Forget salmon, bears and tales of the midnight sun: Alaska’s largest city is more than a summer destination. Don your long johns and get ready to experience the big chill in the Last Frontier.
By Rachel Steer
Grab a table near Glacier Brewhouse’s (Downtown, glacierbrewhouse.com) giant stone fireplace and people-watch, or gaze at the glass-walled brewing system and the organized chaos of an open kitchen churning out wood-fired pizza and seafood. The brewery is known for its hoppy, fruity IPA and snifters of oak-aged Imperial Blonde served from the cask. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Big Woody, a 10.7%-ABV, GABF gold-winning barleywine. Midnight Sun Brewing Co. (Southside, midnightsunbrewing.com) head brewer Gabe Fletcher and his crew blend art, science and creativity. Their classics, like Sockeye Red IPA (“Spawned in the Last Frontier”), Oosik Amber (named after a certain part of the male walrus anatomy) and Kodiak Brown, are on tap at many bars around town. It is tough to tell whether Moose’s Tooth (Midtown, moosestooth.net) is better known for its creative pizzas or its tasty beer. The brewery is off-site and doesn’t offer tours, but fans of the Tooth don’t mind. With a nod to our powerful oil industry, the Pipeline Stout is dark and creamy and has been called the black gold of beer. With its copper and stainless steel brewing system on display in the lobby and British pub décor, the Snow Goose Restaurant and its Sleeping Lady Brewing Co. (Downtown, alaskabeers.com) pride themselves on small-batch American and English beer styles. In the summer, the deck’s packed with locals and tourists alike; in winter, the Goose always has one handcrafted pint on tap for $3. Meadmaster Mike Kiker blends high-quality, raw varietal honeys with hand-picked Alaskan berries. Kiker opens up his Celesteal Meads (Midtown, celestialmeads.com), in a difficult-to-find industrial section of town, on Friday evenings. It’s a one-man deal, so call ahead to confirm.
With 40 beers on tap, a healthy dose of Belgian ales and everything from king crab to burgers on the menu, Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse (Downtown, humpys.com) is a great place to start a pub crawl (it gets crowded later in the evening). Its sister bar next door, the ultra-cool Sub Zero, is a mecca for fans of Belgian brews and inventive cocktails. When the beer list is longer than most four-star restaurants’ wine lists, you know it’s a place obsessed with brew. More than 15 draft beers, 100 bottles and an occasional firkin can be found at the Old World-inspired Café Amsterdam (Midtown, cafe-amsterdam.com). Grab a seat at the grotto bar, and enjoy the quiet ambience. Tap Root Café (Southside, 907.345.0282) is newer to Anchorage’s bar scene, but it has quickly jumped to the top of many beer-drinkin’, bluegrass-and-folk-music-lovin’ aficionados’ lists. The small bar and restaurant serves local beer and organic food and is committed to fostering a community-friendly atmosphere. If you want to groove to some of Alaska’s best local music acts, this is the place. The first rule at Chair 5 Restaurant (Girdwood, chairfive.com) states there will be absolutely no gunfights, fistfights, food fights or cursing. With Girdwood’s notoriously mellow ski-bum scene, you have little to worry about. Take a long look at the generous beer list, put a quarter in line at the pool table and strike up a conversation with that biker dude sitting at the bar. Too cold to bar-hop? La Bodega (Midtown, 907.569.3800), a well-stocked, cozy liquor store in the University Mall, is where Anchorage beer connoisseurs shop. Owner Pamela Hatzis makes offers mix-and-match sixers of the good stuff—everything from local brews to obscure European concoctions.
Hands-down, Snow City Café (Downtown, snowcitycafe.com) is Anchorage’s most popular breakfast and lunch stop. A rotating display of local art adorns the walls and a mix of tie-clad businessmen and tie-dye-wearing students hang out at the breakfast bar. Try the Ship Creek Benedict; salmon cakes add an interesting twist to the traditional egg dish. In Alaska, “formal” can mean Carhartts or cumberbunds; fortunately, Suite 100 (Southside, 907.341.1000) suits both. The atmosphere is classy, but not stuffy; the menu is large and the lounge in back, with its grand curved bar and comfortable couches, is perfect for testing out creative appetizers and cocktails. A tacky taqueria feel, complete with blaring Norteno folk music, is a dead giveaway that Taco King (various locations, 907.276.7387) is authentic. Filling meals can be had for less than $7, and a condiment bar, replete with sour cream, assorted salsas and jalapeños, lets you dish up sides for no charge. We like the Menudo or beef tongue tacos. Maxine’s Glacier City Bistro (Girdwood, maxinesbistro.com) is the ugly stepsister to the Double Musky, a New Orleans-style joint down the street. Double Musky gets all the credit for leading Girdwood’s culinary scene and Maxine’s keeps working away, winning the hearts of locals who enjoy its hearty menu described as “freestyle American bistro.” Hit Maxine’s for some après-ski Venison Osso Buco, mulled wine and local tunes. Thai Kitchen (Eastside, thaikitchenalaska.com) began as a hole-in-the-wall, five-table restaurant in the back of a mini-mart. The restaurant has expanded and the candy aisle is gone, but the friendly, family atmosphere and home-style cooking remain.
If you’re looking for a luxury hotel in Anchorage, you have pretty much one choice: the Hotel Captain Cook (Downtown, captaincook.com). A nautical theme and teak paneling run throughout the 547-room, triple-tower hotel. Make sure you visit the AAA Four Diamond Award-winning Crow’s Nest on the 20th floor for a drink and 360-degree views of the Chugach Mountains and Cook Inlet. Whether you spent the day skiing the slopes of Alyeska Resort or snowshoeing the trails in Moose Meadows, you will love this chateau-style Hotel Alyeska (Girdwood, alyeskaresort.com) tucked into a forested corner at the base of Alaska’s largest ski resort, just 40 miles from Anchorage. The dark wood décor and foyers with spectacular views and leather couches make for one of the area’s most romantic settings. This 1930s-era Copper Whale Inn Bed and Breakfast (Downtown, copperwhale.com), located in the historic part of town, has consistently been voted Alaska’s best B&B. The 14-room house is within walking distance of most downtown restaurants, bars and attractions. In winter, it offers spa, dining and arts packages with discounts. Dimond Center Hotel’s (Southside, dimondcenterhotel.com) large, loft-style rooms, 72-inch soaking tubs and authentic Alaska Native décor are ideal for business travelers who eschew downtown. Restaurants, movie theaters and shopping are all within walking distance. Aviation buffs, hunters and fishermen will love the Millennium Alaskan Hotel (Westside, millenniumhotels.com). The hotel is perched on the edge of Lake Spenard, home of the world’s busiest floatplane base, and the lobby is filled with every Alaskan animal you can imagine, stuffed and posed for your viewing pleasure.
Get in touch with your outdoorsy side and join The Ascending Path (theascendingpath.com) climbing and guide service for a day of backcountry skiing, ice climbing or snowshoeing in the Chugach Mountains. Certified and experienced guides will provide all the equipment and instruction you need for an exciting wilderness adventure. The first Friday of each month, Anchorage’s art galleries, studios and coffee houses open their doors to celebrate visual arts in the community for First Fridays (citywide). See everything from traditional Native artwork to abstract modern art and rub shoulders with local artists and gallery owners. The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center (Downtown, anchoragemuseum.org) features exhibits on the art, history, science and cultures of Alaska, and it’s a splendid place to hole up if the weather’s lousy. Check out the interactive display on Anchorage Pioneer Families and the always-impressive Art of the North collection. A huge expansion is making room for more than 600 Native artifacts that have been held at the Smithsonian. Anchorage has the most coffee shops per capita of all U.S. cities, but most are shady drive-throughs that play on our reluctance to get out of our cars on cold, dark mornings. Two local roasters—Kaladi Brothers Coffee (kaladi.com) and Café Del Mundo (cafedelmundo.com)—have trendy shops around town that lure you inside to savor your morning cup. Let the Great Alaska Beer Train (akrr.com) whisk you 80 miles down Turnagain Arm to Portage from October through March on the Alaska Railroad. Along the way, taste six of Glacier Brewhouse’s finest libations paired with delicious hors d’oeuvres. In March, snow bunnies hop on the Ski Train (anchoragenordicski.com) (with an oom-pah band along for the ride) for an afternoon of rail-access-only skiing near Talkeetna.[Photos: top, The Ascending Path; bottom, Copper Whale Inn]