darwin's Theory maintains it is the biggest single purchaser of LeRoux Cinnamon Schnapps in the United States; Victoria told us that Darwin's keeps LeRoux in business.
Simon and Seafort's
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
Location: 420 L St.
Contact: 274-3502 and simonandseaforts.com
First, we tried the Lavender Cosmo ($9.55), a mixture of Absolut Mandarin vodka, Marie Brizard Parfait Amour (an orange liqeur), fresh lime sour and lavender sugar, which coats one side of the glass. The drink itself is a little too orangey and tastes a bit too much of alcohol, but the lavender sugar is a unique treat. One (female) research assistant noted, "this makes me feel girly." In a good way, it seemed. Score: 6
Then we sampled the Moscow Mule ($8.95), a trendy drink made with Smirnoff vodka, ginger beer and fresh lime. The Mule is served in a copper cup to enhance cold conduction -- that is, to transmit the cold of the drink to hands and lips, not to keep the drink cold. The strongest note in this fresh, clean and gently citrusy drink is the ginger flavor. The reason: Simon's makes ginger beer in-house by boiling ginger, simple syrup and bitters. The result is impressive, tastes very little like vodka and should be ordered time and again. Score: 9
But don't run away with the copper cup. The bartender reported that they lose, on average, one a day, in line with a national trend of copper mule cup theft. Sip, don't steal.