I wasn't quite sure what to expect as I headed into the building that replaced the old Hogg Bros. restaurant. The establishment had been a Spenard icon that vehemently shouted "greasy spoon" and seemed to be ageless. But as I entered the casual interior of the new Spenard Roadhouse, I realized it's the icon for a new age for Spenard dining. The dark versus light paneling and sleek seating areas exude cool, in tune with funky, artistic effects with just enough -- and not too much -- kitsch.
My sister and I bypassed the hostess stand and headed straight for the bar, which was convivial but not overbearing on a Wednesday night. The bar is that pre-dinner, after-work spot you're always looking for. A place to meet friends, grab a drink, brave a blind date. The decor reminded me of '50s-era chic with a modern edge. The entire place was like a classy version of an old-time diner; complete with a full bar.
The Roadhouse came about when two heavyweights of the Anchorage restaurant scene (JoAnn Asher, owner of Sack's Cafe, and Laile Fairbairn, owner of Snow City Cafe) heard that the building at 1049 W. Northern Lights Blvd. was for sale. They teamed up, bought the property and began a complete renovation in June 2008. After months of restoration the new hot spot opened Feb. 18.
Asher said the goal was to create a cozy neighborhood gathering spot. Both she and Fairbairn live on the west side and liked the idea of a classy, comfy place with good parking, close to their neighborhoods. The restaurant has a large bar, but Asher said they were aiming for a place where families could come during the earlier hours and a livelier crowd could stop by later in the evening. The place caters to both and encompasses a reasonable menu Asher said attempts to stay under $20 for most entrees. The menu is a successful blend of Sack's haute cuisine and Snow City's adolescent spunk, highlighting hormone-free meats, vegetarian options and as many local ingredients as possible, including fresh produce from the Matanuska Valley and Alaska Supreme Ice Cream.
But why move from bustling downtown to Spenard?
"Spenard is the new downtown," Asher said.
And in Spenard, it's all about being casual. The Roadhouse is a trendy blend of upscale cuisine and comfort food -- you can get your sandwich or burger with tater tots instead of fries.
Former Bernie's mix maven Shawna Calt helms the bar, and you can find a bourbon flight for $10. The bourbon flights, which are unique to the Roadhouse (unless other venues are doing this and I'm unaware of it), include three half-ounce pours of Kentucky's finest and rotate monthly. This month's menu includes Bulleit, Basil Hayden and Booker Noe. On the rocks bourbon runs $5-$22 a glass and includes Rebel Yell and Sam Houston. The bar also infuses its own vodka and rum -- notably a spicy pepper vodka perfect for a Bloody Mary. The cocktails on the bar menu also maintain a sense of nostalgic, comforting relaxation and feature classics like the Old Fashioned, the Side Car, the Manhattan and the Bourbon Creme. Wines by the glass run $4.50 to $10.50 and beers run $3.50 to $13. One fun note -- you can get beer in a can and leave it there; the Roadhouse will recycle it for you.
There's a lot more to be said about the Roadhouse, and a lot of room for it to grow in the local cuisine scene. Asher said the restaurant is happy to take comments from any patrons who stop by and pick up a comment card.