It's that time of year again. The fireweed is blooming, the sunlight is waning and "back to school" sales are present in annoying abundance -- all depressing reminders that summer is on its way out.
The biggest reminder for Alaskans is the impending Alaska State Fair. It's mission? To provide enough entertainment, food and fun to distract us from the chilly breath of September on our necks.
For a nightlife-oriented person, however, the fair can be too much face paint and too little fermentation, if you catch my drift. So to assist those of us who are planning a Valley trip in the next two weeks, I've compiled some party-oriented suggestions.
First, we all know where the Sluicebox is, and we all know what it entails: live entertainment every night, for one. Cold beer and a dark, cool respite from the throngs outside, for another.
But sometimes the Sluicebox just isn't enough of a break, and when you're stuck in a crowded, sticky place, things can get frightening.
Luckily there's a light at the end of the Gravitron -- a quick hop to Palmer or Wasilla.
First, either find a designated driver or make sure you have enough cash for a cab ride -- some can take up to a half hour, depending on traffic and whether you know where the bar is.
A ride will cost you at least $10 to Palmer and about $15 to Wasilla -- and that's if you're lucky, there's no traffic and you stop exactly on the city limits. Plan on at least twenty bucks, to be safe.
Second, decide which town you want. Pros for Palmer include the fact that it's much closer; pros for Wasilla are that it's bigger and has a wider array of nightlife venues. So think carefully. Here are my suggestions:
If you're in the mood for fine dining (finer than elephant ears) and wine, head to the new venue on the scene, Turkey Red (550 S. Alaska St., 1-907-746-5544). This place is open until 10 p.m. on weekends and features a menu with a Mediterranean/Northern Italian flair and lots of yummy baked goods courtesy of a stone-hearth oven.
If you're in the mood for live music and general rowdiness, head to Klondike Mike's (820 S. Colony Way, 1-907-745-2676). Highlight: the place has a Jagermeister machine (Jager bombs!) and karaoke -- come on, you know after you see Kansas in concert, you'll be hankering to strut your Will Ferrell-esque rendition of "Dust in the Wind."
The best part about Valley bars is that they don't turn on blinding lights and kick you out at the ridiculously early hour of 2 a.m. For example, Tailgaters Sports Bar & Grill (151 W. Parks Highway, 1-907-376-1314) stays open past 3 a.m., with food service until 10 p.m. on the weekends.
Or, head to the Mugshot Saloon (251 W. Parks Highway, 1-907-376-1617), which features darts, pool, live music, TVs and canned beer specials -- plus, they're open until 5 a.m. every day of the week. (Every. Day.) Another option is the German-themed, bratwurst-heavy Schwabenhof (Mile 7.5 Palmer/Wasilla Highway, 1-907-357-2739).
But, if you're set on staying on the fairgrounds, there's always the concert lineup plus a few extra events that might strike your fancy, including the annual rodeo dance after the Tracy Lawrence concert (Aug. 23), where Ken Peltier and his band continue the country crooning in front of the Borealis Theater for those wanting to boot, scoot and boogie. And there will be a fireworks show on Aug. 21.
Whatever your plans include -- giant turkey legs, Hobo Jim or the petting zoo -- stay safe, have fun and enjoy the last days of summer in local, kitschy, state fair style.