At the downtown market last weekend, "Tundra" cartoonist Chad Carpenter told me he'd met people that day from as far away as New York, Rhode Island and Florida. It's proof: The tourists are coming! Soon, they will flood the streets -- and bars.
While we're happy to take their money, the truth is that some places are better when local flavor reigns. In the next few weeks, consider beating the crowds and checking out watering holes whose identities change when the annual batch of visitors arrives.
Not long ago, I ventured to "Seward, scored a "hotel room for far less the outrageous summer rates. We had a blast hitting bars on Fourth Avenue -- "the Seward hot spots," our cabbie called it. (Glacier Cab provides 24-hour service, 1-907-224-5678.)
My favorite: The Yukon Bar (Fourth Avenue and Washington Street, 1-907-224-3065). With dollar bills decorating the ceiling, live music and a yellow dog chilling in the corner, this was Alaskana through and through. Decor includes orange life preservers and stuffed animal heads. We were there on a weekday, and it was packed. Yukon's upbeat, lively crowd was a mix of burly guys in camo, young dudes shooting pool and ladies of all ages. There are more than a dozen beers on tap and great cocktail specials. The watermelon sweet tart (a steal at $4) is recommended. Yukon also has free wireless Internet access.
Later, we headed across the street to Thorn's Showcase Lounge (1-907-224-3700), owned and operated by Gene Thorn for almost 50 years. A pal had called it "a professional's bar," a haven for the serious, no-frills drinker. That's what we found. It's charming in an old-school way, with red vinyl swivel-stools at the bar and red velvet ribbon lining the edge of the bar. Encased in glass behind the bar are dozens of huge chess pieces.
Showcase boasts a delightful jukebox filled with staples like Patsy Cline, Tom Petty and the Beatles. The bar is also a restaurant, but the food is pricey. Most dinners cost $20 or more and are higher-end selections such as prime rib and seafood.
After some drinks at Showcase, we headed back to Yukon. We never did make it to The Pit, another iconic Seward bar (Mile 3.5 Seward Highway, 1-907-224-3006), but I have had good times there. It's big, packed with games like pool and shuffleboard. You can relax on three decks and enjoy The Pit's gigantic backyard. Frank Dahl, Blues Central owner, bought The Pit about two years ago, but it dates to the 1950s and originally operated out of a Quonset hut.
The Pit also is outside city limits and can stay open until 5 a.m. You can't miss its roadside sign: A leggy girl lounging in a neon cocktail glass.
Not everyone has the time or means to make a trip to Seward. For a pre-tourist-season place closer to home, don't forget the Crow's Nest at the Hotel Captain Cook (939 W. Fifth Ave.). Bartender Keith Saunders says this place teems with out-of-towners come summer, so grab a stool while you can.
-- by Katie Pesznecker